‘You’re not being vain,’ the man with the clever hands holding a felt-tip pen assures me as he draws circles on my legs.
The year is 2002. I’m 26 and my boyfriend won’t marry me. My nasty inner voice whispers to me late at night, ‘He won’t marry a fatty’.
This is one of the reasons I find myself preparing to have liposuction on my thighs.
The cosmetic surgeon’s office looks nothing like a hospital. If I didn’t know better I could be fooled into thinking I am visiting the offices of a high-end lawyer or accountant. The only give-away is that I’m wishing I’d worn better undies — a thought that’s never crossed my mind while discussing my tax.
The doctor gives me a choice of anaesthetics. I can have a general anaesthetic and wake up when it’s all over, or I can have a local anaesthetic and stay awake for the entire procedure.
I opt for the local anaesthetic, partly because it’s slightly safer (dying from vanity surgery would just be embarrassing), but mostly because I feel like I should experience the fear and the pain.
I guess it’s a bit like penance. I deserve to feel the pain for wasting my money and time on a medical procedure that is totally unnecessary, a drain on resources that could otherwise be spent on burns victims, and conflicts with a big chunk of my values. I should have been a Catholic. I’m a natural when it comes to self-flagellation.
As I lie naked on the operating table feeling the local anaesthetic injected into my thigh I worry I’ve made the wrong decision. ‘That really hurt,’ I say.
‘It’s going to get a lot worse than that,’ the doctor says. He isn’t kidding.
Liposuction feels like a cross between chiselling paint off a wall and stirring up an ants’ nest with a stick. The sweat gathering on the doctor’s forehead tells me that I am not imagining the force of the blows. Each stroke hurts and the next one seems to hurt more than the last.
I try to distract myself by watching my fat flow through the tube and into the measuring container. It’s a rich golden colour with a silky texture. I’m surprised by how good it looks. Something I have always viewed with disgust and contempt looks quite beautiful from a different perspective.
After the procedure I’m wheeled into a recovery room and given a pair of tight crotchless bike pants to wear to minimise the swelling. I stand to put them on but fall back onto the bed and then vomit.
For the next 24 hours I’m unable to stand without fainting as my day You’ll-Be-Home-by-Lunchtime Procedure morphs into an All-Day-All-Night-And-Most-of-the-Next-Day-Hey-This-Wasn’t-In-the-Brochure Procedure. What also wasn’t in the brochure was that I could barely walk for a week and I was covered in so many bruises I looked like a Muppet for two months.
Liposuction is a serious medical procedure and it hurts like hell. Despite the slick marketing and swanky surroundings, it’s more like a trip to hospital to get your tonsils out than a visit to a day spa to get a pedi and a wax.
I’m not proud of having liposuction. In fact, I’m so embarrassed about it that it’s been my guilty secret for over a decade.
I think the biggest reason for my embarrassment is that admitting to having lipo is akin to admitting to being insecure and superficial. It’s about revealing to the world that, despite pretending otherwise, I have spent much of my life haunted by body insecurity. And for heaven’s sake, I’m supposed to be a feminist.
But despite my feminist principles I got suckered by a culture that systematically induces body hatred. Yes, I freely chose to have lipo. Hence it’s my responsibility and my shame and embarrassment. But at the same time, that choice was shaped and influenced by a culture that treats normal and healthy levels of body fat on women as a medical condition requiring painful and dangerous medical procedures.
What I didn’t realise all those years ago, was that I didn’t walk into that surgery because I had a problem with my legs. The problem was with my self-esteem.
I believed two lies: that my legs were fat and ugly, and that it mattered. I had been conned into thinking that the shape of my thighs was a black mark on my character and an impediment to my happiness. I swallowed these lies whole and underwent a serious medical procedure, suffered complications, spent a lot of money, and endured a lot of pain searching for self-acceptance in a place were it could never be found.
It’s absurd, not to mention pointless, to reject and hate a normal and natural part of my body, part of me, simply because it doesn’t look like it came off a Mattel production line. And it is even more absurd to think that sucking some fat out of my legs would have any impact on the quality of my life or make me feel better about myself.
The very act of having cosmetic surgery just reinforced my belief that I wasn’t good enough and that I needed to be fixed. And given that ten years later, I am still working on my body image, it is quite clear that the lipo did not solve any of the problems I thought it would.
I discovered the hard way that happiness is not found at the end of a surgeon’s scalpel.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com