By Camila Luna
Travel and plastic surgery. Yes, I traveled to where it’s sunny and warm (and cheap) and got plastic surgery. Phew! There, I said it.
Like many of you, I, too, have struggled with self- image. I have looked in the mirror, and despite my best efforts to love myself, have told myself that I don’t like X, Y, or Z about my appearance. And, like many of you, some of those “imperfections” I’ve changed with surgery (you’d be surprised who has had work done), and other “imperfections” I’ve learned to accept.
For me personally, two of my biggest insecurities have always been my nose and my breasts. Nose too big, and boobs too small. I have done the typical girl things to cover up these insecurities with contour, bras, and flattering clothing, but at the end of the day when you’re bare-faced and the clothes come off, you’re faced with reality.
So, you’re probably wondering: what work did I get done, and how did I plan for it?
Well, I’ll start with the latter question. Honestly, I did not really plan for my surgery. I was at the beginning of my two-month trip through 3 countries and 5 cities, and I suddenly got the idea that while I’m in Colombia, I might as well get the work done that I have always wanted. Mind you, at the time of my decision, I was in San Francisco and was planning on being in Colombia in about a weeks’ time. I had one week to find a surgeon and schedule the surgery. I was planning to target my two major “imperfections”: boobs and nose .
Right away I started researching surgeons in Bogota, and even reached out to a few, but then I remembered my dear cousin, who has had quite a bit of work done (and looks gorg, btw). My cousin put me in contact with her surgeon, who wrote me into her busy schedule right away.
While all of this was going on, I was sharing my plan with my close friends and family. Of course, all of them were trying to dissuade me from surgery, and my mom, being a scientist, managed to find some really interesting research on breast implants that ultimately changed my mind about getting them.
Although breast augmentation is one of the most common plastic surgeries in the world, it also has the potential for the most complications. Namely, breast implants are NOT lifetime devices. Although those silicone (or saline) pouches have improved dramatically through the years, if you’re in your 20’s, you must plan and expect to have AT LEAST one more surgery down the line to have the implants replaced or removed. Every extra year that you have your implants, the risk for complications increases, and after every additional surgery to fix or replace your old implants, the risk for complications increases even more. Top that off with the fact that I have a tendency for skin allergies (large foreign object implanted in body= unhappy allergies), and I realized that breast implants were not worth the risk for me. The absolute best case scenario was that they’d be great, last me a good 30 years, and then I’d need to have them replaced at age 50 (and then again at 80?? Uhhh…), and the worst case scenario is that I’d have a reaction and have to have them removed in a few years (with no guarantee of the condition of my natural breast skin & tissue after removal). I was not down for either scenario, so I decided against the boob job.
Rhinoplasty, on the other hand, is one-and-done. I knew the risk was not liking my new nose, and the usual complications that go along with surgery, but I trusted the surgeon based on the work she had done on my cousin, so I decided to go for it.
While in Bogota, I got all of my hospital tests done, booked my Airbnb for where I was going to stay (I wanted to have my own space while I was recovering instead of staying with family), and even arranged for someone to take care of me post-surgery when my mom wasn’t around.
I met with my surgeon three times before my operation to discuss what I wanted, what was realistic, and possible complications, and even got to sneak in a super intense 4-day trip to Medellin right before the surgery (not sure if my doctor would have advised that, honestly). Then, exactly one week after I landed in Colombia, I found myself laying on the stretcher, with an IV in my arm, ready for surgery. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “This is a joke right now. Am I seriously doing this? Whoah this is crazy. Am I crazy? You’re kidding me right now”. Nevertheless, I went through with the surgery, and woke up 1.5 hours later groggy and with a big cast on my nose… but very happy nonetheless.
Buuut….as soon as I was able to look in the mirror after surgery, my heart sank. My nose was exactly the opposite of what I had wanted! 😱😱 It was upturned, and the space between my lip and nose looked huge. My lips looked thin. I looked like a cross between a chipmunk and a pig (pigmunk). I knew that the way my nose looked then was not going to be the final product and that my cheeks were all types of inflamed, but it was really hard to stay positive.
In the first few days after surgery, I think it’s safe to say I was depressed. Surprisingly, my nose did not hurt at all during the entire recovery process (although my doctor had cut both bone and cartilage), but emotionally, I was not in a good place. My face still looked like a pigmunk, my cast looked crooked, I couldn’t sleep because my nose was so stuffy, and now I was starting to get bruising under my eyes. I was terrified that I was going to have the nose of my nightmares.
I am generally a person who is positive and in a good mood. Even if I’m having a hard time at work or if I get my heart broken, I just cry it out, read some books on inner peace, and then I bounce right back to my normal, happy-go-lucky self (yeah, for my exes reading this… even if you screwed me over, I was SO over you in just a few days 💁💁💁😂) . But post-surgery, there were some days when I just wanted to lay in bed all day and feel sorry for myself. It was a kind of sadness/emotional numbness I hadn’t felt before.
Thoughts whirled in my head. Was I succumbing to unrealistic European beauty standards that weren’t even for me? Was I minimizing my African and Muisca roots? Was I betraying everything I stood for? Do I love myself? Can I love myself and still risk my health by unnecessarily going under the knife???? And if I don’t love myself… will I ever be able to truly, deeply love anyone else??????
I didn’t want to see anyone, or even walk around the block as my doctor had instructed. I just wanted to lay in bed and think about how bad I looked and then judge myself for being so vain (talk about vortex of self-pity😩) . Regardless, I had promised myself that even if I didn’t like my new nose and looked like a pigmunk for the rest of my life, I was not going to get revision rhinoplasty and would just accept myself the way I was. I had PROMISED myself that my nose job was one-and-done.
One week after my surgery, when the highlight of my day was being able to breathe out of one nostril, I had my first follow-up appointment with my doctor. She removed my cast and immediately I started smiling- under the ugly cast and the tape holding up the tip of my nose, I saw my dream nose! It was smaller, had no bump, and still had the characteristics of my old nose that I liked: it was still long, like my Muisca ancestors, and still round at the tip, like my African ancestors. My new nose was perfect for me, and I knew that through the recovery it was going to look even better!
My doctor put on a new, smaller plastic cast on my nose, and for the first time in a week, I put on some lipstick, dressed up in my cute clothes and even left my house to socialize with family and close friends. Finally I was feeling like myself again!
Before the procedure I had told myself that my surgery was going to be top secret. I felt ashamed, felt like a huge hypocrite (body- positive feminists don’t get plastic surgery?? 😰), and matter of fact, my biggest fear was returning to Shanghai (where I currently live) and having people realize that I had had my nose done. But with time, I found myself telling almost everyone around me. I told almost everyone except for my three best friends in New York who I would see in two weeks. These girls, who have known me for about a decade, were going to be the test reaction of my nose job. I was excited and nervous.
When I finally arrived to New York about two weeks after my surgery, no one noticed a thing. When I told my friends, all I heard was … *crickets*…. “wait, really?” “but where?” “but what was wrong with your nose?” “did it hurt?”. No one noticed a thing. My family joked that I had wasted my money since the difference was unnoticeable to others.
Despite this extremely anticlimactic reaction from my friends, I am very happy with my surgery and don’t regret it at all. When I look in the mirror, my nose is exactly the way I want, and I can absolutely notice the difference. I still contour my nose, but now it looks just the way I want when I take off my makeup. The difference is very subtle and natural, and I feel much prettier.
Now, for the big question many of you may be wondering about: how much did my surgery cost? The surgeon fee cost the equivalent of about $1,300, but with the hospital fees, anesthesia, medicine, etc, I would say the whole surgery cost about $2,000. This is freaking cheap AF. I paid it in USD, which probably thrilled my doctor.
I have decided to be open about my surgery because honestly, surgery is serious, it was as much an emotional journey as a physical one, and it is an experience that has changed me both inside and out. I know there is a lot of stigma and judgment around people who get work done, especially in the US. But honestly, I feel more comfortable and free when I’m open with others- even if they disapprove. I don’t want to normalize plastic surgery, but I want those of us who have chosen to go under the knife to be included in the self-love dialogue, just like everyone else. If you’re reading this and thinking terrible things about me (or even feeling “concern”/ “pity” for me), it’s ok, I honestly don’t mind- maybe you also secretly want to get some work done… hahaha 👀🙊. Also, I understand it can be hard to wrap your mind around the fact that someone would get surgery just for vanity.
Either way I’m still me, and even though I changed one “imperfection” with surgery, I’m still on the journey of learning to tolerate/love my body. Will I have more invasive plastic surgery in the future? Honestly, I hope not. I’m happy with what I’ve done and don’t want more. Will I get little things like fillers or Botox? Honestly…. that’s a definite yes.
Mostly, I want to continue this journey of body acceptance/enhancement/modification with a prayer for myself and everyone reading this:
“Universe, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
Oh, and one last thing. If you’re considering surgery while traveling, here’s what you should know:
10 things to know before getting plastic surgery while traveling:
- Unresolvable cognitive dissonance. But… but…I’m a body- positive, intersectional feminist who barely shaves her legs… how can I get plastic surgery??????
- No flying for at least 10 days after surgery. Nope, ya can’t leave right away! And if you’re in a mountainous place like Bogota, you need to be in the city at least three days before surgery while your body adjusts to the altitude.
- No sun. I know, the title is misleading. No matter how beautiful the beach is near you, after surgery, you need to stay out of the sun to prevent swelling and possibly permanent discoloration.
- You will probably feel depressed. This was big for me. You will probably be in your room, in pain/uncomfortable, questioning your life choices/ beauty standards/mental health/sanity, and feeling ugly as hell for at least a week after surgery. This can be quite isolating, and you might be thinking of all the cool things you could be doing if you weren’t suffering from your own vanity.
- Kissing will hurt, and you need to curb the hanky-panky and any other form of exercise. Sometimes flings & things happen while traveling, so tell your new amiguito to chill because you just had surgery and can’t get too crazy with any type of physical activity.
- With your cast on in Latin America, people will assume you got a nose job. With your cast on in the US, people will assume you had an accident… LOL
- You will think people are judging you, and they probably are, but guuurl (or boy or they/them)….. do you anyways.
- No alcohol in the days before and no alcohol for at least two weeks after surgery. Yep, gotta curb the fiesta.
- You should definitely speak the local language, or find a doctor who speaks excellent English. Clear communication with your surgeon is SO important to get the results you want.
- RESULTS ARE NOT GUARANTEED!! There is a possibility you will not like your results or that there will be complications. Be sure you are very, VERY aware of this and be emotionally prepared to deal with this kind of situation if it happens.
When I posted this photo from my room in Bogota, no one would have guessed I was laying in bed with a cast on my nose.
Check out more of Camila’s articles on the Travel Latina website, and check out her travel blog in photographs at @camila.lunaaaaa on Instagram!