When the doctor called me in, he got right down to business.
“Can I touch your face?” he asked politely. I nodded.
“Okay, yes, I definitely see the problem areas,” he said, turning my face gently from left to right.
“Now I’m going to show you our computer simulation, so you can see exactly what we can do for you, and what you’d look like after the procedures. Now look at the camera….”
He took a photo and my face popped up on the computer screen. It looked okay, I thought, but then he told me to turn to the side so he could do the profile. I felt a familiar wave of panic. It came up on the screen, looking the same as always. Whenever I saw my profile, I felt ashamed by my thoughts: I look like Nazi drawings of Jews during World War II. I’d seen the propaganda once on a school trip to the Holocaust museum, and I was devastated by the resemblance.
The doctor had started talking: “So I’d recommend definitely rhinoplasty, getting rid of the bump, and then also a chin implant to sort of even out the face…. It’s very common, we do this all the time.”
As he spoke, he dragged and clicked the cursor on the screen, stretching and pulling my face. I sat, mesmerized, watching myself transform.
“There, something like that is what I’m thinking,” he said.
I looked at the girl on the screen. She did not look like me. She looked very normal. Pretty. Good. Nice. Sexy. I especially liked the way the chin implant looked. I’d have never thought of that. It felt like I could suddenly read minds, or be invisible and hear what everyone thought of me without them knowing I was there. No one would ever have had the guts to tell me I needed a chin implant. But now I could clearly see how much it helped. It changed me from looking like a weak, ugly nerd to a pretty, confident American girl. And hearing the doctor discuss my appearance candidly, without excuse or apology, was deeply satisfying. I’d been used to friends who’d say, whenever I’d broach the subject, “Shut up! You’re pretty!”
“Now that’s better,” the doctor said, staring at his screen. “Isn’t that beautiful?” He called in a nurse.
“Oh yes, that looks really good,” she said to me. “Do you like it?”
I nodded and asked if I could have a copy of the image.
“Of course,” the doctor said. He handed me a glossy print-out and I studied it, trying to make it make sense. I jutted out my chin to look more like the girl.
“The recovery process typically takes about two weeks, with a full recovery after about six months. Following the procedure there may be nausea, headaches, swelling, bruising and nosebleeds,” the doctor said, his white teeth gleaming.
The doctor and nurse explained that they would render me unconscious and cut into my face with sharp tools. He touched my face as he described where he’d make “incisions” — inside my nose, in the skin that separates my nostrils — and I began to feel sick. They were speaking so quickly. Who the fuck were these people. This couldn’t have been what my mom meant. I’d known what plastic surgery was, but there, in the office, I knew I hadn’t really processed the violence of it. I hadn’t, of course, told my mom about the consultation — I guess I hadn’t wanted to give her the satisfaction. But suddenly I wished she were here.
I thought about my friends, and how I would tell them about this. It would be humiliating. My friends always derided people who “cheated,” whether it was getting a prescription for Adderol that they didn’t need, having their parents donate huge sums to colleges so they’d get in, or throwing up all their food so they’d be skinny. Like Amy, who had the perfect body — she was thin and toned and had perfect, lush breasts — but threw up noisily in the bathrooms in the gym so everyone knew it didn’t really count.
“Okay, take your time,” the doctor said, ready to move on to his next patient. “It’s a big decision, but I think it would look really great.”
I walked out of the office in a daze, my hand in my pocket, clutching the folded print-out. Halfway across Central Park, I slowly crumpled up the print-out and tossed it in a garbage bin, tears dripping down my defiant, undersized chin.
I cared more about what my friends thought of me than what my mom thought. It was too late for her, but maybe not for me.
Sarah Beller is a writer living in Brooklyn. Some of her work can be found at thehairpin.com, thefix.com, takethehandle.com and xojane.com.