My Plastic Surgery Identity Crisis

A struggle between my vanity and integrity helped me discover exactly who I am

Most women in my peer group (let's just call it AARP territory) at some point think about "having some work done." If they can afford it (or even if they can't) the decision to go under the knife runs the gamut from rite of passage to embarrassment to obsession.

For me, it's an identity crisis: a struggle between my vanity and integrity.

Now in my sixties, I certainly care about how I look: keeping up with the latest styles, having fun with fashion, rarely leaving the house without makeup. What woman doesn't want to hear she looks pretty or, even better, young for her age?

Yet I know my priorities. I'm beyond grateful for every year, day, and even wrinkle I've been given. As a breast cancer survivor, the landscape of my body below my neck is scarred with battle markers. After a failed breast reconstruction requiring several surgeries, I vowed never to have surgery that isn't medically necessary.

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In other words, I simply let nature take its course. I've learned that age and experience prove the futility of chasing perfection. And that was pretty much where I drew my line in the sand, until I began to feel the sand shift. There were some days when I woke up and looked like I had aged a decade (or two) overnight. Several times, I've been shocked to see what I look like in a selfie.

As the years added wrinkles and pounds, I pretty much avoided inspecting myself too closely, but on one particular morning, as I put on my makeup, I looked in the mirror and faced my face.

No doubt countless women of a certain age have asked themselves the question I pondered: "Wouldn't I rather look younger?"

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Karma came calling the next day when I coincidentally had an appointment with a plastic surgeon. We were scheduled to discuss an upcoming procedure to remove a basal cell skin cancer on my nose. The spot was tiny and I assumed the surgery was no big deal, but the doctor said there would be swelling, possibly black eyes and bruises, and it will look as if I had plastic surgery.

"Is this a sign from the universe?" I thought. In its infinite wisdom, has my body created this skin cancer just to get me onto an operating table with a plastic surgeon?

So I asked my doctor: If I walked into your office without skin cancer, what would you recommend? He studied my face and said I'm a perfect candidate for a brow lift. Hmmm, the operating room is already booked, I reasoned. It's practically a two-fer deal.

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My plan to be the poster girl for aging naturally suddenly vanished in the blink of an eye (and maybe I should do them, too?). Two inner voices begin to wrestle with each other:

This is such a no-brainer. You're already going under the knife. While you're at it, why don't you also do lipo?

What happened to your commitment to embrace your imperfections? Doesn't this contradict who you are?

I knew the answer was in my gut, where all of my truths reside: What I look like and how I act reflects the person I am today and I've never been more satisfied with that. I'll always care about how I look, but I'm not afraid of how I look. My outside perfectly matches what's inside.

So I had the surgery, without any nips or tucks.

What's shocking is just how fast I could've flipped over to the dark side. If this could happen so easily to me, I can imagine how vulnerable other women could be to a big birthday, a critical remark, re-entry into the dating pool, an upcoming reunion or whatever rationale sparks us to question our looks.

I guess that's another lesson that comes with aging: acceptance. I don't judge anyone else's choices. To each her own. My line in the sand will remain as deep and permanent as the lines on my face.

Tags: well being