My body had gone into sepsis. I could literally feel my body rebelling against itself, rejecting the foreign bodies inside me. I felt shame as I had needlessly done this to myself. I drifted in and out of consciousness, illness, where the flesh of my chest had started to go necrotic and turn on itself. For the life of me, why couldn't I stop doing this?
“Oh, what a marvelous dressage routine,” I overheard one of the pony club judges say to a crowd watching from the sidelines. Serve those pony club snobs right, I thought to myself. Suddenly the crowd broke into uproarious laughter, until they were red-faced. I wondered what was so funny.
“That boy is a wonderful rider,” someone had said, the rest of the crowd laughing with him as I rode off in tears. Is that why the guys at school called me ugly?
When I finally got a boyfriend in my mid-twenties, I thought it would validate me. He stared at me intently, observing me move in and out of the kitchen. It seemed romantic.
Then he said to me, “You're not model material.”
The shock ran through me for days but I stayed with him for a long time because this was all I could get.
Pain shot through me as I thought of many who suffered from terrible physical afflictions through no fault of their own; burns victims who describe excruciating stinging heat, shivering, throbbing, pulsing through every nerve ending. Cancer victims who feel like the blood has drained from every ounce of their body. I had no right to be here.
The frustrating thing was I tried everything to let go of beauty consciousness. As a thirteen-year-old I tried to be content with my averageness by reading books opposing prescribed standards of looks. I was liberated when I read them. Until I saw what most of the female authors looked like. As I looked down and saw my average hands flicking the pages, all I wondered was how I could look like a beautiful revolutionary. In the end, these books made me worse.
For all the male patriarchy I was warned about in feminist texts, so many women had got me to this point. Some of the girls in high school were ruthless, voting me one of the most common in class. My adult world was even more intimidating.
Sexist men that made secretaries cower in the corner, had they been replaced by as equally aggressive female CEOs or managers? Palpable aggression came from women decades younger than me, who were given the remotest sense of power, especially where I was often their underling. It seemed the world validated them no matter what they did; valuing them because their looks, age or connections got them somewhere.
More pain again. Bang, bang in my chest. I was afraid to look down. What had become of my former self? I shuddered to imagine what I looked like now. Many times I had been told that certain things didn't suit me but I kept going. Before I went to have my teeth whitened, the dental surgeon had said, “You don't want white teeth because the coloring won't suit you.” I was in shock. I’d been fed the concept that the whiter my teeth the closer I was to beauty. I spent $1000 anyway.
If it wasn't the money I spent, it was my transformation that was monumental. I spent hours doing my make-up. The clothes had to be changed, high heels replaced flat shoes. I had laser surgery to be hairless, I wore tanning lotion, I began to match foundations to my skin tone perfectly. Black strapless dresses hugged my figure, stilettos elongated my legs. I had my teeth fixed, my hair was blonde. But it wasn't enough.
The doctor entered the room and put a clipboard down on the table.
“Perhaps your body is best kept away from the knife. You haven't had a very good response to the implants. They were only silicone lined as is standard but you have had some sort of immune response, which some people get. Surgery is a risk.”
The doctor walked off and began to have a discussion with his colleague in the corner of the room.
“She seems to have developed a secondary infection or auto-immune response,” he said in a hushed tone.
“All these pretty girls having plastic surgery who don't really need it.”
His colleague looked at me from the other end of the room and nodded emphatically as he agreed.
Their voices trailed off as I burst into tears. I was one of those pretty girls after all.
With weary determination, I picked up a mirror. My hair was shiny. My skin looked okay. Did I even think I was pretty?—the audacity. I was actually making a positive observation I had never made before. Like other beautiful women, where looks seemed to belong to someone else, we were one and the same. While I had been rejected based on my image; ugly, not good enough, less status, people who are valued for their looks are rejected for their soul. They are one and the same thing. All the pretty girls telling me I wasn't it, were just as insecure as I was or didn't have anything else.
I reflected back. I had tried to be sexy in my transformation but the behavior I attracted was nothing akin to empowering; old men that wanted a status symbol, alpha males that turned cold after reciprocating, men who touched me without asking, men who cried on me, got pushy, and got angry with me, sometimes trying to pay out on me in workplaces if they couldn't have their own way. I was a magnet for men who already had girlfriends, and women hated me in the office, set me up, talked about me when I wasn't there and I had no female friends. I was deeply unhappy, isolated and alone. I never got the respect I craved.
Was I like those people on TV, who seemed to go way too far with plastic surgery? They often look gaudy and hideous; nothing of the representation before them they conjure in their minds. More shame. Was I one of those people who were so blind to their own image, they had in fact, ruined themselves?
“You are very lucky,” the doctor said when he returned later. “We managed to rescue most of the breast tissue so that you are virtually back to normal with a bit of scarring underneath the breast curves.”
I nodded my head emphatically, like a prepubescent school girl exempted from detention. I saw myself getting out of a BMW as a sixty-year-old, with big lips and gigantic cheekbones; a future version of myself; wretched and pathetic, trying to have control when I never would. It hit me like a tidal wave. The worst thing in the world is not age and ugliness. It is spending the rest of your life feeling ugly so that obsession robs you of your time. If I did not like myself now, I never would.
People who say you are not good looking enough, don't respect you because of their own motives. Even from our female confidants, criticism does not come from trustworthy, objective thought. It comes from people who need a short cut to empower themselves, who often never fit stereotypes. Hardly any of the mean girls fitted the image I subscribed to.
What happened to me was in my past. I had to let it go, not for others, for myself. Until now, I had never stopped wanting to cosmeticize myself. Despite my seeming adult choices, I wanted to claim power back so much, that for thirty-six years of being alive, someone else’s ugly lies about beauty had become my truth.