A cautionary tale: growing up under the knife
“Mommy, does plastic surgery make you look like a different person?” “No, it just makes you look more beautiful than you used to be.”
From my seat next to her, both of us facing the Starbucks storefront, I balked. Her reflection gave her away: tall, thin, with a tightly drawn face and deep-set eyes.
“Don’t you think Mommy looks better now?” she murmured to herself, pulling out a compact mirror and gently reapplying foundation to her cheeks. Her daughters, around ages three and five, were playing rambunctiously among the tables. When her younger daughter tried to take the compact, her mother screeched, “No! Don’t use it! You have a nice complexion. If you use it, it will clog your pores and give you pimples.”
Later, her older daughter asked if she could comb her mother’s hair, which went smoothly until the comb accidentally grazed the woman’s forehead. She shrieked, “Ow! You hateful thing, look what you did! Wow, it’s really deep! You scratched me! It really hurts! Look at my forehead! I’m going to give your sister a present and not you! You’re not getting ice cream tonight!” This was, of course, followed by 7.5 minutes (I kept track) of non-stop preening in the mirror and tending to her forehead, while she sent her daughter to fetch ice water for her.
Now, I am not a parent, nor do I have much of an affinity with children. However, I was stupefied by that woman’s behavior. I recognize that people tend to overhear parents in their worst moments, but it took all the lovingkindness and humility I had not to reprimand that woman (or slap her last facelift clear off!). Her children were outgoing, inquisitive, and un-self-conscious. They were still young enough to prefer their hair wild and unkempt, their clothing rumpled and comfortable. And by projecting her fears of aging and “ugliness” on her daughters, she was normalizing the world of makeup and plastic surgery to girls just learning to read.
From My Beautiful Mommy
Speaking of which, a book called My Beautiful Mommy has been getting a lot of press lately. The book, aimed at young children, recasts a musclebound plastic surgeon as the fairy godmother for a post-pregnancy mother as she gets a nose job, tummy tuck, and breast implants. The book claims to explain the desire for cosmetic surgery and ease the fears children have of their mothers going under the knife. Here’s the thing though: the kids have the right idea. While “mommy makeovers” (combo tummy tuck and breast augmentation) may be increasingly popular these days, the fact remains that surgery is surgery, elective or not. I was discussing plastic surgery with a friend who has undergone thirteen procedures to correct a cleft palate, and he silenced me during my moral waffling. “After experiencing what I have, imagining people choosing to subject themselves to it seems selfish and stupid.” I mean, I’ve only had my wisdom teeth removed, and that was enough!
I think the idea of a children’s book praising and oversimplifying plastic surgery is dangerous. If a mother chooses to alter her appearance, it should be her responsibility to explain her reasoning to her child — after all, she knows better than a book. Also, let me just say of the title: Who said my mother isn’t absolutely gorgeous exactly as she is?!
Ultimately, sitting there in Starbucks, I said nothing. I felt too young. Instead, I hoped that the girls would develop a healthy sense of rebellion, thanked my stunning mother for raising me, and went back out into the rain.
What would you have done? Would you have felt comfortable saying anything (and if so, what is appropriate to say)? And to what extent did your parents’ ideas about bodies and beauty influence you? I’m really curious to see some responses.