Bullish Life: On Vanity, Plastic Surgery, and Gentlewomanly Living

Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.

According to marketing experts everywhere, the women of America are now stuffed full of turkey and ready to be sold weight-loss products.

I’m not — I spent Thanksgiving lying on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, eating with the bartenders at the hotel restaurant, working on a business plan, buying Jimmy Choos, and giggling at lizards (see Bullish: Gratitude is Nice, But Don’t Let it Keep You From Action). As it turns out, 73 degrees is perfect beach weather for my elvin complexion, and my parents are just as happy to see me some other time.

I was thinking about writing a seasonally-appropriate column about fitness (see Bullish Life: What I Learned From Being Captain of My College Debate and Boxing Teams (At the Same Time!)) when this letter came in from a reader I’ll call Grace Jones.

Dear Jen,

I came from a kind of blue collar dysfunctional home that left me with pretty terrible self-esteem and skills for success in the white collar job market. I had gotten a job right out of school at a supposedly hot start up but a week after I started they ran out of cash and went under, leaving me with almost no savings and a lot of rent to pay, so I ended up taking a job at this awful, shady place even though I was way overqualified and underpaid and I had to commute more than three hours a day to a depressing suburb to get there. I told myself I’d look for something else right away but the next five years of my life flew by in this horrible blur – I was miserable at the job and couldn’t seem to get a lead on anything better, the long commute sucked up all of my free time, two members of my immediate family contracted terminal illnesses and I had to care for them…. Long story short I ended up depressed, completely without self-esteem, and about 90 pounds overweight because I was basically eating my sadness and self-loathing.

Somehow a few months after my dad died I suddenly started to snap out of it – I lost about 45 of the 90 pounds I needed to lose, bought a new wardrobe, got my snaggle-teeth fixed, and had the confidence to find a much better job closer to home. From there everything pretty much took off, I started taking a much more bullish-style outlook on my life and made a series of very good career moves that have resulted in now being a junior-level executive at a ridiculously awesome company that I love working for, and I also lost the rest of the extra weight along the way.

Here’s the problem – gaining and losing 90 pounds wreaked absolute havoc on my body. Even though I’ve been going to the gym 7 days a week for a couple of years now and even working with a personal trainer, it’s obvious my skin is never going to tighten up so that my body looks anything like normal, even though I now wear a size 2. It’s awful, a large amount of loose skin literally just hangs off my body, to the point where I have to wear Spanx every day even though I’m not at all overweight because clothes can’t even fit right with all the weird, gross loose skin that is in all the wrong places and it’s kind of uncomfortable if I don’t have something holding it all in place (it may sound like I am exaggerating – I wish I were). I’ve read your body image advice and for the most part I agree; you should eat right and exercise and try not to dwell too much on how your body looks if there’s nothing else you can do about it – nobody’s perfect. But also, I’m only 33, I’m still pretty and my face still looks very young because I’ve kept out of the sun, and it kills me that even though I religiously work out and eat right, I look like this naked and I have no hope of ever looking any better no matter what I do.

As a result of all this, I have been debating whether to have cosmetic surgery to correct it. In general I am not in favor of cosmetic surgery, I think it promotes unrealistic and shallow standards of beauty, and I am also bothered by the huge cost and the long recovery (I would need to take a few weeks off work and wear a compression garment for a few months, and the total cost is on par with buying an entry-level sports car). I can afford the money if I need to and could arrange the time off work but I find myself thinking about the opportunity cost… shouldn’t a more awesome version of me, the kind of person I aspire to be, be spending that money and time off work to travel the world, or start a business, or fund a charity, or even just investing it and having it for a rainy day? It feels like such a waste. But I also picture living the rest of my life hating the way I look, dreading having sex because I don’t even want anyone touching my body, wearing Spanx every single day, and I kind of think it would all be worth it. I know that even with the surgery I wouldn’t look like a centerfold – there would definitely be scars and maybe not everything that bothers me could be completely corrected, but I think it would be pretty amazing just to look kind of normal – every time I look in the mirror I am just so angry with myself that I let all of that happen in the first place, it’s such an ugly reminder of how I let myself down and wasted so many years of my twenties because I didn’t have the courage to take charge of my life.

So I am curious… what would you do? And, if you decided not to get the surgery, how would you go about making yourself okay with how you looked and moving on with your life?

First of all, Grace, congratulations on some major and impressive life changes. You’ve made a cultural shift from blue-collar authoritarianism (I MUST BE ON TIME TO THE FACTORY TO PUNCH MY PUNCHCARD!) to executivedom, you’ve lost 90 pounds (that’s a whole fifth-grader!), you’ve developed a kick-ass attitude towards life, and — although others may find it awkward to congratulate you for this — you have helped your loved ones have better deaths than they would have otherwise, which is precisely the sort of action that character and adulthood come from.

You are a badass, which is why I’ve given you such a badass name.

You should probably get the surgery.

We can back up, sure, but that’s where my answer is going. Hopefully I can delineate a few points that will help others as well.

Share This Post:
    • Jamie Peck

      Cosigned! It really bothers me how judgmental some so-called feminists are of women who get plastic surgery, as if it’s utterly impossible for someone to do something for herself. Or even if societal beauty standards do factor in–and let’s be honest, they do a lot of the time–get mad at the patriarchy for putting pressure on women to conform or suffer the consequences. Don’t get mad at the women.

    • Kj

      What a great article! Maybe my favourite yet. Kudos to Grace on her hard work and transformation. I know exactly how she feels because there are some “tweaks” that I would love to have but feel guilty about… Stuff no one notices but me, y’know?

      I love your bit about the “face budget”. Like my mom says – you only have one face. My clothes might be falling apart, but damned if I’m going to use drugstore face cream!

    • Winter

      DO IT GRACE. Do it because you’ve earned it, and you shouldn’t have to feel bad about things you can’t help. Mostly because you would be doing it for yourself.

    • Patricia

      Grace Jones, whatever your real name is, I hope to be as badass as you and that you’ll do whatever you decide is best for you.

      And congrats for the author for not spouting the usual judgemental so-called feminist diatribe on cosmetic surgery.

      Loved loved loved reading this!

    • Tania

      My ladycrush on you continues to grow. Great article, as usual!

    • Jo

      ‘Grace’, I really hope you choose to go ahead. I understand your dilemma. I started my own business this year so money is tight. I also look at a computer a lot and with bad eyesight, my eyes were becoming dry, sore, tired and I wasn’t able to complete work quickly because I always needed to rest. I had the money for laser eye surgery but I was scared to spend it. How frivolous when I needed it for my new business! But I made the decision to invest in myself. It was costly, but it’s paid for itself in the enjoyment I get from life and the confidence that comes with it. I can now serve my clients better because my eyes aren’t constantly aching.

      Good luck ‘Grace’! Do it for yourself and your future :) (And thanks again Jen, for another informative and inspiring article.)

    • Daisy

      Love this article, it’s something I can sorta identify myself with. I decided at a pretty young age to have my breasts reduced (they were huuuge), and having excess skin removed is on the same level: it’s not literally cosmetic surgery, but it’s fixing something that is physically (not just psychologically) bothering you.

      I’m not going to lie, it was the best decision I ever made. Sure, there are scars, but I look infinitely better now, I feel comfortable in my skin, and I can’t even describe the way my confidence has boomed since then. I was a new person, I dressed differently, I moved differently, and best of all: I am happier. And I did it all for myself.

      So I would listen to all the arguments that were listed here, because they are all true. You tried your very best, you used up every alternative. You can afford it. It would lift several restraints from your life. IT WILL MAKE YOU HAPPIER. You’re still young, now’s the time to enjoy your life and love your body.

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