There’s plenty of psychological info out there about how, no matter what you do to change your looks — lose weight, get Botox, cut and color your hair, fill your lips, undergo plastic surgery — it’s not going to make you happier.
Case in point: I got a boob job at 40, and I wish I’d known then what I know now.
I think even before I did it, I knew I’d be sorry. I think I recall my future self wagging her finger at me and admonishing, “You’re going to regret this. You’re going to have to do something about those implants later on.”
If she spoke to me, I am certain that I heard her, though I am just as certain that I have never responded well to authoritarian finger-waggers and I would have thought of “later on” as a time when it wouldn’t matter anymore. That’s one problem with advice from your future self: Whether you’re telling a teenager to wear sunscreen or a young adult to stay out of credit card debt, warnings from future selves are typically met with eye rolls.
So here we are. I am 57. I am days away from having my implants removed. Beauty still to me matters. And I’m feeling a little rage against my 40-year-old self.
After 17 years, one side of my full C-cups ruptured, slowly deflating like a tire with a nail. The other implant remains obscenely full, like the fun twin sister who feels both protective and embarrassed by her dreary replica. I’ve been walking around lopsided for two weeks, wishing — not for the first time — that I’d never gotten the damn things in the first place.
Many people considered me the least likely person to get breast augmentation. My husband has always been more interested in fit, fun, and cheerful women than bombshells. My pert A breasts looked good in little T-shirts, if sort of lousy in bathing suits and cocktail dresses. I was an avid runner who was enviably unencumbered by large, bouncy boobs. I knew breast augmentation was expensive, painful, elective surgery. I knew all these things, yet I’d thought about getting a boob job for years.
It’s hard to look back and pin down my exact motivation. There was a longing to have the basic breasts I’d always had before my two sons. Both were summer babies, and I’d had full, luscious, porn-worthy boobs while nursing. It was a hit of pride that cut through the postpartum blues, like a burst of lime in a glass of tap water. Afterward, they were never quite the same.
Later, after my biological clock not only stopped ticking, but was surgically removed via hysterectomy, I began to experience the sense of being invisible to the opposite sex. My boys needed me less, and my life seemed stale. There was no perimenopause for me — just full-on cold-turkey estrogen withdrawal. Maybe the yearning for breasts was part of that washout, my midlife equivalent of a shiny red Corvette? It’s tough to know for sure.
Shortly after my 40th birthday, I was sitting in a plastic surgeon’s office waiting to have a suspicious mole removed when I picked up a brochure with glossy before-and-after augmentation photos. I began thinking of how much I resented the padded bras and chicken cutlets I’d worn over the years to hold up dresses and bathing suits. I wanted to look feminine, more than I wanted to look sexy. All those feelings washed over me like an ocean.
I decided it was then or never.
My male plastic surgeon pushed hard for bigger than the full B I wanted. “Bigger is better. You will regret not going to a full C,” he badgered almost angrily as I protested that I only wanted to look like a normal woman. At the time, I was intimidated by men with strong personalities, and I feel now like that doctor used his maleness to make me feel incompetent to make my own beauty decisions. In hindsight, I was.
I regretted my new boobs immediately.
That’s not to say that over the years, I didn’t have moments of joy with my bosomy body. I got a kick out of buying bras at Victoria’s Secret and bathing suits without thick pads. Dresses and blouses fit way better, but I never liked the new boobs.
I wasn’t excited about them. I didn’t put them on display. There are people in my life who never even noticed them. The cost, downtime, and stress of removal seemed too much though. But when the one implant ruptured, the decision to remove and not replace was easy.
The new plastic surgeon is a woman. She’s calm and practical and looks sad when I tell her I never liked the boobs. She will take out the implants and put in drains — which is as gross as it sounds. I will spend days on good drugs and limit my activity during recovery. And then I will give away all the pretty dresses that no longer fit my chest. The doctor, with her serene smile and un-Botoxed laugh lines, says I won’t have to bother buying new bras. “You won’t need one,” she says.
“Are there others like me?” I ask her. “Is there a tribe of us who have to get their old self’s implants removed?”
Of course there are.
Most breast implants last 7 to 10 years. Annually, nearly 400,000 women in the United States get implants. That number includes the nearly 100,000 who get them for reconstructive surgery after cancer, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Many implants rupture and must be removed or replaced. There is a rare cancer associated with implants. And, of course, full, luscious artificial breasts don’t age with the rest of the body. They rise smooth and youthful from a sea of crepey skin, like river boulders in a dusty desert.
I am trying to hear my future self as I prepare myself for the surgery. I think she whispers, “Tell your story honestly, with courage. Oh, OK, you can write anonymously if you must, but make sure the story is as true as it can be.”
She tells me not to be angry with the woman I once was — the woman who allowed herself to be talked into C cups when she wanted Bs. She reminds me that we all mostly make decisions based on the information we have at the time, from who we are and what we know at a particular moment. She makes sure I give myself credit for my many decisions that were extraordinarily good and right for me and those I love. And she leaves me with this advice, which I share with you — and with all the women who are younger than I am who think that a beauty procedure will make them happier.
Real happiness comes from the inside, and nothing is going to change that. So if you must make a choice, make a choice that can eventually be undone.