Self

I Created A Body I Love With Plastic Surgery

Photo: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock
plastic surgery

"You know you could easily fix that.” Miranda pointed at my mid-section. We were gathered under an umbrella at the pool, surrounded by middle-aged women with perfect figures. “You’re so thin that you’d recover fast."

I was perched on the edge of a sun lounger, wearing a bikini, and trying to look casual and comfortable. It was my first summer in Northern Virginia and the first summer since I was a kid that I hadn’t lived in the misty, summer fogscape of San Francisco.

"I know." I covered my bare, puckered stomach with my hand. I had had three eight-pound-plus babies, and my five-foot-tall frame hadn’t allowed much room for them. Stretch marks zig-zagged across my abdomen and loose skin draped over itself creating a "mommy pouch."

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For years, I had struggled to embrace my mom body. While I appreciated that I had had the opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth, I hated how unfamiliar my body had become. It felt like it belonged to someone else.

Still, I wore bikinis to the pool. I liked how they looked on me and struggling with a one-piece in that bathroom was a pain. But Miranda’s comment reminded me that time I spent exercising, eating right, and trying to flatten my domed stomach hadn’t worked.

Nothing did.

I wasn’t a stranger to plastic surgery. Two years earlier, I had had a breast reduction and lift.

At a size 32G, my neck and shoulders ached constantly from the weight of my breasts, and my insurance covered the cost of the procedure.

After my surgery, I was a full 32C and no longer in pain. Even better, I could buy bras off the shelf and didn’t need to special order insanely expensive, ugly ones. And for the first time in my life, I felt like people noticed me and not my breasts. At the time, I said it was the best gift I had ever given myself.

As the years passed, Miranda’s comment stayed with me. My protruding stomach was a frustrating reminder that I couldn’t move in the ways I wanted. I couldn’t run without leaking urine, I couldn’t engage my core during yoga, and my lower back and hips hurt constantly due to a weak core.

Eventually, I booked an appointment to see a plastic surgeon to gather information on a tummy tuck. There, I learned I had severe diastasis recti resulting in a three-and-a-half finger gap. This explained why I struggled with lower body aches and pains, and a lack of strength.

Unfortunately, my insurance felt boobs were more important than creating a healthy, strong female body that could move without pain. I left the appointment disappointed but resigned to try to embrace my body as it was.

I tried. I told myself I should be proud of my extensive stretch marks and that my body created three amazing sons. I diligently did exercises to close the gap between my abdominal muscles, only to have my stomach look even more rounded.

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

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Then, on my twentieth anniversary trip to Morocco, I had a hammam. My body was scrubbed, soaked in hot and cold water, and wrapped in towels while I sat in the steam room. When the attendant began scrubbing my stomach, she asked if I had just had a baby.

My youngest son was eleven years old.

That year, when pool season came, I bought a one-piece bathing suit for the first time and hid under my cover-up.

My stomach embarrassed me, and no amount of uplifting self-talk changed it. I had tried body positivity, but I saw nothing positive about a body that not only didn’t work how I wanted but that I also found unattractive.

All summer, I marveled at the women my age who had birthed multiple babies but still had perky boobs, flat stomachs, and glossy hair.

I listened as they discussed the marathons they were training for, knowing I could barely run around the block without wetting myself. When I practiced yoga, I had to adjust my mommy pouch during forward folds and couldn’t engage my core during balance poses. Buying new clothes required factoring in how my extra skin would fit.

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Rationally, I understood that like social media influencers with great filters, these women were altering their images — only in real life.

After all, women twenty, thirty, and forty years ago looked much older in their forties than my peers and I do. As someone who frequently lambasts social media filters and the resulting images that give an unrealistic of what people look like (we are not hybrid anime-humans), I struggled with my desire to go under the knife.

Would I be succumbing to social pressure to look a certain way, or did I want a tummy tuck for myself?

Like many women I know, I regularly have small doses of Botox injected into my forehead, around my eyes, and between my brows. I’m often told I look younger than forty-six and am asked what I do. I could lie and say good genes (my mom didn’t gray until her 50s and has amazing skin with few wrinkles), but why lie?

Here’s the truth: when clumps of my hair fell out after having half my thyroid removed and from taking anti-psychotics for bipolar 2 disorder, I got micro extensions to fill in my thin and balding spots. I color my hair even though I don’t have grays, and I dye my eyebrows (as a natural blonde, mine are nearly invisible).

Last year, I tried laser resurfacing on my face and two weeks ago, I had cheek filler for the first time (jury is still out on that one).

I love great lighting, and I’ve used sunblock and moisturizer every day since I was sixteen.

I exercise 30-60 minutes a day doing a combo of cardio, strength, and yoga. I drink water and green tea and consume very little alcohol. I don’t eat a lot of sugar but love Taco Bell. I use The Ordinary skincare products many of which are under $10.

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Was I already filtering my appearance with non-invasive procedures? Yes.

Did they make me happy? Yes.

But none of those things gave me what I wanted most: a body that could move without pain. A body without a skin pouch. An abdomen that held my organs in place so that they don’t protrude through my separated muscle wall. 

Photo: Courtesy of the Author

Eight years after Miranda’s comment, I finally had a full tummy tuck with muscle repair. I saved for years to afford the surgery, and it really is the best thing I’ve gifted myself.

The recovery was rough. My midline, where my muscles were stitched back together, ached for at least six months. For the first six weeks, I was unable to roll over in bed or sit up on my own. In fact, for the first month, I couldn’t get off the toilet without help.

But today, I love my body. I love that my core is strong enough to hold a headstand. I love that when I put on clothes, they hang nicely. I love that I don’t leak urine as much as I did pre-surgery. I am strong and confident in my body.

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Am I filtering my appearance and giving an unrealistic image of what a middle-aged woman who’s given birth looks like?

Maybe.

Or maybe she looks like me: happy in her body, no matter how she got there.

Mia Hayes's memoir Always Yours, Bee, about her husband’s accident and her subsequent spiral into mental illness, was selected by BookBub as one of “15 Powerful Memoirs to Read in 2021.” She is also the author of the women’s fiction series, The Waterford Novels.

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