Women in the World

04.14.12

Hey, Ashley Judd: I’m Puffy From Cosmetic Surgery—And Proud of It

Writer Samantha Marshall is puffy-faced this week, just like Ashley Judd. It’s because Marshall had work done—and she’s not ashamed to say it.

Like Ashley Judd, I have puffy cheeks this week. Unlike Ashley Judd, my cheeks are puffy from a cosmetic procedure, and I don’t care who knows it, or what people think about my decision. Cher said it best: “If I want to put tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.”

Judd is angry that people think she had work done when she didn’t, and I get it. The fact that she should be subjected to such scrutiny over a barely perceptible physical change is an absurd waste of media ink. And it’s symptomatic of the unfair way women and girls are objectified in our culture. But what I don’t understand is, so what if she did?

I don’t see any shame in taking advantage of all that science and medicine have to offer to make a few improvements. The results help me look and feel good about myself, and I think that’s healthy. Research has shown that cosmetic procedures can enhance self-esteem. In the November 2010 issue of Dermatologic Surgery, a prominent peer-reviewed dermatology journal, Chicago facial plastic surgeon Steven Dayan did a survey of more than 100 participates, who filled out questionnaires before and after injections. He demonstrated statistically significant increases in perception of overall quality of life and self-esteem among participants treated with Botox—proof that even subtle improvements in appearance can contribute to a greater sense of well-being.

My first encounter with a cosmetic surgeon took place three-and-a half years ago, at the age of 42. For a long time, I’d been unhappy with my neck, which was slackening with age. I was deeply jealous of Gwyneth Patrow’s angular jawline, and Ashley Judd’s, too, come to think of it. I tried face creams, but they did nothing. I tried to hide my wattle with scarves, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. An unfortunate side view from a holiday snapshot put me over the edge, and I finally got up the nerve to do something about it. After doing a little research, I decided to have liposuction on my neck.

It changed my life. I stopped wearing turtlenecks in the summer, and posed proudly for pictures in profile, thrilled that I no longer had to hide my wobbly turkey neck.

My success got me very interested in the topic, and, as a journalist, I began talking to plastic surgeons and dermatologists, learning more about what can be done, surgically and non-surgically, to subtly improve all those little flaws that most of us, if we are totally honest, obsess over. I ended up co-writing a book with a leading Park Avenue dermatologist. Along the way, I tried Botox, filler, and Thermage, which uses radiofrequency energy to heat below the dermis and tighten the skin.

Friends thought I’d lost it when I had liposuction again, this time on my thick ankles, or “cankles,” last year. It had long bothered me that I couldn’t tell where my calves ended and my ankles began. While I recognize that peg legs are not exactly tragic, when a top surgeon told me he could fix them, I jumped at the chance to finally look good in a pair of strappy sandals. Again, I’ve never looked back.

Ashley Judd is annoyed that people are always questioning whether or not she has had work done, but is that really such a terrible accusation? She herself says people speculate that she has had cosmetic surgery because she looks so youthful and wrinkle-free. I’d take it as a compliment, albeit a clumsy one. When people accuse me of having an aging portrait in a closet somewhere like Dorian Gray, I’m thrilled. It means I must be doing something right.

This week, I tried a new, minimally invasive procedure called Evolastin. This wrinkle-fighting technology uses radiofrequency energy delivered via hundreds of tiny insulated needles, bypassing the skin’s surface and targeting the heat directly where it’s needed to produce the most collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid—the three key ingredients for youthful skin. Over the next six months, I am told, I can look forward to overall improvement in volume, skin tone, and elasticity. I’ll be studying the mirror closely for signs.

In the meantime, yes, I look like a freak show. The lower half of my face is covered in tiny pin pricks—the needles went in a total of 700 times on each side of my face. I had saline mixed with Lidocaine pumped into my face to constrict my blood vessels and numb me so I could endure the zapping. The immediate result was that I looked like Alvin the Chipmunk’s angry big sister, and I expect my fat face to last for at least a few more days.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not rushing to try out every new procedure that’s out there. This technology only works when it’s in the most capable hands. My physician, Dr. Mitchell Chasin, was an early adopter of Evolastin, and has successfully performed more than 100 of these procedures.

For a long time, I’d been unhappy with my neck, which was slackening with age. I was deeply jealous of Gwyneth Patrow’s angular jawline, and Ashley Judd’s, too, come to think of it.

I’m also not one of these people looking to change my appearance so much as to improve on what I’ve already got. Whatever I do, it has to look natural. Clearly that’s not because I am trying to keep it a secret. I’m an open book about this because I want women, and men, to know that there are many options out there for people who want to look good, not plastic.

Not all of my friends are buying it. When I couldn’t make yoga class the other night and explained why, one girlfriend accused me of becoming addicted to cosmetic procedures. I told her that when I start looking like the Cat Lady, she can do an intervention. Another girlfriend is appalled that I am not “all natural,” and not accepting what God gave me. What’s so great about being natural? Armpit hair is natural. So is cholera. Do I have to accept that too?

Ashley Judd has a point about women being some of the worst culprits in the rush to judgment. The men in my life have been nothing but supportive. We should give each other a break and accept that what we do with our appearance is a personal choice. Instead of tearing each other down, let’s cheer each other on, whether we are movie stars or ordinary women with cankles.

Ashley, you are flawless and need no improvement, but should there ever come a day when you feel like having a little tweak, call me. I know a great doctor.