Cosmetic surgery etiquette: Don’t ask, let them tell
by Angela Hill, Bay Area Living
All the makeup tricks and trips to the gym couldn’t make June feel attractive again, so the petite, 45-year-old redhead made the decision to have cosmetic surgery — some nipping here, some tucking there — and about a week later, she went to visit a friend.
Good thing she has thick skin.
“I was still swollen, and the first thing he said when he saw me was, ‘Oh, honey, what have you done?’ ” said June, a financial consultant in the South Bay who asked that her last name not be used because she doesn’t want colleagues to know she had liposuction on her midsection and contouring on her face and neck. “His reaction — I was amazed he was so insensitive,” she said. “People have plastic surgery all the time now, and it’s not as though I had a Joan Rivers result.”
To be sure, cosmetic procedures hardly are the taboo they once were. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported about a surge in surgeries for baby boomers — women and men alike, opting for everything from Botox and liposuction to tummy tucks and brow lifts. Techniques have greatly improved in recent years, down time is minimal, and results are often quite subtle.
Yet when someone shows up with even a slight change in appearance — especially around the face — friends and colleagues aren’t always sure how to react. Some can be less than polite. Others even blurt out cutting remarks, proving without a doubt that cosmetic surgery — while a deeply personal decision –is one that’s on public view.
“When we change the way we look, it almost automatically changes the way others react to us,” said Mary Mitchell, Seattle-based author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Etiquette,” modern etiquette columnist for Reuters — and face-lift patient — who recently wrote about guidelines for family, friends and co-workers who encounter someone who has had “work done.”
Cut to the quick
“It’s incredibly rude to come out and ask about it. Wait for them to tell you,” Mitchell said. “If it’s really obvious, give the person an opening, like, ‘Gee, you look great. What’s your secret?’ And say that without sarcasm.”
Even better, if you were already aware the person was going to have a procedure, ask “How are you feeling?”
“Get your judgments out of the way, and ask the person how they are doing,” Mitchell said. “People forget that this is surgery. The person has undergone something traumatic to his or her body. Be solicitous about their health first.”
Many actually do want to talk about it, she said, and Mitchell has been extremely open about her own facelift. “People told me it was so liberating to hear somebody admit to having work done and that it’s OK,” she said. “Of course I had people who tried to tell me I was crazy, but it was my choice.”
The funniest reaction came from Mitchell’s 7-year-old nephew, who saw her not long after the lift when she still had some bruising. “He said, ‘Aunt Mary, what happened?’ ” Mitchell said. “I told him I was just trying to look a little better. He said, ‘Well, you don’t!’ ”
Lacy Banks, care coordinator for the Reviance cosmetic surgery centers in San Jose and San Mateo, consults with patients regularly, discussing some of the aftereffects.
Telling is helpful
“A lot of people don’t want anybody to know, but telling someone can actually help,” she said. “With any procedure, you do want to have a support person, especially if it’s something drastic. It’s a very psychological business involving self-esteem and how you present yourself to the world. Also, just the physical aspect of having surgery — people get depressed after procedures. It can take a lot out of you. And the support of friends and family, especially in that first week, can make a huge difference.”
Mary Keith, 54, of Livermore, a medical assistant, had a facelift and neck contouring about a year ago. “I didn’t hide it, but I didn’t broadcast it, either,” she said. “If you don’t want to share, there are ways to get around it. Like if you had laser work and surgery, just mention the laser procedure and don’t go into any more details. People seem to accept that a little more easily.”
Mitchell has been on the other side of the table, too. She recently met a friend for lunch, someone she hadn’t seen for more than a year. The man had always been nearly bald, but he arrived at the restaurant with a full head of hair. “He had gotten a transplant, but he did not say one word about it,” she said. “It was impossible to ignore something that dramatic, and it really puts the other person in an uncomfortable position. If you’re doing something like that, giving people a heads-up can put them at ease.”
Dr. Donald Brown, a San Francisco specialist in plastic and reconstructive surgery, says he finds most people these days are forthcoming about what they’ve had done. But he has a clever suggestion for those who may not be ready for the big reveal.
“If some do want to disguise the fact they’ve had surgery — for instance, a rhinoplasty (nose job), which would likely be more evident — and if they want to hide it and avoid comments, I suggest they do something very dramatic with their hair, a completely different cut or dramatic color change. Or even perhaps a noticeable clothing change. Most reactions will be: You look great. Love the new hairstyle!”