"Slaves to the Scalpel: Cosmetic-Surgery Junkies"
Nip-and-tuck addicts risk their lives and spend millions of dollars in the name of artificial perfection. Many plasto-holics end up with disfigurements that would make Frankenstein blush, then gladly return for more.
Under the Knife With Dan Kapelovitz
"I am becoming addicted to plastic surgery," says Jen X, a 34-year-old porn actress, who has had a breast augmentation, a chin implant and numerous Botox injections. "I already have an addictive personality; I'm already in 12 steps. I'm just shifting my addiction from alcohol and drugs to plastic surgery. This is way more expensive than alcohol."
To raise money for a nose job, Jen starred in a gang-bang scene for $1,700. Unfortunately, the video work resulted in a kidney infection. "I had to cancel the surgery," says the blue-screen thespian. "That's why I shot the gang-bang in the first placeâ€”for my nose job, and now I have more money in hospital bills than I made on the gang-bang."
Jen also undergoes monthly injections of silicone into her lips, a dangerous procedure for which she visits a clandestine doctor. "What I have done is totally illegal, but I don't care; [silicone] is the only thing that lasts. I continue to have my lips done every month to get them bigger and biggerâ€”they're never big enough. Unless they're like Angelina Jolieâ€”that's when I'll stop. This industry is so cut-throat that, unless you naturally look like Pam Andersonâ€”and she's not even naturalâ€”you're fucked. The more surgery everyone else gets, the more I have to get to keep up."
Plastic surgery is more popular than ever. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), doctors performed nearly 8.5 million cosmetic procedures in 2001, a 304% increase from 1997.
The rise of plastic surgery is due in part to society's increasing acceptance of artificial beautification. In a February 2002 ASAPS survey, 34% of women and 19% of men said they would consider having plastic surgery. The poll also found that 55% of Americans approve of cosmetic procedures.
Instead of gathering in living rooms to order Tupperware, housewives now host Botox parties. The wrinkle-phobic women invite a physician into their homes to inject Botoxâ€”a diluted and purified form of botulinum toxin, the poison responsible for botulismâ€”into their foreheads in order to paralyze their muscles and eliminate worry lines.
While nose jobs, breast augmentations and face-lifts have been around for decades, today, plastic-surgery clinics advertise everything from butt implants to laser vaginal rejuvenation.
An influx of medical practitioners are both meeting and fueling the increasing demand for cosmetic surgery. Because elective procedures are not covered by insurance, many doctors who are tired of dealing with bureaucratic HMOs are jumping onto the lucrative plastic-surgery bandwagon. "When you graduate medical school, you have the ability to practice medicine and surgery," says Dr. Alan Gold, an ASAPS spokesperson, "so I can be an internist and, in most states, I'm able to do liposuction, face-lifts, deliver babies, do neural surgeryâ€”there's no restriction on my license. There are obstetricians who may choose to do liposuction; there are opthalmologists who may do face-lifts, and now there are dentists who are seeking the ability in certain states to do rhinoplasty and face-lift surgery. It's rather scary."
Even more frightening are the legions of unlicensed practitioners who illegally set up underground plastic-surgery clinics. Patients of these back-room facilities risk disfigurement and even death.
The fierce competition and growing market are causing prices to fall, and for patients who can't afford to pay up front, there are loan agencies specifically created to finance breasts implants and other aesthetic procedures.
Is our beauty-obsessed culture creating a nation of plastic-surgery junkies?
"I do not know any girl who has ever enhanced herself only one time," says Rhiannon, a professional dominatrix who has traveled all over the country in her quest to possess gargantuan breasts. "[The surgeries] are like potato chipsâ€”you never stop with one."
Rhiannon, whose 4,100-cubic centimeter, 48MMM tits each weigh approximately ten pounds, began her bust-enhancement odyssey in 1991, and has since had 30 surgeries on her right breast alone. "I went in for a boob job like some people go to get their teeth cleaned," says the raven-haired star of Cleavage Dreams, who looks like Elvira, if the horror-movie hostess had two beach-ball size mams popping out of her chest, along with large quantities of silicone and fat injected into her lips. "There's something about my personality that big is never big enough. If I'm going to do it, I'm going all the way."
In the future, Rhiannon plans on having even larger implants put in. "Whatever needs to be done, I will do it. You can exercise until you're blue in the face, but your boobies aren't going to grow from that."
Melonie Charm, a big-bust model who resides in upstate New York, has also had multiple breast surgeries, as well as a tummy tuck and the fat transferred from her belly into her lips. While the operations have primarily been a career move for Charm, she understands the psychological attraction of cosmetic surgery. "[Plastic surgery] does make you feel better," says Charm, who transformed her natural 34C breasts into 50JJJs. "It gives you more self-esteemâ€”you look better, you're more confident, but that doesn't last forever. Some people who are not truly happy with themselvesâ€”they get plastic surgery. They feel good for awhile, and then they want to fix something else, or they want to get it redone."
Terry Prone, a 52-year-old novelist and public-relations specialist, details her multiple under-the-knife adventures in her book, Mirror, Mirror: Confessions of a Plastic Surgery Addict. Prone has had a face-lift, brow-lift, arm-lift, laser resurfacing, cheek implants, liposuction, a tummy tuck, Lasik eye surgery, dental implants and Botox injections. Prone's eyebrows, eyelids and lips have been permanently tattooed, her spider veins removed with lasers, and she has had her "hammer toes" flattened. "I'm not suggesting that plastic-surgery addiction is as out-of-control as alcohol, cigarettes or heroin," says Prone. "I'm saying, there's a hell of a high involved. Not a chemical high. A continuous, low-level high."
"It's like being an addict because that elation fades, and you go back to wanting to do something else," says Allanah Starr, a pre-op transsexual who describes the feeling right after surgery as "a high." Ever since Allanah had her first nose job five years ago, the 27-year-old chick with a dick has averaged two to three procedures every year. "I wish I could have moreâ€”with working and scheduling, it's a big process. It's also too expensive."
The busty she-male claims to have spent more than $100,000 on her myriad surgeries, which include having her eyebrows lifted, her eyes reshaped, a mini face-lift, Botox injections, her ears pinned back, her eyelids done, cheek implants, lips augmented with silicone, her chin resculpted, two sets of breast implants, three nose jobs, her laugh line filled in with silicone, liposuction on her neck, her Adam's apple filed down, and silicone pumped into her hips and butt multiple times.
Starr isn't finished with her transformation; she plans to restructure her jawline, file down her brow bone, lower her hairline and make her 40DD breasts even larger. "I want to be double the size I am now," says Starr. "I like extremes. The thought of going overboard has never bothered me."
While transsexuals typically undergo a certain amount of plastic surgery, Starr believes that she suffers from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a psychological condition characterized by an irrational preoccupation and conviction that one's body is never attractive enough. According to Dr. Katharine Phillips, author of The Broken Mirror: Understanding and Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder, BDD may affect up to 2% of the U.S. population. Of these BDD-suffering Americans, 72% seek surgical, dermatological or other nonpsychiatric medical treatments.
Plastic surgeons contend that undergoing multiple procedures is not necessarily symptomatic of BDD. "There are very well-balanced people who have numerous surgeries," says Barry Weintraub, national spokesman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. "They'll do one, and some months or years go by, and they'll do another and then a third, and so on. Then there's another group of people, and these characters, no matter what you do, are not happy. Think of a person like a car. The plastic surgery is just like the paint job; it's just the outside, but what's important is the motor."
While the law doesn't require doctors to refuse seemingly unstable clients, surgeons must obtain the patient's informed consent, which arguably can't be given by a psychologically disturbed individual. Most responsible doctors, including Weintraub, take steps to weed out any crazy clients. The Beverly Hills surgeon claims that he rejects a third of his potential patients for a variety of reasons and says he can often spot BDD sufferers right away. "They have unusual habitsâ€”picking at the face, biting their nails, acting jittery. They may have already had three or four operations on the same body part."
In 1999, a woman identified in court documents only as Lynn G. sued plastic surgeon Dr. Norman Hugo, claiming that she suffered from BDD and that the doctor should have referred her to a psychiatrist instead of operating on her. The woman had undergone more than 50 surgeries in a six-year period, but decided to sue after she was unhappy with scars left from a tummy tuck. In June 2001, New York State's highest court dismissed the case, ruling that there was no concrete evidence that she suffered from BDD. The fact that the appeals court agreed to hear the case may open the door to future BDD-related lawsuits.
While some unhappy plastic-surgery patients turn litigious, others turn violent. In 1999, Theresa Mary Ramirez was sentenced to life in prison for the 1997 murder of Dr. Michael Tavis, a surgeon who she claimed gave her leaking breast implants. Unhappy with her face lift, Beryl Challis, of Bellevue, Washington, shot her surgeon, Dr. Selwyn Cohen, to death, then went home and killed herself.
"People who are seeking that type of extreme transformation have to be carefully screened and counseled, or it can be a danger to both them and the plastic surgeon," says Dr. Alan Gold. "There are patients who have attacked their surgeons; so while that is rare, it shows you the impact that the kind of transformational surgery that we perform can have on people."
"We want to make sure that what we do will end up making [our patients] happy," says plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen P. Grifka, of Culver City, California. "If a woman comes in, and she thinks [cosmetic surgery] will solve her marital problems or give her a better personalityâ€”things like that are not realistic goals."
Even cosmetic objectives that can be easily achieved may not be advisable. Dr. Grifka and his medical partner, Dr. Marc J. Kayem, have had many unusual requests, including a model who walked into their office demanding a pig nose. "She wanted something that would make her stand out from the rest, but that is something that we did not feel comfortable getting involved with, because it didn't appear to be a reasonable request," says Dr. Kayem.
Dr. Kayem says that he sometimes advises patients to seek counseling, but he acknowledges that determined individuals will go from surgeon to surgeon until they find one who will grant their extreme requests.
"I've had plastic surgeons tell me, 'No, I won't do that, because you're fine,' and I just go to somebody else," confirms scalpel slave Allanah Starr. "Nobody is going to stop me. Whatever you want to do to your appearance is definitely your right to do. If you want to fix a little detail, there's nothing wrong with that. Everybody has different goals. The majority of people who have plastic surgery obviously don't have the same goals I have. I want it to be over the top; I want it to look overdone a little bit."
New York City resident Amanda Lepore shares Starr's by-any-means-necessary philosophy. "I'm going away this weekend to get liposuction, and the bottom rib filed down and my cheek lifted," says Lepore, two days before she is to leave for Guadalajara, Mexico, to undergo the operations, since legitimate doctors in the U.S. won't perform cosmetic rib surgery. "What girl doesn't want a tinier waist? I was thinking of selling the ribs for charityâ€”one for charity, one for myselfâ€”but I don't know if they cut [the rib] out. Some people say that they bend it; some people say that it's broken, and some say it's filed."
In some circles, Lepore has become a plastic-surgery icon. Her medical metamorphosis caught the eye of fashion photographer David LaChapelle, who has taken numerous pictures of Lepore, including one that adorns a LaChapelle-designed Swatch timepiece. Extensive surgical "improvements" have given other cosmetic crusaders a taste of fame as well. Cindy Jackson became relatively well-known for her 28 surgeries that gave her the look of a Barbie doll, but the ultimate plastic-surgery celebrity is New York socialite Jocelyn Wildenstein. The ex-wife of billionaire art dealer Alec Wildenstein is known as the Cat Lady because she transformed her face to look like that of a feline.
"Even in the case of the Cat Lady, if she's happy, then it's not a bad thing," says Dr. Grifka. But ASAPS spokesperson Dr. Gold disagrees. "The over-operated lookâ€”the Michael Jackson, the Jocelyn Wildensteinâ€”is not the goal of a responsible plastic surgeon," says Gold. "The patient that wishes to achieve that look is not ordinarily considered a stable, operative candidate. Those individuals have perhaps significant psychological problems which would not make them an optimal candidate for surgery."
The more extreme operations are usually performed by the shadier doctors. In some of these cases, the surgeons seem to be the ones who need psychological intervention, or at the very least, further medical training. "I started with a horrible surgeon here in New Jersey who actually gave me square boobs," says Rhiannon, the dominatrix with the gargantuan tits. "It's really not a tried-and-true science. You just pray that the surgeon didn't dose himself up with drugs that morning or have a fight with his girlfriend, because he's cheating on his wife, or eating tuna-fish sandwiches while he's suturing you. This is all stuff that has happened to me. I had another surgeon where the implant protruded through the skin. She sent me a Federal Express envelope, saying that she now dismissed me of her care, [leaving me] with stitches and a really badly disfigured breast. It's some scary shit out there because, when you're going for the bigger sizes, you're dealing with something that is really not mainstream; so it gets a little black market."
Rhiannon eventually found Dr. Brad Jacobs, a New York City-based surgeon who Rhiannon calls a "miracle worker." Jacobs specializes in fixing botched boob jobs and says there are many doctors out there who are doing bad procedures. "It's not like there's breast-augmentation class and everybody takes it," says the physician.
Elaine Young, who has a reputation for being a realtor to the stars (her client list includes Elvis Presley, Jayne Mansfield, Brad Pitt, M. C. Hammer and O. J. Simpson), is living proof that unnecessary cosmetic procedures can damage lives. "In 1979, a girlfriend of mine walked into my office who looked gorgeous, and I said, 'You look fabulous. What did you do?' and she said, 'I went to this doctor and had silicone injections.' I got his name, and I was there the next day. He said, 'I'll make you beautiful,' and that's all I had to hear. I didn't check him out. I didn't know anything about him, and I got the injections."
At first, Young was very pleased with the results of the cheek injections. After a year, the silicone had grown onto the nerves of her face. Her left cheek expanded so much that Young couldn't close her eye, even while sleeping. A doctor told Young that gangrene had set in and, if she didn't rid her disfigured face of the silicone, she would die.
When Young had some of the silicone removed, the left side of her face became paralyzed for two years. The Beverly Hills realtor blames the surgery for ruining at least three of her six marriages and drastically hurting her career. "I had the opportunity to do what Robin Leach [of The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous] ended up doing, but I had the surgery," says Young, who undergoes a corrective procedure every six months to remove bits of the silicone. "I really looked like a monster for years. I would show a house with 50 stitches in my face."
Young is committed to warning others of the dangers of silicone. "Silicone belongs in cars, not humans," says Young. "I actually have a hotline with my home phone number on it. I got a call from a lady who had silicone between her eyebrows. She grew a point in her head, and she ended up dying."
The doctor who injected the silicone into Young's face eventually committed suicide. "He hurt a lot of people," says Young, "and, unfortunately, yours truly sent a lot of people to him, because he made me look really pretty in the beginning. It's typical insecurity that leads women to do this. I don't care what they say; most of the women who do it are either aging, and they want to look younger, or they're very insecure."
Even though the experience ruined Young's good looks, she thinks collagen is "fabulous," and she can't wait to have a face-lift.
Rhiannon believes that her multiple surgeries, in spite of their numerous complications, have been worth the effort. "It's a small price to pay for something so big in return."
(This article first appeared in the November 2002 issue of Hustler Magazine)
Click here to go back to articles page.