Looking back at childhood photos of my four children I can hardly recognise my oldest son, Justin. Born with high cheekbones, thick dark hair and a sweet smile, I always thought he was a handsome boy. But now, after 90 cosmetic procedures including Botox, implants and silicone injections, he looks more like a plastic doll than a human being.
It breaks my heart to know that Justin, 32, has spent more than $110,000 (Dh403,700) of his hard-earned money creating a whole new person, when he could have spent that money investing in his education or buying his own home.
But unlike my other three children – Billy, 28, Jordan, 26, and Christine, 24 – he is the unique one in our family and, as an artist, he is always aiming for perfection.
As a little boy, he spent his free time drawing faces, sculpting figures and tearing out photos from magazines of celebrities and models that met his idea of beauty. Sometimes he’d even bring those torn-out pictures to me saying, “Mommy, this is the nose and teeth I want,” like he was picking out a new toy.
But over time, as he got older and became more creative, he also became more critical of the way he looked. I’d find him sitting in front of the mirror staring at his own reflection for hours, obsessing over the smallest imperfections on his face and what he called his “balloon nose”.
When he was about 15, Justin started drawing lines on his face, marking out what he wanted nipped, tucked and plumped like a doctor would do before surgery. He had thick glasses, gaps in his teeth, and liked art and music instead of sports. It made it hard for him to be accepted and he was considered a geek.
I thought he was going through that awkward teenage stage and would grow into his looks. I thought he’d realise he was handsome underneath the specs and teenage spots, but I was wrong.
When Justin turned 18, I gave him the money I’d been saving for when he became an adult. I was a personal trainer and had split up with the children’s dad, so it was tough raising the kids on my own, but I’d always been careful, putting away a little bit here and there. I’d hoped he’d use the $3,500 to buy a car or towards college. Instead he announced he was getting a new nose. Shocked, I begged him to reconsider. “Please don’t do this honey, you’re perfect just the way you are,” I’d plead, but he’d made up his mind and wouldn’t be talked out of it. So I had no choice but to go along with him.
Pacing back and forth in the hospital in Cary, North Carolina, US, waiting for Justin to come out of surgery, all I did was worry. “What if he doesn’t wake up?” I thought. “What if his face is paralysed?” The two-hour wait dragged by. I gasped when I was eventually allowed to see Justin. His nose was bandaged, his eyes swollen shut and his face black and blue.
“Please don’t ever do this to me again,” I begged. But just a few months later, he was already back in his surgeon’s office asking for silicone injections in his cheeks, lips and chin. He’d already blown nearly $10,000 in total. The money I’d given him had gone, and he’d started working as a waiter to save up for surgery.
Next came teeth binding and bleaching for $2,500 and laser eye surgery to correct his short-sighted vision for another $4,000.
I appreciated he wanted to improve his looks, as our society is judgemental, but as a fitness trainer I told clients they had to work hard to achieve their results, whether it was losing weight or gaining muscle. Meanwhile, instead of going to the gym, my son had implants to create biceps and pectorals.
It went against the grain – I’d had to scrimp and save to give my children the best I could, and this was what Justin was spending his money on. Every month he’d collect his salary and head to the surgeon’s office for something to be ‘fixed.’ But according to Justin, there was always more work to be done. For him, his face and body are his canvases.
Going along to see the doctors
Over the months and years he was forever tweaking, nipping and tucking, until he asked me to go with him to a consultation with his doctor about an eyebrow lift. Normally I didn’t go as I didn’t want Justin to think I was condoning his plastic surgery obsession. But he wanted me there, and when my kids ask for my support I don’t question them. “I’m going to have to cut from one ear to the other through Justin’s skull,” the surgeon explained. “Next I’ll pull down the skin from his face to access his eyebrow bone, which I’ll then shave down and lift up.”
I felt sick just thinking about how invasive these procedures were and how crazy Justin was to ask for them voluntarily.
“I want my forehead to be smoother and flatter,” Justin told the surgeon. “I’d also like my nose lifted a few more millimetres.”
If I thought I had any control over my son or influence on his stubborn behaviour, I would have dragged him right out of that doctor’s office insisting he was certifiably crazy.
But as usual, Justin had his mind set on the surgery and spending $5,800 on flattening his forehead didn’t even faze him.
After that, I insisted on going with Justin to all of his future consultations and surgeries. Of course I wanted him to stop having surgery and for the surgeons to refuse to operate on him, but that didn’t happen. For a while I still tried my best to talk him out of each and every procedure, but deep down I knew he was scared and needed me by his side.
So I went along while he had his one-hour eyebrow-lift surgery and took care of him during his ten-day recovery. Next I went for his second, third, fourth and fifth nose job, which cost a grand total of $26,500. Then came 13 rounds of silicone injections in an effort to have his derriere look like Kim Kardashian’s. Later he had biceps, triceps and pectoral implants and dozens of skin treatments that corrected his acne scars and closed nearly all the pores in his face.
But now, after nearly 100 procedures and $110,000 spent on altering his body, I’ve finally had enough. Justin’s extreme obsession with cosmetic surgery has turned him almost 100 per cent plastic and the next procedures on his wish list are outrageous. In addition to the implants he already has, Justin now wants shoulder, abdominal and calf implants.
Following that, he’s looking into permanently changing the colour of his eyes to aqua blue, which has a high risk of leaving him completely blind if something goes wrong. And last, but not least, he wants another nose job. The five he’s had have left him with so much scar tissue built up I fear his nose is going to either fall off or end up looking grossly disfigured.
I’m worried for him. Already he gets some strange stares on the street from people who probably think he either looks crazy or alien-like, but Justin loves that attention.
I warn him every time before surgery that he could die on the operating table and at any moment something out of his control could go terribly wrong, although so far it never has.
But he not only considers himself an ‘expert’ now in plastic surgery, he also thinks he’s invincible. “Don’t worry Mom,” is what I hear every time Justin, now 32, goes in for a procedure, but it never settles my nerves.
It breaks my heart that I barely recognise my own son. But more than that, it terrifies me that Justin is risking his life for an idea of perfection that does not exist.
Tanya Marsik, 57, of Pennsylvania, US