I need a Lip Implant and an Eyebrow-Lift and Liposuction By Rebecca Kenton February 2003
I waited alone in Robert Mirabile’s exam room—just me, a hundred or so informational videotapes, and a camera mounted on a tripod. I’d already filled out the paperwork and changed into the fluffy white bathrobe, so I had nothing left to do but poke around. On a shelf, I found a dozen deflated breast-implant bags. I picked one up, an impossibly large stripper-size one. I couldn’t stop poking it—until I was struck by the thought that there could be a hidden camera in the room. I quickly put the boob down and leaned against the exam table, trying to be casual, as casual as anyone could be in a cosmetic surgeon’s office, naked except for a robe, a bra, and undies that I’d just realized were on inside out—to keep the seams from digging into my skin. I’d forgotten to switch them. Was there time? But suddenly, a knock, and Dr. Mirabile whisked through the door, with his assistant—a Kirsten Dunst lookalike—following behind. I’d come across Mirabile’s name on the Internet and had done a little research on him—he’s published and board-certified, and his office is in nearby Norristown. He made sure to tell me, when I met him, that he “does” most of the Eagles cheerleaders. He was a few years grayer than his brochure would have one believe: tall, endearingly nerdy in his white socks, nice chin. The next step, I knew, was to take off the robe. All sense of modesty had disappeared for me long ago, during my first year of modeling, when I had to change in front of crews of stylists and photographers. Without a pause, I handed the robe to Kirsten Dunst. “What areas do you want to discuss?” Mirabile asked. I’m aware that my body looks somewhat impossible to people—five-foot-10, 125 pounds, C cup. I’ve seen other women giving me nasty up-and-down appraisals. I’ve had friends insist that I wear glasses and a sweatshirt when we go out, so they can get some attention from men. I’ve even sought out male gay bars, for relief from being unendingly “hit on.” My father always warned me that my appearance would be both a blessing and a curse. I used to think he was just being dramatic. But recently, now that I’m 28, I’ve made the mistake of saying out loud that I wish my body were different. A fuller upper lip. Tucked eyelids. Less tummy. Less hips. “You don’t have hips,” colleagues say to me. There’s also the envious “I’d kill for your body!”; the snarky “Are you anorexic or something?”; and the venomous “Shut up! Women like you make me sick.” That’s exactly why my best friends are “women like me”—pretty women who don’t scoff when I say I’m having a bad hair day, who sympathize when I lament that I can’t find a dress that’s small enough but tall enough, who share tailored clothes and stories about how mean other girls can be to us. Women like me also know what it’s like to pop your high-school retainer
in your mouth to see what you would look like with fuller lips, or to stand naked in front of a mirror kneading your stomach fat, or to make appointments with cosmetic surgeons. And women like me have a list when the surgeon asks about the areas we want to discuss. “My glug,” I told Dr. Mirabile. “Your glug?” I pinched the fat on the back of my hips and the roll, which he later described as “smile-shaped,” right below my belly button. “My glug.” Dr. Mirabile scrutinized my glug. The nurse had taken a few photos of my midsection and was using a computer to show what my hips would look like post-lipo. “Yes,” Mirabile finally said. “I think we could take a little off here.” He pointed to the skin on my high hip. “And here.” He pointed to my belly. “And here”—my waist—“but not too much here.” What? He was agreeing with me? So readily agreeing with me? I know I’m not a perfect 10, but I was expecting a little more protest, or at least hoping for it. As for my lip, he explained how he would insert a small strip of AlloDerm. Then he explained that AlloDerm was reconstituted human skin taken from cadavers. He pulled out a tray of wormlike white strips of the stuff, all different thicknesses. I touched one. I rolled it between my fingertips. It felt not at all like a lip. Mirabile assured me it wouldn’t feel like a worm when my fiancé kissed me. He also agreed with me about my droopy eyelids, suggesting a mild brow-lift. And he mentioned a few other procedures I might consider. “You’re a good candidate for Botox,” he said, rubbing his fingertips over my forehead. “And you know, you could also use some laser resurfacing under the eyes.” Laser resurfacing? “I’ll throw that in free of charge.” The total damage he quoted for liposuction, a lateral brow-lift and an AlloDerm lip implant was $7,900. Left alone again with the boob bags, I got dressed, just thrilled to add to my list of imperfections a wrinkled brow and crepey skin under my eyes. Dr. David Bottger’s various diplomas hung on the walls in the examining room in his office in Bryn Mawr, and I amused myself by trying to translate the Latin on the one from Princeton. Latin is my mother’s department; she’s a teacher, a translator, and a Phi Beta Kappa to boot. My younger sister, Liz, is a natural with languages, too. In fact, she’s a natural with anything academic; she scored in the 99th percentile on the sats when she was 12. My chess-champion, math-professor dad always raved about his younger
daughter’s scholastic achievements, and about his older daughter’s looks. He used to joke with his students that he’d include a couple of goats and sheep in the dowry if one of them would marry his beautiful daughter. I grew up constantly hearing how pretty I was—from my father, from teachers, from strange ladies in the supermarket. But not from my mother. She never mentioned my appearance in any way, unless to say she liked my shoes or my coat. Still, I got decent grades, and there were reports from teachers that though I didn’t “work to potential,” I was “a pleasure to have in class.” At the point in eighth grade when math started getting really hard, I went to see my guidance counselor, and he told me, “You’re so pretty, you don’t need math or science.” All of this attention to my looks confused me. Pre-puberty, I thought I resembled a gangly, metal-fanged, four-eyed stork. I was taller than all of my friends. My legs were so painfully skinny that I failed gym class because I refused to wear shorts and hear the name-calling—“Spider,” “Toothpick,” “Daddy Longlegs.” I had braces and large-framed, clear-pink glasses. But things started to change, and in the summer of my 15th year, I earned a new, more intimate nickname—“Boobs.” Even so, I was okay with the new boobs. I’m still okay with them. In fact, I’m pretty happy with my body. But I could always be happier. Isn’t that human? To strive to be better? I feel like I’m always striving to improve myself. I worry about hurting people’s feelings. I try to be more patient. I volunteer at animal shelters. I’m not a flit-dit who’s only concerned with the outside. But my looks are a big part of who I am. Sometimes I even wonder if without my looks, I’d be where I am today. So it’s worth it for me to consider little tune-ups and tweaks, which is why I was game when my editor asked me to make some appointments with plastic surgeons to see what they’d do with my body. It’s not like I hadn’t contemplated plastic surgery before. Plus, if it’s not harmful to my body and I can afford it, why not? Dr. Bottger rushed in, all briskness and handshakes, and got right down to business. He complimented my face and my body, but was particularly impressed with my breasts. “Are they yours?” he asked. “Yep,” I said, pleased that they were behaving well that day, all drunk and swollen with pms. At the same time, I was pretty impressed with Bottger. Not only was he chair of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Delaware Memorial Hospital, but he was nicely built, with sensual, dark eyes that probably earn him lots of patient crushes. “You have the perfect figure,” he said. I was even more impressed when he rejected my requests for an upper lip implant—“You have quite a few more years before your lips look like wrinkled apple peels,” he assured me. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends who’d insisted that cosmetic surgeons will do almost any procedure you ask for, just to make money. “And you know, you don’t really need liposuction, either,” Bottger said after we’d moved on to the glug. “But a couple inches might make you feel better about yourself and give you a more feminine, curved outline.” I
liked the idea of being curvier, for which he’d charge $5,075. But the only decoration in the room was a small bronze cast of a woman reclining on her side, her head on a large rock, her generous, womanly tummy lolling to the side above fleshy-looking hips. It made me feel good that Dr. Bottger appreciated this kind of look, too—that femininity was beautiful to him in many forms. I just didn’t ever want to look anything like that. When Dr. Adrian Lo scooted his rolling chair over to the exam table and lifted up the lovely mauve gown to check out my hip fat, he let out a little laugh. “What?” I said, alarmed. Had my back grown hair overnight? Was there a panty-liner stuck to my underwear? “What is this?” Lo asked, giggling. “Why does your fat sit here like this?” Oh my God. “It’s a family trait,” I lied. I felt like shouting, “Let me see your back fat, Short Stuff!” I’d chosen Lo because his office is in Center City and he’s been one of this magazine’s Top Docs for the past two years. His skin was so smooth and his head was so full of springy black hair that he looked no older than 32, so I figured he must have been some kind of prodigy, which is why I let his comment slide. He showed me a set of before-and-after photos of a girl about my age who’d had liposuction done in the same areas that I wanted treated. Her “before” photo was what I wanted my after photo to look like, and her after photo looked like Jessica Rabbit. “In her case, as it would be in yours,” Lo explained, “the idea is contouring. Liposculpture is a better term.” Liposculpture, he explained, is his procedure of choice for his transgender clients—for men, slimming waists and adding hips; for women, subtracting boobs and streamlining hips, and grafting the loose skin to mold the new “member.” Fortunately, this had nothing to do with me or my liposculpture or the globs of fat that, as Lo described it, were just lounging there on my hips. “Who am I to judge any of my patients and their desires or tastes in anything?” he said. If that was the case, I thought, Dr. Live-and-Let-Live would do all I asked for. My eyelids? “They’re a few years away from needing work,” he said. My lips? “They don’t need any plumping. They’re just the right poutiness.” The cost? A whopping $6,275 for the liposculpture alone. My appointment at Dr. Naomi Lawrence’s office in Marlton took twice as long as any of the others. I spent an entire hour under those hideous fluorescent lights, lying right on the table on which the actual procedure would actually be performed, while the nurse gave me all the gritty details about liposuction and asked questions I couldn’t possibly answer. (“How do you think you will feel after the surgery?”) Lawrence was one of this magazine’s Top Docs last year, a dermatologist/plastic surgeon who specializes in lipo. Still, I halfexpected that when I grabbed my negligible glug, she would react more like a woman than a doctor, saying “What do you have to complain about? You could be a model.”
You could be a model. That’s what the fiercely perky representative from the John Casablanca Modeling School had said when she came to my high school in Connecticut and recruited me. I liked the idea immediately. I thought that just maybe, I could be accepted in that world—that all the competition other women felt toward me would be replaced by a sort of sisterhood of like-beings. My father drove me to the school in Hartford every weekend—45 minutes each way—and waited with all the mothers while I took classes like “Makeup” and “Intermediate Runway.” He was immensely proud that I was one of the few students the teacher would take to New York City agencies. When I was 17, instead of going to college right away (I eventually graduated magna cum laude from Connecticut State University), I moved to Manhattan and spent hours on shoots, listening to makeup artists declare, “The lip is soooooo important now. We need to be obsessed with the lip.” I even scored a show with Chanel and another with Christian Lacroix, and as I walked the runway, I could hear my father’s voice in my head, cheering me on. But his voice was the only one. In the modeling world, there was no acceptance, no sisterhood, just tooth-and-nail competition over what I called a “scale of minutiae”—my waistline was a half-inch larger than that of the girl on the right side of me, my eyes were a micromillimeter farther apart than those of the girl on the left. I learned the lesson quickly: My appearance wasn’t a part of who I was; it was who I was. As soon as Dr. Lawrence walked in, all young and blond and peppy, she dispelled any notion of facial plastic surgery—“You are much too young for a brow-lift, and since there’s nothing to lift, it could even backfire.” Backfire? What did that mean? As for the liposuction, she shook her head but reluctantly agreed to perform the surgery, saying she’d only charge me a discount rate of $4,000: “There’s almost nothing to take away, and it would only give you a slightly different shape.” “I’d like to look better in a bathing suit,” I protested. “I don’t care if anyone else notices.” I knew I was being defensive with her. Unlike the male doctors who had rejected my requests with compliments, Lawrence, I thought, was being judgmental of my desire to change my body. Most women are. I’m used to it. I expect it. But on the drive home, I wondered if I was the judgmental one, assuming that her reaction had to be personal because she’s a woman. A girlfriend of mine drives to Bryn Mawr every few months to get Botox injections from Dr. Ronald Lohner. She will go to no other. She raves about his perfectionism and anal retentiveness. I decided to give him a try. The nurse showed me into the consultation room, a very nonmedical-looking place. It was so orderly and homelike that I felt I was in my own living room, and decided I’d rather curl up on the couch with a stack of magazines than strip down, again, to show another doctor, again, my negligible glug. When Dr. Lohner came in, he jokingly asked, “What could you possibly want?” My speech, so practiced by this point, just flowed automatically—the hips, the lips, the glug. I had started to bore myself. In fact, this whole process was wearing on me. Just a few days earlier, I’d gotten an e-mail from my mother describing a woman with whom she’d recently become friendly. “At first I didn’t like her,” my mother wrote. “She’s too pretty.” I felt so bad for that woman, that she might have missed out on a
friendship because of how she looked. This was the curse my father had warned me about, that he reminds me of every time I tell him about a burgeoning female friendship that ends before it even gets a chance to start. People have a hard time seeing past the way I look. But after all these years of being told how pretty I am, it’s sometimes hard even for me to remember that there’s more to me than that. When Dr. Lohner and I finished looking through his album of before-and-after photos, we went to the exam room to begin the pinching and prodding. For the first time, I had to put on fashionable paper-thin surgery underpants. (Why my own undies were insufficient for the photos he took, I’ll never know.) He made noises about my not needing liposuction. As for the lip-plumping implants, he thought that injecting my own fat into my lips would be much safer. With the lipo, that would cost $3,650. It seemed pretty efficient, harvesting the fat from my tummy and injecting it in my lip, though I wasn’t crazy about the needle-in-thelip part. In fact, I decided against it. But the lipo—I’m still considering that.
Originally published in Philadelphia Magazine, February 2003