As I read plastic surgeon Anthony Youn’s memoir In Stitches, I empathized with Youn’s feelings of isolation and awkwardness as a teen. I admired his work ethic and respected all of the hours of studying and sleeplessness that Youn endured to become a surgeon.
But one thing disturbed me: Youn’s own description of himself as an ugly duckling who needed plastic surgery in order to correct his own jaw. In Youn’s mind, the surgery was transforming. He felt that he needed surgery to go from ugly duckling into a swan. He called his jaw “monstrous.”
I looked at his “before” photo, and I didn’t see a monster. I saw a teenager with a jaw that reminded me of Jay Leno. He wasn’t conventionally beautiful, but he wasn’t ugly or unworthy of love. He was talented and intelligent and special. He just didn’t realize it.
As I read Youn’s account of the horrible pain he endured post-surgery, I kept thinking of the lyrics to the song “More Beautiful You” by Johnny Diaz.
Little girl fourteen flipping through a magazine
Says she wants to look that way
But her hair isn’t straight, her body isn’t fake
And she’s always felt overweight
Well, little girl fourteen I wish that you could see
That beauty is within your heart
And you were made with such care, your skin, your body and your hair
Are perfect just the way they are
There could never be a more beautiful you
Don’t buy the lies, disguises and hoops, they make you jump through
You were made to fill a purpose that only you could do
So there could never be a more beautiful you
Youn says his surgery made him a more empathetic and caring plastic surgeon because he could relate to his patients. I believe he does empathize with the pain his patients experience and with their feeling that they need surgery in order to be confident and to feel beautiful.
While Youn was inspired to become a surgeon when caring for an injured child, he frequently does cosmetic procedures (breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, etc) in addition to reconstructive surgery. When I see a plastic surgeon help a patient disfigured after an accident or healing from a mastectomy or skin cancer surgery, I rejoice at the beauty of science. But I can’t help but feel a bit sad when I see people like Heidi Montag who didn’t recognize that you can be beautiful without being perfect.
My wish for my children is that they grow up to know that “there can never be a more beautiful you.”
This post was inspired by In Stitches, this month’s selection at From Left to Write. Anthony Youn’s memoir In Stitches gives readers a look into the training of a medical doctor who discovers his passion is plastic surgery. As a member of From Left to Write book club, I received a copy of this book for review. You can read other members posts inspired by In Stitches by Anthony Youn, M.D. on book club day, August 9 at From Left to Write.