I feel bad about what I’m going to do here. It was Nora Ephron who wrote that. It was the introduction to her first essay. I’m quoting her because I feel bad about what I’m going to confess here, which is that I recently had liposculpture on my tummy.
I had no idea what liposculpture was when I first heard about it but it’s a little like liposuction, in that, yes, fat is removed. But it’s a more precise, gentler version of it. Right now, I’m a size 10, sometimes a 12, depending on the company making the clothes. Curiously enough, the liposculpture has left me looking a little Kardashian-esque: small waist, bigger booty, sizeable thighs.
But though I look like a Kardashian understudy, I’m quoting Ephron because I’m hoping that the evocation of her name will remind that judgmental side of myself that as powerful and smart and self-possessed as Ephron was, she still hated her neck and her breasts. She also confessed openly, while in her mid-sixties, that she had “been in the Zone for a long time” and was “tired of it”.
I have never loved my body, but it’s never bothered me all that much.I realise that patriarchal society hypnotises women in this way, so I recognise it for what it is. Hey, I’m also bad at maths. What are you gonna do?
At least, I used to think this way. After I had my second child, almost two years ago, a few things happened. One of them was a thyroid disease. No probs, I thought, I’ll just get the right medication and hop on the right eating and exercise plan and my body will return to its normal self. That didn’t happen. I tried harder. Months passed – no change. My body decided it was going to go menopausal. I turned into a pumpkin. My tummy, which to be honest, had never known flatness, was now protruding like I was six months pregnant.
Devoid of all hope, I went and saw a lady by the name of Meaghan Heckenberg, a cosmetic physician, who specialises in liposculpture, in fact, it’s the only thing she does.
“It’s not a weight loss tool,” Dr Heckenberg cautions me, ‘”but it will sculpt your torso.” She shows me a binder’s worth of before and after photos at her surgery in Sydney’s Crows Nest, which I hungrily pore over. She explains the procedure carefully: I will be injected with local anaesthetic, diluted in saline, and adrenaline, to constrict my blood vessels and prevent bleeding. Micro-cannulas will be inserted at different points in my torso to disrupt, if you will, fat cells. Then, my fat will be removed.
“It’s basically a bloodless procedure”, says Dr. Heckenberg.
It’s not as aggressive as lipo, she explains, because I’m awake and able to move, thereby guaranteeing a smoother result. The cannulas are so small, the scars will be barely visible. (She was right – I can’t even see them). We make an appointment for a month’s time. I tell my best friend what I’m going to do. She has a one-word response: “Jesus.”
I feel as if I’m betraying a core part of myself, and for what? To look thin in one place? I remember Naomi Wolf once wrote that “a culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience”.
I wish so terribly to disobey this sexist culture, to celebrate what my strong body did – it grew two babies! I want to follow that narrative prescribed to so many Western mothers, “My body is a wreck, but wouldn’t trade it for this beautiful creature!” But I find I am unable to. I miss my old body, the one that was all in proportion. I can handle the weight-gain, the sagging, the veins, the stretchmarks, but this tummy? This tummy doesn’t even feel like mine.
The interesting thing, to me at least, is that if I worked out obsessively, and restricted my eating, nobody would accuse me of betraying the sisterhood. It would be considered healthy; aspirational. Roxane Gay, in her book, Hunger, calls The Biggest Loser “an unholy union of capitalism and the weight-loss industrial complex”. The same could be said of dieting, in general. Why then do I feel like a betrayer – of both diets and feminism?
I manage to bury this cognitive dissonance when I arrive for the procedure. It’s not hard to do, I’ve done it before – when I had children – by focusing on the end result. Dr. Heckenberg draws on my body with a surgical pen the fat she will remove. I ask for a light sedative, so I’m half-asleep during the entire thing, which lasts around six hours. I wake up a little sore and I’m quickly shimmied into two compression garments, which I will wear for two weeks. I go home that night feeling like I just ran a marathon, ironic no? My muscles hurt.
I change out of my loose-fitting clothes and look at myself in my compression garments, which, being black and shiny, resemble some sort of high-tech swimming costume. I stare at my new, small waist – I have a waist! – and my flat tummy. I examine my torso in the mirror.
In this moment I’m not thinking about feminism or health or diet or betrayal of self, I’m too busy feeling – and the feeling, of unparalleled joy – tells me I made the right decision.