Beauty is Sheer Masochism

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As a result of a year-long flirtation with an interesting man at work, I was waist-deep in a self-improvement makeover by the time I discovered that my “new friend” was years younger than I was. The age difference caught me by surpirse, but it was too late to back out. I was already hooked.

Having long ago succumbed to two of a woman’s greatest fears–growing old and getting fat–I had recently expanded my mail-order purchases to include a scar-removing ointment for a 20-year-old incision and a tube of belly-slimming cream to tone up my stomach during and after weight loss.

What weight loss? The minute that I clapped eyes on a piece of pound cake (now there’s an appropriate term) the jig was up. I even bought a three-month supply of carbohydrate inhibitors but consistently forgot to take them.

I was determined to reverse this downward trend and reinvent myself with cell renewal, rehydration and age-related weight-gain products. I spent a week’s pay every month on rejuvenating creams, potions and pills to reduce, tone, un-wrinkle, un-feckle, delay, extract, suppress and inhibit my body’s natural aging process. I considered myself a real upfront gal; I put it right out there. But apparently not until it had been enhanced, harnessed, concealed, colored and preened.

I decided to change my diet to include low-carb shakes and protein bars and I even began a half-hearted regime of sit-ups. When I added a daily heart-pounding walk around the lake near my home, I started to see results, although not what I intended. I literally walked my butt off. My  derrière now hung flat, looking less like a candidate for a pair of crotchless panties than an adult diaper.

In the 13th century, a Persian scholar postulated that a body of matter is able to change but is not able to disappear. Through my own experience, I proved his theory true; the three pounds of fat I dropped off my caboose now hung underneath my chin, a necklace of fat anchored by the onset of my dropping jowls. Regrettably, there is no exercise to remove excess skin from that area of the body.

Having never been at a loss for words, I kept my opinions to myself for fear of calling attention to my neck, unless I happened to be wearing a turtleneck sweater or sitting in a dark restaurant.

After culling through the rogue’s gallery of facial surgeons listed on the Internet, I took the plunge and made an appointment. My apprehension receded after meeting Dr. Harvey, but the relief was short-lived. The amiable doctor pointed out a series of facial imperfections that I never knew I had. He followed this critique with a dozen photographs–taken from unusual angles, which he mailed to me a few days later.

“I dont feel like these pictures really resemble me,” I explained at my next appointment. “I don’t see these flaws when I look in the mirror.”

“People only look you in the eyes about 15 percent of the time,” he continued. “They are usually viewing you from one of the angles shown here.”

The statement was hard to swallow. Was I really the ugly duckling these photos portrayed? How come nobody ever told me? One thing was obvious:  youth was on the run and had taken my sexuality as hostage.

That my inusrance wouldn’t pay for this was no surprise. It would have been a lot cheaper to see a psychiatrist for an attitude adjustment. At least that would have been covered. While I was in the admitting department filling out forms, I was assisted by a man in his 60s, wearing a rhinestone earring.

“When I lost my looks, I left town,” he said.

I admired his honesty but didn’t like the implication, although I had to admit that the idea of leaving town was one I’d yet to consider.

Although I was given a daunting packet of pre-op dos and don’ts, I was eargerly looking forward to the surgery. I felt as if I were being admitted into a secret club. As it happened, I wasn’t far off the mark. Several acquaintances revealed similar experiences. It seemed to be a conspiracy of the beautiful people–they’d all had work done.

The ultimate testimonial came gushing from the mouth of a medical technician during the pre-op EKG. She’d not only had her chin and forehead lifted, but her upper arms liposuctioned as well, all on her “Katrina money.”

My surgery was cushioned with an overnight stay in the hospital, but I awoke sick to my stomach and unable to open my eyes. The phrase “there may be some minor discomfort” was printed somewhere on my papers, but at no time did anybody mention the word pain.

I planned to enjoy my recovery during the three weeks of vacation time I’d taken from my accounting job. Unfortunatley, I was experiencing a little more discomfort than I expected. I couldn’t even see to write. My glasses rubbed against the stitches above my ears, so I took a pair of needle-nose pliers and cut off the stems. Technically now a pince-nez, the device kept slipping down my nose until I taped it to my forehead.

My hairdresser sternly warned me against looking into the bathroom mirror. Driven by a comulsive nature, I broke two taboos at once. I first took a gander at Dr. Harvey’s handiwork. I looked frightful, but I could take it. Then I stepped on the scale. There it was. Unable to open my mouth wide enough for solid food, I’d lost another 2-1/2 pounds. Oh, God! Where would the extra skin go? With my neck as taut as a drum, it would have to be the belly.

My friends took the news along the lines they felt most comfortable. One sent out a reproachful email asking a mutual acquaintance if she’d seen what I’d done to myself. Another wickedly announced that I’d decided to lop off one chin for each of my ex-husbands. There was only one person whose opinion mattered to me and he knew nothing of my surgery.

When I returned to work with my chiseled neck, a few coworkers were reticent to acknowledge it at all, but others couldn’t wait to register an opinion. One chubby salesman pulled a chunk of skin away from his ample neck and said, “I’m going to have this removed and see if the doctor can reattach it someplace else.”

At long last my future beau arrived and he greeted me warmly.

“You look great,” he said. “Have a nice vacation?”

He hadn’t noticed! I was aghast and felt foolish. Was this age drama only in my own head?

The two of us have been together for three years now. His hair is turning gray, and we’ve both put on a few pounds but aren’t worried about it. Would I do it again? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely! Nothing is as sexy as self-confidence.

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