I’m not joking when I say I can actually remember the day I became fat. It was late spring in 1993, and I was watching Star Plus on the television while eating some cheese toast. I was engrossed in my regular after-school schedule of The Bold and The Beautiful and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Plot twist: both shows would have a disproportionately large influence on how I see the world (i.e. fashion-bitchery-meets-self-help). To fill in the airtime between shows, the channel would have short ten-minute mini-segments. Stuff like a mini-documentary on surfing in Hawaii, skateboarding culture in L.A., or how to cook authentic Thai food – that sort of thing. But on this day, on this fateful day, they had a ten-minute introduction to a fairly new concept taking over the world: liposuction.
The segment had an interview with doctors in shiny offices talking about what exactly liposuction was and how popular it was becoming in their clinics. They showed “before” photos of people who looked like potatoes, and then cut to happy Olympic swimmers posing in their underwear.
“They can suck out fat?” I thought to myself incredulously, my hand frozen midair still holding my uneaten cheese toast. “Impossible!”
“And they insert a tube, like a vacuum, into the area of stubborn fat…” the voice on the television said in warm, non-judgmental tones. “And suck out the fat…”
“Like a vacuum,” I repeated in wide-eyed wonder.
…and the best part is that the since the fat cells have been removed, the fat never returns!”
“Never returns…NEVER!?” I said, looking around the room for someone to share this earth-shattering moment of clarity and scientific breakthrough.
It was a life-changing moment, the kind that they say old people have on their deathbed or vulnerable people have in therapy – one that you can pinpoint as a picot in your life cycle. Oprah calls them “Aha! Moments”
But this wasn’t a particularly positive turn, because to my nine-year-old mind, it meant that I can eat whatever I wanted as long as eventually I had enough money to have it sucked back out again. And so I did. I finished that cheese toast, and then I had cakes and biscuit and fries and burgers. And I did so for decades.
Eventually I realised how unhealthy my eating habits were and because of another aha moment (a traumatic event involving a pair of XXL jeans a 360-degree dressing room mirror) I changed my ways. I joined a gym, stopped eating gratuitously and, to be honest, have been in a constant struggle with carbohydrates ever since.
This past summer I had to have a small medical procedure that had the potential of leaving a scar, and when I expressed some reservations about exactly how “aesthetic” laparoscopic surgery could really be, my general physician suggested I talk to his plastic surgeon friend so I could assuage my fears.
According to movies the great plastic surgeons in New York City practice on Park Avenue, and I was happy to find that Dr. Jacob, to whom I had been refered, had a clinic right on the street. He was on the ground floor of a very posh building, the kind with a doorman and a lobby that looks like a Roman temple. His office was the third door past the second Corinthian column. I buzzed, waited a moment to hear a click, and pushed open the heavy wooden door.
The office looked like a posh space from when Dynasty was still fashionable TV. It had white leather couches, a white shag rug and classical music came cascading out from behind hidden corners. The waiting area had glass tables filled with fashion magazines, presumably left there so you can flip through it and choose which face you wanted. The walls were mirrored so that you saw yourself wherever you looked. I was there with another man, both of us refusing to make eye contact but obviously trying to judge why the other was there.
My guesses for him were nose-job and/or chin implant, but before I could decide, I was called for my appointment. The receptionist led me past a series of closed doors to a small examination room and told me to undress and wear a robe.
“But I am not here for any surgery!” I insisted, clutching my t shirt. “I only wanted to ask him some questions.”
“Of course,” she smiled, ignoring me cheerfully and closing the door. There wasn’t anything else to do but change and sit down. About ten minutes later, a man in his seventies with a kind face shuffled inside.
“Hi, I’m Doctor Jacob!” he smiled and took a seat in front of me. “So, tell me, what can I change about you?”
Now there is an opening line. I told him about my minor procedure and explained that I was worried about scarring, which I why I was sent there by my doctor. He listened intently and told me to stand and disrobe.
“Well,” he said, looking me up and down. “You said you had your appendix out right? Yes, yes,” his hand poked and prodded me. “Ok, see that scar healed really well, so I wouldn’t worry about it. You’ve got some good elasticity. In fact…”
He trailed off.
“Well I was just going to say that you heal so well I don’t see why you don’t get rid of this,” he said, grabbing my tummy fat in a cruel and gruesome way. “I mean, it would only take about day,” he took out a black marker and began making large marks around my belly and flanks. “We’d get rid of this, take a little of that, lift a little of this, and voila!” He stood back. “You’d have a nice, beautiful flat stomach.”
I looked at myself in the mirror and saw a cheeseboard staring back at me.
“You used to be fat, I can tell.”
“Can you?” The words ‘flat’ and ‘beautiful’ were already floating around us like anorexic fairies.
“But you’ve worked very hard, haven’t you?,” he said in a soft tone.
“I have,” I said, tearing up.
“Why not let it show?” he whispered leaning in. “You deserve it.”
Suddenly I was nine, and the doctor from TV was pointing his suction tube at me, fulfilling a promise made decades ago. I sputtered and stammered. Should I? Could I? Eventually the fairies left and I found my voice enough to thank him for his time and tell him I’d be in touch if ever I decided to go down that route. I went ahead with my regular medical procedure and indeed, the scarring is minimal.
But the truth is, a year on, I’m still googling liposuction and tummy tuck. I am not sure what Oprah would say about that, but we all know that the cast of The Bold and the Beautiful would definitely be on board.
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