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October 9, 2012

Your Secret Beauty Life

A little Botox, a spot of lipo — why so hush-hush? Judith Newman makes a case for coming clean.


Photo Credit: Christoper Griffith

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Recently I ran into a friend who had a new face. Or more specifically, a finely chiseled nose and a jutting chin where there had once been a gentle slope. "Oh, my God, who did it?" I exclaimed.

"Did what?" she asked.

"Your face!" I continued, undaunted. "You look wonderful."

"Oh, you know, I'm just tan," she replied coolly. "I've been on vacation."

Did your nose go on vacation, too? I wanted to ask. Because it's still away.

For once in my life I kept my mouth shut, but I was gobsmacked. Why would anyone bother to lie about what was (har dee har) as plain as the nose on her face? In fact, why would anyone, at this point in time, bother to lie about plastic surgery at all? According to 247wallst.com, a site of news analysis for equity investors looking for growing industries, the total number of cosmetic procedures in the U.S. has almost doubled since 2000. Fourteen million procedures were done last year; 1.5 million of them were surgeries. These days, there are entire shows devoted to scalpel makeovers, and a study commissioned last year by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and conducted by an independent research firm showed that more than 67 percent of Americans would not be embarrassed if their friends and neighbors knew they had had surgery.

But, of course, that leaves about 33 percent who would be embarrassed. Why, exactly? Cosmetic surgery suggests we're vain — but so does getting contact lenses, and few of us lie about that.

Well, as it turns out, those who keep it on the DL have myriad reasons for lying — or, at the least, skirting the issue.

It's not so much that women fear seeming appearance-obsessed, though there's that; it's that they fear seeming vulnerable. "Women think getting surgery denotes a lack of confidence," says Park Avenue plastic surgeon Dr. Scott Blyer. Heather, a high-powered attorney and patient of Blyer's, agrees. First of all, she didn't want a spirited public debate about her decision to get a new nose ("everyone has an opinion"). But more than that, she didn't want colleagues thinking she didn't feel confident about her looks — or about anything else. "Once it was done, it was like, Surprise! I just thought discussing it beforehand would make me seem too wishy-washy."

But wait. We're all a little insecure, right? Who cares? Well, Grace, president of a health marketing company in Miami, cared very much. "In my line of work, you'd think that getting Botox and fillers before my kids' bar mitzvahs wouldn't be a big deal," she says. "But I didn't feel like broadcasting to the world that I felt insecure because my ex-husband would be there with his size-4 date."

Indeed, says Wendy Lewis, plastic surgery consultant and author of Plastic Makes Perfect, women in professions that are largely male or considered "serious" (finance, sciences, academics) are much less likely to fess up. "I had a client who was a VP of a pharmaceutical company who concocted an elaborate family emergency as an excuse for missing a conference during the healing process of her breast-lift," says Lewis.

Big life changes can make us secretive, too. I have a chatty, life-is-an-open-book friend who celebrated taking charge of a magazine by getting a face-lift — and hiding out for a month before starting the new job. Becoming a mother can have a similar effect: There's something so slapdash about a woman who's taking medical risks, even small ones, when she has a new life in her charge. "My mommy-makeover clients aren't bragging all over town that they had a nip-and-tuck to get back into shape," says Lewis. "Rather, they claim they gave up sugar, or are addicted to SoulCycle or Zumba."

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