I have vaguely mentioned my liposuction surgery in other posts, but I’ve never really delved into it until now. When I was 23 I had 11 pounds of fat removed from my stomach, hips, and thighs. I had the surgery done in the Philippines, where my parents were working for two years.
It was the summer of 1998, and I recall my father first mentioning to me how inexpensive it was to have plastic surgery done in Manila, and my heart skipped a beat at the thought of thin thighs. He kept hinting at it until I pressed him for more information on the procedure. I probably weighed around 230 pounds at that time, and my self-esteem was in the crapper (I weigh about the same now). I had zero self-love and I was desperate. I really just wanted to feel desirable and beautiful. And thin, of course.
I had no idea I was already magnificent.
I met with the surgeon and finalized a date for the surgery. In the days leading up to it, my father threatened to not pay for the liposuction. He wanted to make sure I was going to commit to losing more weight afterwards. His intentions were good (tough love and all that), but it really just broke my heart. All my hopes in this life-changing surgery were about to be dashed. How could he threaten to take away the very thing I’d always hoped would make me happy?
In the end, he paid for the surgery. I remember waking up in the hospital bed wrapped in layers of gauze, alarmed at the amount of pain I was in. My father stood at my bedside, gleaming, and telling me they’d sucked 11 pounds of fat out of my body. All I could think was, I wished they’d sucked more out.
It took my body many weeks to heal. Plastic surgery is real surgery. My body was altered permanently, which at the time, seemed like a good thing. But it would catch up with me years later.
In the months following the surgery, I moved to NYC to study interior design at FIT. I walked. A lot. And the weight came off quickly. I went down to about 160 pounds, 60 pounds down from my pre-surgery weight. And although I enjoyed shopping for clothes in mainstream stores, my self-esteem was not improved.
You see, I thought I was taking a shortcut to self-love by having liposuction. I honestly believed that having a smaller body would magically make me a happy and fulfilled person. So when it didn’t happen, I was devastated.
NY was a lonely place for me, and I ate to numb the pain. When I left with my design degree in hand two years later to head back to my hometown of D.C., I had put on some of the weight I’d lost.
My struggle with body image only got worse in the years following my surgery. I hadn’t dealt with the real reason I wasn’t happy with myself. I could not fathom the idea that I could be fat and still be worthy. The crazy dieting went on for years and years, well into my thirties. It wasn’t until I found 12-step programs, that I learned to find acceptance in my body. That, and lots of therapy and self-reflection.
I think plastic surgery is a personal decision that people make for various reasons. And if you’re considering it, please do your research and think about why you’re doing it. There are many days that I regret having had it because I still have scars and a lower stomach that is uneven because my surgeon didn’t do a great job (I might qualify for the show Botched. Ok, not really). But then I remember that all these life decisions are what make us who we are. Perhaps if I hadn’t had the surgery, and the experience of being thin and unhappy, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Life is full of lessons, some more painful and persistent than others. When I look at my scars and my oddly-shaped tummy, I am witness to the many years of self-hatred that I’ve had to let go.
Today I am stronger, wiser, kinder, and more compassionate with myself. I am learning everyday the perils of perfectionism, and moving courageously forward, sharing my story with the world. I urge you to the lift the veil of your own past pains and to face them head on. It’s hard fucking work, but freedom is on the other side of fear. Be bold.