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Monday, October 20, 2014

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The surgeon’s knife

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I always vowed I’d never go near plastic surgery. Botox, tummy tucks, breast enhancements – these have been, for me, a foreign land of undesirable medical intervention, a futile attempt to recapture a different form and, in so doing, defy age.

There’s a time for everything, I think. A time for tight tummies and brilliant boobs, short skirts and low-cut tops. And a time when age steals some of that tightness, sagging that which was once firm and weathering that which was once bright and sprightly. Which is not to say it’s OK to let yourself go – far from it. Well-fitted clothes, nicely applied makeup, a little hair colour and some well-chosen accessories can transform a woman’s appearance. But to voluntarily relinquish to the surgical knife – all in the name of vanity? This has always confounded me.

Because where does it end, I ask you? Today, it’s the boobs, tomorrow it’s the wrinkled, sagging neck and next week it’s those wobbly bits beneath the arms. There is no end to vanity. And while there are broadly smiling surgeons willing to take cash in exchange for nips and tucks, there is no shortage of women ready to lie back and wait for surgical “enhancements.”

So when a longtime friend announced she was going in for a tuck, I was stunned. A smart, beautiful woman, she already had a great figure, in my opinion. What’s more, she’d always seemed so accomplished, level-headed and sensible. I couldn’t understand why she’d voluntarily undergo a general anesthetic to flatten her stomach.

Why did it need to be flat, I wondered. Was it worth even the teensiest risk to herself and her family? The risk of never emerging from anesthesia? The risk of complications? All for a tummy that resembled the one she’d had at age 20?

Because I love her, I implored her to reconsider, but she was adamant about going ahead. It’s a “nothing” surgery, she declared, insisting that the surgeons know exactly what they are doing and it’s safe as can be. Moreover, this expensive ordeal, from which it would take at least six weeks to fully recover, was a gift to herself.

Later, after the surgery, I was lambasted for being judgmental. Truth is, I just couldn’t help it. Then, and even now, I could not fathom why a healthy, smart woman would care so much about a flat stomach that she would buy it surgically.

As I had feared, that supposedly seamless surgery turned into a more complicated one when an infection lingered for weeks, ultimately requiring the administration of a second general anesthetic.

I never wanted to say, “I told you so.” I love her dearly, worried about her pain and wished her none. But I also wanted desperately to hear her promise she’d not do this again, not surrender to the false promise that surgery could perfect those physical imperfections.

They’re an inevitable part of aging, those crinkles and creases, a process that cannot and will not be defied. All we can do is try to live gracefully and contentedly with what we have, rejoicing in our health while we still have it. In the end, everything has an expiration date.

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