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The other day my sister-in-law and I ran into someone we knew who we had not seen for some time. She is around our age and our children had grown up together. We were rather surprised by her appearance and within seconds of greeting her we found out why. With a great deal of enthusiasm, she launched into a glowing recount of her recent cosmetic surgery. I knew there was something different about her, and she delighted in telling us just what it was.
We talk about cosmetic surgery sometimes; how nice it would be to get rid of some of the more obvious and disturbing evidence of time and gravity that horrifies us every time we look in a mirror. It is always something of a shock to me, since I have this mental vision of myself that relates back to a version of about 10 or 15 years earlier. It isn't so much the aging that bothers me as the fact that I don't think of myself as the image I see when I am forced to look at myself. My sister-in-law says the same thing happens to her. I have to wonder how we can continue to be surprised by our images. You would think that we would eventually get used to it, but we never do.
Our acquaintance was obviously absolutely thrilled with her newly renovated self. The way she talked about her cosmetic surgeon I suspected that she had an alter to him in her house somewhere. We, of course, felt obligated to tell her how fantastic she looked and frankly, she looked years younger than the last time we had seen her. She told us she had her face lifted, her nose shortened, her wrinkles eradicated, her neck and chin tightened, and her eyelids fixed. She went on to tell us that in the summer she was having her tummy tucked and various other parts of her body rearranged.
“Wow,” I observed, “that seems like an awful lot of surgery.”
She gave me a look of supreme confidence. “Come on,” she cajoled, tell me there aren't parts of your body that you would like to have put back where they used to be.”
“Actually, I can't really remember where they used to be,” I confessed.
She laughed and tossed her newly bleached hair. “That's the beauty of it, you don't have to. A good surgeon can figure it out. He uses a grease pencil and draws all over you to show you where things should be.”
“You mean where they could be,” said my sister-in-law with a smile, “Where they are is probably where they should be at our age.”
The reconstructed lady before us waved that thought away dismissively. “Should/could, who cares? I couldn't stand how I looked. I just wanted to look the way I used to.”
The funny thing is, while she looked pretty wrinkle and sag free, she didn't look at all as we remembered her, she looked like someone entirely different. It has been my observation that while cosmetic surgery certainly does erase a lot of the signs of aging, it doesn't restore your looks as much as it rearraanges them. I suppose that can be a good thing if you were unhappy with whatever you had when you were young. If you are going to have yourself all cut, tucked, and nipped you might as well go for what you always wanted.
I'm not down on cosmetic surgery in theory. My sister-in-law and I have both said that we might have it done in a conservative sort of way if we could. Why not? What we don't want is what we were looking at, that strange, stretched look of our old acquaintance. Don't get me wrong, she didn't look bad or anything, she just looked like an anime character, not quite natural, and therefore, a little unnerving. When she smiled it looked almost like it was slightly painful, as if her face had barely enough give to make the stretch.
When we parted ways I told my sister-in-law my take on the extensive surgery and she agreed. While we did not want to criticize the woman for having herself tightened, we couldn't help thinking that she had, perhaps, gone a bit overboard with it. We wondered if it became a kind of addiction for people who ended up feeling compelled to have more and more done. I said that maybe if you were really susceptible to the lure of being continually renovated you could end up with some kind of disorder, like Cher-itis or something. Ultimately, you might end up looking like a artificial version of yourself in a wax museum.
We decided to make a pact. If either of us were ever able and willing to go under the cosmetic surgery knife, we would keep each other from doing a Michael Jackson, thereby saving each other from looking like a Japanese cartoon or a beautifully preserved mummy. I doubt if I will ever have the money or even the inclination to do it, but its nice to know that she has my back, ...and my front, and anything else I might feel the need to reconstruct.
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