For years, my mom has tried to get me to use Botox. When I turned 28 she said, “Ay, Vanessa, Botox would be really good for you. Come with me to this Botox party”. If you’re lucky enough to not be familiar with Botox parties, they’re sort of like Tupperware parties, except instead of sharing food and compliments, women share chemicals and insecurities.
I resisted the idea of Botox, as I’m someone who tries to live naturally -- I use a menstrual cup, I go on green juice detoxes, and I avoid gluten as if I had a real allergy. I also identify as a feminist and would rather be caught dead than find myself in some Real Housewives of Beverly Hills ritual. Not to mention, at 28 I had just moved to Brooklyn and could barely afford Duane Reade concealer, let alone cosmetic procedures.
But then I turned 30 and noticed this wrinkle slithering its way down my forehead. The wrinkle didn’t bother me that much at first, but a year went by and it became deeper and more noticeable. And then the unexpected happened – I found myself in a relationship with a new boyfriend. As we all know, landing a boyfriend in New York City is no small thing, so I started doing things one does when one has a new boyfriend – like shaving my legs and wearing matching bras and panties.
So the next time my mother mentioned Botox, I thought – why not? I’ll give it a try. My mom told me not to worry about the money - it would be my Christmas present. And that right there tells you everything you need to know about my relationship with my mother. Her Christmas present to me was Botox. And the year before that it was a statue of St. Anthony, the patron saint of single ladies looking for a husband.
It was with this Christmas gift from my mother that I ended up at a cosmetic surgeon’s office in Tijuana. I know what you’re thinking – Tijuana? Lawless, donkey show, drug cartels Tijuana? Yes, that one. But, Dr. Aguilar was legit. At least, he looked like it on Facebook:
I was under the impression that he was going to target my one forehead wrinkle, but to my surprise he ended up carpet-bombing half my face with Botox.
When he finished he cautiously asked, “Can I make a suggestion?”
Now, I consider myself someone with good manners so I said, “Sure.” He brought a mirror to my face and pointed out that my nose was slightly crooked, my lower cheeks were fat and my upper checks were sinking in. He said he didn’t have a problem with the rest of my face, but if it were up to him he’d go for a nose job, fillers, and cheek sculpting.
The suggestion seemed ridiculous considering I have an average nose and a completely acceptable face. But Dr. Aguilar was a real doctor, and I’m pretty sure he had just diagnosed me as ugly.
He said he would do it all—the nose job, the fillers and the cheek sculpting—for $3,500. At this point, I knew nothing about plastic surgery so my initial thought was, “Damn, that sounds like a good deal.” I hesitated and he went even lower: $3,200. Fun fact, you can negotiate your plastic surgery in Tijuana! I left that day with an appointment to have work done over the upcoming Christmas vacation. If I changed my mind, I figured I’d just call and cancel.
Back in New York, I became obsessed with the decision: to go under the knife or not?
I didn’t think I was fundamentally ugly, but given the choice, why wouldn’t I want to look more attractive? And since cosmetic surgery was now in my price range, I really wanted it.
I rationalized this decision by saying it was just another way to boost my confidence—much like meditation and daily affirmations. And pretty people get ahead, dammit! This was an investment in my future.
And yet, I was scared - scared that I might fuck up my face and scared that I’d be outed by the feminist voices in my life as a traitor for giving into patriarchal beauty standards. I also held a deep insecurity that if anyone found out I had work done, however attractive I looked, I’d be dismissed as fake. #IWokeUpLikeThis would be a lie.
Looking for answers, I sought out advice from anyone who didn’t actually know me—a therapist, a spiritual healer, and even a famous plastic surgeon on Park Avenue, named Dr. Rathner.
Dr. Rathner is a triple-certified surgeon with excellent Yelp reviews. He advised me that cosmetic surgery should only be handled by the best, and quoted me $10,000 for the nose job, $1,200 for each filler, and $5,000 for the cheek sculpting. Suddenly, a $3,200 proposition seemed like a steal.
But before I ran out his office, Dr. Rathner, stopped me and asked:
“Do you wake up every morning and hate your nose?” I said no. “Then don’t do it. It’s not worth the pain, the money, or the recovery time. Plus, there are many successful women with awful noses. Take Sarah Jessica Parker, for example.”
He was right. I love SJP. I thought, “If she doesn’t want surgery, then neither do I!”
And just when I thought I had made up my mind, my mom called.
“Ay Vanessa. If I was your age, I would get it done. Besides, your face is more egg than oval, and you could use some pointed features.” And then I heard her on the other end of the line make a side comment to my dad, “Cooky, I don’t have Vanessa’s nose, do I?”
That hurt. I knew my mom hated my wrinkles, but this was the first time in 30 years that I realized my mom thought I had a less-than-desirable face. Maybe I was actually uglier than I thought.
On the other hand, who could understand this woman? She loved to comment on my weight, and every time it was a different story. I was either too skinny and needed to eat, or too fat and needed to exercise differently. Less yoga, more Zumba.
I made up my mind. I decided to go for it.
There was just one problem. I didn’t want to tell my boyfriend.
A few words about my boyfriend: He’s a visual artist and his life is highly curated. This is a man who wears brooches and only drinks coffee from handmade ceramic cups. So logically, a girlfriend who gets cheap cosmetics procedures would probably not fit well into his aesthetic.
So I did what every desperate girlfriend would do—I lied. I lied because a week after my surgery we were traveling together, and I needed to be able to explain away the bruises on my face. I told him I had to have “sinus removal” surgery, which I have since discovered, is not technically a thing.
He bought it and a few weeks later, I boarded a flight to Mexico. But once back at Dr. Aguilar’s office, I totally chickened out on the nose job. The doctor shoved more pictures of beautiful women in my face but I held onto the image of SJP and refused to back down. I did, however, agree to go ahead with the fillers and the cheek sculpting. I mean, I did fly all the way down there after all.
The doctor began the procedure by stabbing my lower stomach with a syringe the size of a Nag Champa stick. As he violently harvested the fat out of me, he explained that a fat transfer is actually a more natural approach than synthetic fillers. Hearing that it was natural gave me some level of comfort. I got cosmetic surgery the organic way!
And yet I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. As he injected the fat into my face, I heard a strange sound. Imagine what it would sound like if someone farted directly inside of your head. That’s exactly what I heard.
For the entire week following the procedure, I felt like a monster. Every time my mom saw me, she’d laugh and say I looked like Quico, an unflattering character from an old Mexican show.
On Christmas Day, I looked at myself in the mirror and cried. The swelling hadn’t gone down, my cheeks were lopsided, and I was starting to worry that I had just ruined my face by going to a doctor in Tijuana. I was sure my boyfriend was going to break up with me.
I spent hours that week online reading about surgeries gone wrong and trying to predict how I would look by the end of my recovery. One morning, my mom turned to me and said, “Ay Vanessa, you don’t even seem happy that you’re going to have a new face.”
I had to remind her that I literally could not smile.
When my boyfriend arrived, I pick him up from the airport wearing sunglasses and hair covering half my face. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to notice. That’s until we get around to having sex. One thing I didn’t really think through was that he was going to see the gigantic bruises where the doctor had stabbed my abdomen. I tried to coyly hide my stomach under the bed sheets but this didn’t work. When he saw the bruises he abruptly stopped.
“What the fuck’s that?!”
I caved in. I told him about the fillers, and the cheek sculpting, and the near-nose job. To my relief, he didn’t judge me, and he didn’t break up with me. He did tell me, however that he thinks it’s completely out of character and that he didn’t understand why I did it…but that I’m beautiful regardless, and he respects whatever it is I want to do with body. I highly recommend those feminist dating apps!
When the conversation ended, he said, “Well, at least you didn’t get Botox.”
My mom thinks the doctor didn’t do enough, and that I should go back for more. But I’m done with cosmetic procedures for a while. However, I don’t regret it. I’m happy with the way my face turned out. In fact, it’s pretty similar to the way it looked before—minus the bitchy resting face.
I also don’t feel like less of a feminist. Sure, cosmetic surgery isn’t necessarily advancing anything – but one of the gifts of feminism is that it’s given women the choice to have agency over our bodies, no matter what.
If this experience has taught me anything, it’s that we’re all vulnerable to the power of suggestion. It’s also made me realize something about myself - that I’m a woman who never passes up a good deal.