Changing the body to change the mind

I recently grew a beard and I now feel much closer to my patients. We all have an image of ourselves and our bodies in our minds. Cosmetic plastic surgery patients are bold enough to change their bodies into something they feel more closely resembles what they have in mind. That is the crux of cosmetic surgery. However, many of the same changes in our minds can be achieved by smaller means, such as growing a beard.

Ways to change your image without surgery

  • Change hairstyle
  • Grow or shave facial hair—men only, please
  • Change clothing style
  • Buy new glasses or sunglasses
  • Change your posture

Effect of change in self image

I had looked the same for years, more or less, and been given a few unseemly attacks by the ravages of time that led to an increased circumference and semi circles under my eyes. The gradual loss of my wiry and thick youthful head of hair also was a mean blow. Still, I was  the same clean-shaven, short-haired fellow for about 20 years. A constant reminder of what I looked like hung around my neck every time I visited the hospital. The ID photos never age the same way we do . We all become Oscar Wilde’s “Dorian Gray”—but in reverse.
I grew bored with my image in the mirror. There was no specific day I decided to make a change, but it was a gradual process. In this way I was different from my cosmetic plastic surgery patients, who typically think about the change for a while and then have the transformation performed in a matter of hours. First, I let my hair grow longer—I think it was that it grew long before I had a chance to get it cut, and I let it stay. Then a long flight to Europe left me with two days’ worth of stubble that initially clung to my face like black mold on the walls of a vineyard’s cellar. Within two weeks, the transformation was complete and I was… different. When I walked past a mirror, I had to do a double take, and it took a few weeks before my mind learned to recognize me. Others, of course, recognize you, perhaps even more easily than you recognize yourself. My patients noticed and remarked on the new look, and I found myself changing other aspects of my life to match the new look. Nothing amazing, but a few new shirts and some new socks were purchased in colors I do not ordinarily wear. Things had become… different. Chasing youth it was not.People often confuse the notion of change with the notion of chasing youth. With any change there is a transformation and what some may call a “rebirth,” but one does not become young again. You are reborn as a different self, in the same way an Evangelical may consider him or herself reborn after an adult baptism. I do not look younger. In fact, I probably look older with the white in my beard; but I am revitalized. My new look has given me a new impetus for more physical change (along with my doctor’s reading of the riot act). I am trying to build muscle and lose weight—not to get younger, but to be the best I can for my age.

Change in plastic surgery patients

My cosmetic patients go through the same change in their brains after surgery. Plastic surgery gives patients a physical change in their face or body that affects their brains in the same way my beard did for me. Surgery changes the status quo, cuts a clean incision in the old image and gives you the courage to go and get that old photo ID updated wearing a new shirt and red socks. Plastic surgery allows you to break the Faustian bargain we all thought we had made. It liberates you.