For the first 44 years of my existence, I had but one thought when I looked in a mirror: Why? God gave Zsa Zsa Gabor features like a doll’s (button nose, lushly curved cheeks, enormous blue eyes), but my face was more like an aardvark’s (small chin and big nose topped with serviceable brown eyes). No, I wasn’t deformed, or what frat boys call coyote ugly, but by my early teens I knew that my face would never launch a single ship. As a freshman in high school, I discovered that it wouldn’t even sell a pepperoni slice.
It happened at Godfather’s Pizza, where my best friend and I had just landed our first jobs. Jill, a Cheryl Ladd look-alike, was assigned to a cash register while I was dispatched to the walk-in freezer and put to work destemming tomatoes. The message couldn’t have been clearer, but about a decade later, the rising star at my first postcollege job decided to reinforce it. On our first date, he whispered, “I used to think you were funny looking, but now I see your inner beauty.”
Life went on. I married. I had a child. I accumulated professional accomplishments. But I still felt ugly, and now not only did I feel awful about that, I also felt awful that I could feel so awful about something so superficial. Still, if looks were so important to me, why didn’t I just whip out a credit card and be done with it?
Fear. Fear that other people would think I was as vain and batty as a C-list reality-TV star.
So I stayed sort-of-ugly. Then, while I was working as a soap opera writer (a terrible job for anyone who feels sub-stunning), a huge-deal talent manager contacted me by phone to say he looooved my work and wanted to represent me. Then he blandly asked, “By the way, how old are you?”
I said 35. The conversation was over.
Going under the knife to satisfy my vanity was one thing. Doing it to avoid future age discrimination was another. So the next time I heard the daytime actresses whispering about their “doc,” I got his name.
I figured that since I was only 35, no one would notice if my wrinkles and sags suddenly disappeared. The physician, a board-certified plastic surgeon with a swank office on New York’s Fifth Avenue, informed me that I did not need a face-lift. I needed a chin. He also suggested that the results of a chin implant are so subtle, no one would notice that I suddenly had a silicone prosthesis sewn to my mandible. Instead, he said, everyone would just think I’d lost weight or changed my hair in a way that made my face more aesthetically balanced.
He had me at “No one will notice.”
“Oh my God, what did you do to your face?” my usually extremely flirtatious former professor screamed when we next met for dinner. This is not what you want to hear after you’ve invested $3,500 and three bottles of Vicodin in a new chin.
“I’m afraid you transformed me from an aging aardvark into the Joker from Batman,” I delicately told the doctor at a follow-up appointment.
“You look great!” he responded.
“My chin wiggles,” I said.
“So don’t touch it!” he said.
Clearly I needed a new doc. But since someone who was both highly recommended and board certified had left me looking like the Wicked Witch of the Upper West Side, I was clueless about how to make a better choice. Then fate stepped in. A magazine editor assigned me to interview Charles H. Thorne, a director on the American Board of Plastic Surgery. I was to suss out the professional secrets of getting rid of a scar.
“So how do you get rid of a scar?” I cleverly asked.
“Can’t,” said Dr. Thorne. “They’re called scars for a reason.”
At least he’s honest, I thought.
I paid $250 to see Dr. Thorne at his swank private-practice digs and show him my “before” and “after” photos.
“Wow, you were much better looking before you had the implant,” he said.
“At least you’re honest,” I said.
“I can fix it,” he continued.
He had me at “I can fix it.”