Live Through This

Before and After

Why I decided to get a new face.

Illustration by Sonja

When I was 14, after five years of braces and headgear and a torturous device called a palatal expander, my orthodontist sat me down and told me none of it had worked.

“You’re going to have a monstrous jaw,” he said. “Like Jay Leno.”

OK, that’s not exactly what he said, but it’s what he meant. Basically, I had a Habsburg Jaw, named after an old-timey royal family but now more famous for being the reason Jay Leno has that huge chin.

“Also, you have sunken cheekbones,” my doctor said. He described how as an old lady my chin was going to jut out and my cheeks would sink in, giving me a weird, sort of crescent-moon-shaped profile.

I was going to need surgery, he said. They were going to do all sorts of horrifying things to shrink my lower jaw and expand my upper one. And while they were in there, they’d give me cheekbones.

I didn’t want it. Mostly because it sounded absolutely terrifying, but also because I was a feminist. And feminists don’t have plastic surgery. I’m pretty sure it’s in the rulebook, right above “Don’t starve yourself” and “Don’t wax your vulva.”

I was supposed to embrace my looks, right? What if I ended up liking my Leno chin? What if in a few decades, Leno chins became “in” and I regretted getting rid of it?

Me before my surgery.

If it were just for my looks, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have had the surgery, or at least not until I was older and chinnier. But my orthodontist also said if I didn’t have surgery, they were going to have to pull eight teeth right away and I’d probably need dentures when I was a moon-shaped old lady. So it was a medical issue, not a cosmetic one. Except for those pesky cheekbones. But I’d always been jealous of girls with feminine, super-high cheekbones, and it would be silly to turn down just one part of the surgery…

So that’s how a year later I ended up in the hospital with a distinctly full-moon-shaped face. Immediately after the surgery I was puffy and ugly, and the first time I looked in the mirror I ran in another room and hid because I felt awful that my family was being forced to look at such a monstrosity. I couldn’t smile and could barely talk, and the only part of me that was still me were my eyes, looking out from an otherwise frozen, bloated face.

I went through a month being unable to smile, laugh, yawn, or eat anything that necessitated chewing (I ate a lot of, and got REALLY sick of, mashed potatoes and Jell-O). I’d randomly spit out stitches in inappropriate places, like while talking to people on the school bus on the way to a choir concert I couldn’t really sing in. My Christmas pictures from that year show this puffy girl with a strange, bottom-lip-only smile. I had no idea my transformation was going to take this long, or be so noticeable to everyone around me.

Eventually, my swelling went down, and I began to see the new me. I looked a lot like I did before, but my jaw jutted out a little less, and when I looked down, I could see the curve of my cheekbones.

At first, I was too glad that the swelling was gone to have many opinions on the final result (except for maybe a tiny disappointment that I hadn’t had some dramatic shift into a supermodel’s features, which my feminist self quickly quashed). But now I love it. I love feeling just a little more feminine, a little “prettier.” I especially love knowing that I will never have Jay Leno’s chin. And after a long time thinking about it, I decided that I’m not going to feel guilty about my “fake” face.

Me today.

This all came back last year, when Bristol Palin had jaw surgery and it felt like the whole world was coming down on her, trying to decide if she was lying about it being orthodontic. It brought back all my doubts about my own surgery, and my own personal debate over whether it was the “right” thing to do. I don’t know why Bristol had surgery, but even if it was completely elective, I’m not going to judge her for it. We live in a society where the media will relentlessly make fun of a woman for how she looks. Women’s magazines will offer all sorts of tips on how to cover up or erase your so-called “flaws.” But if you dare to have plastic surgery, some people will do everything in their power to expose your sin of caring too much about how you look.

Here’s the thing about looks: everyone cares about them. A good chunk of our most popular media are all about looking good. Feminists, “self-esteem experts,” and the like will tell you that feeling good is what matters, not looking good. It seems like everyone wants to tell you how you should look or how you should feel about your looks.

But I shouldn’t have to make excuses for why I have an altered face. I shouldn’t have to defend myself and explain that I’m not one of “those girls” who care too much about their looks. “Those girls” don’t exist! Everyone cares about the way that they look, and “those girls” are just a made-up scapegoat for our own insecurities.

Plastic surgery is painful and gross and awful and I don’t recommend it, but if you choose to do it, I won’t judge you. If you choose to do it a whole bunch of times, I may sit you down and ask if you need some help,* but I still won’t judge. Let’s give one another a break, eh? ♦

* Standard “I care about you” disclaimer: If your body image causes you more than slight discomfort, or you feel like you “have” to diet or get surgery in order to be happy, you may have something like body dysmorphic disorder. I highly recommend seeking out a guidance counselor or therapist if you are concerned about your own body image or if you’re worried about a friend’s health. Being nonjudgmental is great—watching someone else suffer is not.

48 Comments

  • Susann February 8th, 2012 3:08 PM

    This is so courageous and interesting :)

    xx, Susann
    http://fashioninpepperland.blogspot.com

  • rosiesayrelax February 8th, 2012 3:12 PM

    It’s great to hear such a frank and honest story on body image. You’re like, my hero.

    just kidding, I wouldn’t go as far as that, but your face looks pretty awesome to me, before and after :)

    rosiesayrelax.blogspot.com

  • mire February 8th, 2012 3:16 PM

    As a feminist, I think we are all entitled to feel good, and if feeling good means you want to look good, then by all means do it. I won’t be the one to say looks don’t matter when I am dieting and going to the gym every day to drop two dress sizes. Good on you for taking the necessary steps to feel good about yourself. The media are atrocious to young women. As much as I dislike the Palin family in general, the way they prey on Bristol Palin is crazy and scary.

  • Pemmsan February 8th, 2012 3:22 PM

    Oh my god, this story popped up right when I got an assignment on plastic surgery. This gave me so much food for thought, thanks a trillion!

  • mollywobbles February 8th, 2012 3:26 PM

    This is amazing and so brave! And like everything else on Rookie it carries such a positive message :D

    It sort of reminds me of when I was 15 and my Orthodontist said I was borderline on needing braces, meaning I could choose to have them or not.
    If I didn’t it wouldn’t be a major problem, but if I did there would be a fairly dramatic difference.

    In the end I chose to get my braces and I remember telling this guy about it at school, however, when I mentioned that I was only on the borderline, he began telling me that I was vain and self-obsessed for choosing to get braces instead remaining as I was. I got the braces anyway and my teeth look so much better :D

    I know it’s not exactly same but I felt I could relate :D

  • Mags February 8th, 2012 3:28 PM

    “We live in a society where the media will relentlessly make fun of a woman for how she looks. Women’s magazines will offer all sorts of tips on how to cover up or erase your so-called “flaws.” But if you dare to have plastic surgery, some people will do everything in their power to expose your sin of caring too much about how you look.”

    EXACTLY!!!

    I hate how if you have one flaw, like a bumpy nose, you’re ridiculed for it. And if you change it, you’re ridiculed for that as well. It’s like, really, society, really?

  • Sphinx February 8th, 2012 3:32 PM

    I think the best part is that you look happy in both pictures.
    Until a couple of years ago, I really hated my nose,and I even thought about surgery, but now, I kind of like it. It feels right. Maybe my face just grew around it, I dunno. I guess I’m just more confident now.

  • insteadofanelephant February 8th, 2012 3:32 PM

    i know a kid who had jaw surgery as well, he looks a lot better and is a lot happier with the way he looks!

    very encouraging story, a great share!

    XX
    instead of an elephant

  • slavetofashion February 8th, 2012 3:34 PM

    In this world of damned if you don’t/damned if you don’t obsession with looks, this story absolutely warms my heart. I applaud you for being honest about the medical side as well as the cosmetic side. As I always remind my sister, it’s not what you look like that makes you beautiful, it’s the person that you are. Sharing this story makes you pretty freaking gorgeous in my book!!

  • alix February 8th, 2012 4:03 PM

    I think this article is very reasuring to people, it made me think and now I realise that you’re right “those girls” don’t exist.

    P.S. Did anyone else notice her rookie-style flower crown? Very appropriate photo choice!

  • darksideoftherainbow February 8th, 2012 4:11 PM

    i had this. i had surgery after my freshman year of college and it was TOUGH. you can see my long chin and lower jaw coming out over the top in my college ID. it got worse with time and the doctor told me that eventually i would have trouble eating. the surgery was AWFUL. i remember trying to lift my head up and feeling like someone had beat my skull in with a metal pipe. recovery was very stressful. my sister had the surgery a couple years before me and her blood sugar dropped and she fainted so when i had my surgery my parents stuffed me with pureed food and ice cream. since my jaw was wired shut everything had to be eaten like that. for the first couple days i had to use a syringe to get it all in my mouth but i later upgraded to a straw (yippe!). the worse part was that i’m a mouth breather (i had surgery in the sixth grade to remove excess tissue but my doctor said i was already used to the amount of air i got through my mouth) and i would get really anxious breating with my teeth shut and all the old, dried blood in my mouth. oh, and i looked like a fat chipmunk for the first month or so. that time was so awful that for a whiole i couldn’t hear to the songs i would listen to during that time because it would bring me right back to all that discomfort. i’ll end with this: i had FUN with the swelling. i would go outside as much as possible just for people’s reactions. you know what i found out? some people are really rude hahahaha. :)

  • Cosmo Beatrix February 8th, 2012 4:25 PM

    Hmm i’m not sure if i agree with this, in your case of course your surgery was medical and crusial.

    Yet having plastic surgery and altering not only YOUR features but messing bilogically with your face, to look like somone ELSE seems conceited and weak, as if giving into the insecurities people have inflicted upon you due to their own, turning it into a cycle of decpetion and misrepresentation.

    Once it becomes acceptable for every human to be able to slice and fill any feature they are not happy with and others to support this, then where will the bounderies of acceptance and ethics lie?

    • fizzingwhizbees February 8th, 2012 5:13 PM

      But who says everyone gets plastic surgery because of other people’s opinions? Not everyone who gets a nose job or whatever is some sort of weakling who can’t resist the media. Sometimes they just feel like they’d be more confident if they got a nose job. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

      • jayne12 February 8th, 2012 7:18 PM

        also, even if the person decides to go through with it due to external reasons such as the media/ bullying etc, it should NOT be described as a sign of weakness- everyone responds to these things differently and it is also dependent on the degree and extent to which that person has been harmed in the past. it is extremely sad that women are made to feel this way yes but should not be blamed on the individual; to call them weak/ conceited is wrong. it is the fault of society, not the person.

    • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:23 PM

      good point in the last statement, Cosmo Beatrix…but that’s assuming each person wants to do that.

    • fullmetalguitar February 8th, 2012 11:16 PM

      I really disagree with this comment, and I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with part of it. “Yet having plastic surgery and altering not only YOUR features but messing bilogically with your face,” doesn’t make a lot of sense, since you can’t really mess around biologically with your face unless it was changed genetically for you while you were in the womb.

      My main point though is that even purely cosmetic surgery should be fine. In my case I had a breast reduction, and it was fantastic for me and my life. I don’t think I was being weak, since all the males around me seemed to think I was crazy for doing it (and even a lot of the girls). But my large breasts seemed like a freakish and grotesque mistake, and I never felt connected to them as a part of my body. I looked in the mirror, and I did not see the person inside of me. My mental image of myself was dramatically different from the real thing, and after I had my reduction my confidence shot through the ROOF.

      Granted, reductions do have some of the highest rates of satisfaction afterwards, but still. If a cosmetic procedure really would make you feel more like your true self, or if you have to go through anything like what I went through before my surgery, then you should do it. No matter what judgmental people, like Cosmo Beatrix, say. Because they’re really just part of the problem, insisted that there’s something wrong with you because you can’t grow to love absolutely everything about yourself. If you can dye your hair and pluck your eyebrows and go to the gym you can damn well choose if you want surgery.

      • fullmetalguitar February 8th, 2012 11:21 PM

        Of course, I think people should be careful before they choose it, because it’s dangerous and expensive and impossible to take back, but if it’s right for you then no one should judge you for it.

      • Cosmo Beatrix February 9th, 2012 2:55 AM

        Guys i’m not saying plastic surgery is competely unaccaptable, as i said in medical situations and when it is vital to better living quality blahblah

        Im saying once it becomes accaptable for EVERY AND ANYONE to get plastic surgery, and for this to be the norm then i believe it will be completely unethical and could probably lead into a whole sereis of other things can you imagine the repercussions of this being shown as fine?

        I’ve been told all my life that i need plastic surgery on my ‘retarded’ nose by my sister .. and lots of boys, so many boys. But i like my face! am i supposed to be ashamed? No boys get told they should get plastic surgery, it’s always women that this is being used against and what i’m trying to say, is by people thinking this accaptable many otherr girls in my position could see plastic surgery as an easy answer, when it is unneccessary.

        also apologies for making it seem as if i was calling anyone who gets plastic surgery as conceited, i was talking if it were to become accaptable and happen on a much wider scale it is inevatable that people would take advantage. And by messing with your face bioligaclly, you’re injecting chemicals that do things to change your natrual face (botox) hense you get so many ‘plastic surgery gone wrong documenteries and that aweful things that happened with breast implants demonstrate this.

  • isabellehungryghost February 8th, 2012 4:36 PM

    i cant imagine to stand the time after the operation. you have to be very strong. i mean, it was so hard! but, the way you discribed that you liked (and still like) your ( i have to say very pretty) “new” face is i think a good reward.

    http://blogbyisabelle.blogspot.com/

  • MissKnowItAll February 8th, 2012 4:40 PM

    This is so brave and fascinating to read! Two years ago, my friend broke her nose and was told she’d need surgery to repair it. At first she was terrified about being judged but she grew to like it.

  • Lily February 8th, 2012 5:31 PM

    this was a really great article, thank you

  • brynntheredonethat February 8th, 2012 5:44 PM

    EVERYONE deserves to feel beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with getting up an hour early to do your hair and makeup, or even getting surgery to have something “tweaked.” If you are constantly bothered by a certain aspect of how you look, all it’s going to do is hold you back from being a bold, productive individual. Natural beauty is great, of course, but if, for example, I have blonde hair and want dark hair, I’m more than likely going to dye my hair dark, because it’s my right as a person to feel confident. It’s perfectly fine — good, actually — to make yourself feel beautiful. And while surgery addiction is bad, one surgery isn’t.

    • MissKnowItAll February 8th, 2012 6:06 PM

      I totally agree. I always had thicker eyebrows and started getting them threaded when I was 12. I get them done because I liked the way i look after getting them done and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people judged me, saying that I was ‘trying to act mature’ but the truth is I fell prettier after getting them done.

  • flowerchild49 February 8th, 2012 7:10 PM

    love zee empowerment, love zee crown

  • atephos February 8th, 2012 7:36 PM

    This explains how i feel about any sort of surgery so much, you read my minddd. i was hit by a speeding car walking to school back in my freshman of highschool year so i had to have buttloads of oral surgery (jaws wired shut for about two months, the whole ordeal) and braces from then until this coming june as a seventeen year old. during one of my jaw surgeries my prostheodontist (without my knowing but with my ma’s full permission!) reached back and nicked my earlobe, pulling out an earring back that had grown into my ear back in third grade as a bit of a present. although this is not nearly as endearing and extreme an example as your (gorgeous, may I add) cheekbones it’s my small way of relating.
    also, personally, as long as a woman feels comfortable in her own body, she has every right to do with it what she pleases-i find it that women who are comfortable and confident in their own skins are the ones that i strive to the most. plastic may be “unnatural”, it doesn’t grow on trees or anything, but if a healthy amount is what truly makes a woman feel confident/sexy/etc. then i see no qualms. if anything its mildly liberating the way i look at it-its just skin and people have no right to judge, if a small amount plastic surgery is vain then so is every non-cultural piercing or getting a mohawk or a sidecut (which i am hopefully getting soon, can’t wait!), its all about self-expression. i feel that sounds extreme a smidgen but its my sentiments exactly; a body is a body is a body and it’s a woman’s right to do with it as she pleases as long as it’s within a healthy amount.

  • stellar February 8th, 2012 8:20 PM

    *u* r the only person who gets to decide what to do with yr body–more power to u!!! anyone who wld tell u what u ‘should’ do or feel about it has some serious control issues and needs to own up about it.

  • Material Fixations February 8th, 2012 8:24 PM

    Great and inspring story. I don’t think botox or elective surgery is bad as long as you don’t take to far, or you do it in a healthy state of mind. It’s not bad to want to alter some damaging features as long as the obssession with perfection does not motivate your decision.

  • anisarose February 8th, 2012 9:34 PM

    Great read! It’s always interesting to hear childhood memories from the adult who lived them and get a look at what was behind the surface.

    anisarose.blogspot.com

  • Kaetlebugg February 8th, 2012 9:53 PM

    “Being nonjudgemental is great – watching someone suffer is not.” So true & so concise. Great article.

  • chelsear February 8th, 2012 11:04 PM

    Thank you for sharing this article. You said it so perfectly: feeling good is what matters, not looking good. Yet isn’t it funny (and quite sad) that so often we equate looking good with feeling good?

    http://couturecultureblog.blogspot.com

  • Jamie February 8th, 2012 11:49 PM

    this is great! i also had face surgery. i had to eat from a tube for 6 weeks

  • Amy Rose February 8th, 2012 11:51 PM

    This was so fascinating and cool to read. Also, you had a Rookie crown before ANY OF US – WAY AHEAD OF THE CURVE, PROKOP.

  • Sonja February 9th, 2012 12:43 AM

    what’s really weird is that I HAD THE SAME SURGERY FOR THE SAME REASONS. Rookie psychically knew this when they assigned the illustration. That crocodile is an image i’ve had since i was a child..kind of foresaw the broken jaw surgery. I have to say – it was one of the heaviest things I’ve ever been thru in my life. I felt like I’d been thrown under a bus. I looked like Rocky Dennis (see: MASK starring Cher). My head. My jaw was wired shut for 6 weeks but STILL i managed to eat candy – I was able to squeeze M&Ms and tictacs around the back molars.

  • roundthemoon February 9th, 2012 6:19 AM

    Oh god, this was actually so amazing. I’ve been creeping around rookie as soon it opened in the beginning, and I’ve finally got off my arse and got around to writing an actual comment, because not only this article but also the comments inspired me so much. As a 13 year old girl, I am as self-conscious and low selfesteemed as they come; I have a lot of insecurities and uncertainties, and am developing a lot of my ideas about beauty and just the society and the world in general right now. This article and the insightful comments made me think in different perspectives that I hadn’t even considered before. I think it’s just amazing and unbelievable that a community like this exists, where humour, wisdom, so so much inspiration and support are all mushed up in one glittery sparkly lovely website. Keep up the amazing work you guys, rookiemag and rookiemag readers!(:

    • lorobird February 19th, 2012 7:00 PM

      I know right. I wish I’d had this website when I was a teen :) it is double awesome.

  • deb785 February 9th, 2012 9:12 AM

    meanwhile I don’t have a jaw

    =I

  • OliviaBiba February 9th, 2012 10:46 AM

    Now that’s a controversial subject.

    I did a surgery for breast reduction almost 4 years ago. Before that, I was really uncomfortable with the size of my breasts. It was a matter of aesthetics more than healthy issues (although my back seems much better now and my posture improved a lot), but I never felt bad about it.

    Let me explain it better: I studied (and still study) History. Being in a faculty for human sciences means that I’m surrounded by people very concerned about society, ideas, people who discuss about why things are the way they are and what’s our part in changing or not the world around us. I discuss such things everyday. I am one of those people. But I heard more than once from close friends of mine that it’s absurd that people make plastic surgery because it means caring too much about the way you look. I agree and disagree.

    I agree because yes, I care about the way I look. My concept of beauty may not always be exactly the same as conveyed by the media, but I’m a social being, so of course I share many ideas with others. So yes, maybe I did the surgery because I found (influenced by the concept of beauty of at least one part of the world I live in) that my body was not nice and it really really bothered me. But there are also lots of people who see flaws everywhere. They have to be exactly like that woman on the magazine cover – and better looking. They firmly believe that there’s only one kind of beauty and if you don’t feet the model, there’s something wrong with you – so you have to change it.

  • OliviaBiba February 9th, 2012 10:54 AM

    *fit the model (sorry, english is not my native language)

    My point is, we all share some of the same ideas about beauty and most of us do care about the way we look. Looks send a message of who you are, even if you to choose to look like you don’t agree with the concept of good looking of the society you live in. But plastic surgery doesn’t necessarily means you care that deeply and that’s all you can think about. I’m not a model on a deodorant ad, men do not stare at me thinking I’m super hot. But I do like the way I look – with my little “flaws”.

  • Tickle February 10th, 2012 2:14 AM

    “And feminists don’t have plastic surgery. I’m pretty sure it’s in the rulebook, right above “Don’t starve yourself” and “Don’t wax your vulva.”” Actually, I’m pretty sure that these things AREN’T in the feminist rule book. In the same way that you now don’t think people should be judged for surgery because it’s purely their decision, you shouldn’y condemn other people for their own personal decisions and say that certain actions are “unfeminist”. A feminist is someone who wants equality for women and dieting or waxing doesn’t change their political views. I know people should be happy in their own bodies but if they aren’t then they should be able to feel comfortable however they want, and remain unjudged on a site like Rookie.

    • dancinginthetrees February 10th, 2012 9:34 PM

      I believe that she was being sarcastic to point out that feminism really means that you don’t get to make the rules for anyone else.

  • all-art-is-quite-useless February 10th, 2012 11:57 AM

    When I first read that sentence, I understood it in the same way as you did, like in a “what? Isn’t feminism about giving people the confidence to feel good about their bodies whether they, say, wax or don’t wax? jesus christ, Rookie!” kind of way. But when I read it back, I think what was meant by this was that this was what she felt at the time, although now feels like we should be non-judgmental about what people do with their bodies.

    Also, when looking at pictures of the Habsburg Jaw, I noticed that a similar kind of jaw to this runs in my family… perhaps I have royal ancestors?

  • Thislittlebird February 11th, 2012 9:54 AM

    Marie Antoinette allegedly had a Habsburg’s Jay Leno jaw, clearly nothing like Kirsten Dunst!

  • DarbieDarling February 11th, 2012 11:51 AM

    This article was great!
    Thanks for being realistic. Everyone cares about their looks. In our society, it is almost impossible not to.

  • hanna February 12th, 2012 4:33 AM

    I have a habsburg jaw, too. I’ve been going to a orthodontist for many years now. He tried a lof of different things, like I had to sleep with a mask which were connected to braces in my upper jaw with little elastics. It got a bit better but the doctor said I still need surgery. But I can’t do it before I’m 18 which means I still need to wait another two years. I don’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand I want to do it, because if I’m honest I think I’d be prettier without my huge . But on the other hand I don’t want to want to feel prettier, you know? Thanks for this article. Good to know that I’m not the only one going through this.

  • joenjwang February 12th, 2012 4:36 PM

    I got plastic surgery because I wanted it. But now that I have it, I am relentlessly bullied or questioned. I’ve only gotten rhinoplasty, but because of one procedure people think I’ve gotten everything done, that I used to look like a “monster” before the surgery. I loved myself before the surgery, I love myself even now. I feel…sad.

  • lorobird February 19th, 2012 6:56 PM

    Yay for non-shaming, all-embracing feminism! :)

    Kudos to you for taking your decision AND for sharing it with us.

  • rosie-n February 25th, 2012 10:31 PM

    I TOTALLY HAD JAW SURGERY IN JUNE 2011

    http://wishyouweredead.tumblr.com/tagged/jaw%20surgery

    check it out

  • Turpentine_x May 2nd, 2012 9:24 AM

    Your before was beautiful, I think! But you’re now beautiful! I really love your confident :)