Facelift Forensics: a Personal Narrative of Aesthetic Cosmetic Surgery

Shay Sayre, California State University, Fullerton
ABSTRACT - This paper presents a subjective personal introspection of the purchase process and implementation of cosmetic surgery involving a facelift. Contending that the construction of self happens through story narrative, the paper centers around the phenomenon of experience. Elicitation devices such as evocative representation are used to foster discovery prior to and after surgery that may be overlooked by less subjective techniques. This personal narrative has universal relevance for the insight it offers on subject construction as it relates to decision making, purchase and consumption processes.
[ to cite ]:
Shay Sayre (1999) ,"Facelift Forensics: a Personal Narrative of Aesthetic Cosmetic Surgery", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 178-183.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 178-183

FACELIFT FORENSICS: A PERSONAL NARRATIVE OF AESTHETIC COSMETIC SURGERY

Shay Sayre, California State University, Fullerton

ABSTRACT -

This paper presents a subjective personal introspection of the purchase process and implementation of cosmetic surgery involving a facelift. Contending that the construction of self happens through story narrative, the paper centers around the phenomenon of experience. Elicitation devices such as evocative representation are used to foster discovery prior to and after surgery that may be overlooked by less subjective techniques. This personal narrative has universal relevance for the insight it offers on subject construction as it relates to decision making, purchase and consumption processes.

INTRODUCTION

This aper invokes literature in marketing by focusing the techniques of literary criticism to the marketplace phenomenon called cosmetic surgery. In this paper, I reflect on my personal, lived experience with photographic and artifactual text used to stimulate story narrative. Engagement with this text helped to conceptualize my self-image and construct a subject identity. According to Hegel’s theory of language, the only way we know is the words we use to think and talkClanguage is being. We structure our lives through our verbal constructions. By constructing my life as story narrative, I am able to answer the question, "Why plastic surgery?"

This paper is about the phenomenon of experience, which is only interesting if it has universal experiential relevance. My story narrative indicates that subject construction is indeed happening. As a method, story narrative brings first-hand experience to personal construction of self. Experience is the subject of the discourse. Thus, I use the authoring function to make whole my fragmented life, to deal with alienation and postmodern existence.

The current debate being waged in ACR about the validity of subjective personal introspection (authethnographies), which is treated by Gould (1995) and well-documented by Brown (1998), is not repeated here. Rather, I have embraced Levy’s (1996) contention that introspection is an integral part of the research process, rejecting Wallendorf and Brucks’ (1993: 356) pronouncement that such narratives are "non-scholarly and narcissistic."

Shouten (1991) provided us with an investigation of the motives and self-concept dynamics underlying this symbolic consumption through interviews with nine men and women who had undergone or were considering cosmetic surgery. He admits that his intention was not to "present an exhaustive study of people’s motivations for aesthetic surgery (423)." My intention is to provide a chronicle of one person’s motivation for surgery through self-discovery narrative.

I try to deconstruct a segment of the "social world from the perspective of the interacting individual" (Lincoln & Denzin 1994: 575). As researcher-as-informant, I present the behavioral, decision-making and implementation processes of cosmetic surgery as an object of symbolic consumption.

SELF AND IDENTITY RESEARCH

Because of its price tag and potential for unfavorable consequences, aesthetic cosmetic surgery fits into the realm of high-involvement products where the decision to purchase is process-oriented; a consumer must acknowledge a need or want, compare options, make a selection, and participate in a transaction. To acknowledge of the need for aesthetic cosmetic surgery, consumers draw from their personal identity and sense of Self.

Studying identity

This narrative operationalizes identity as " the sum total of an individual’s past history and [her] expectations for the future, combined in the process of [her] present social interaction" (Bakker and Bakker-Rabdau 1973). This definition assumes that past experiences and daily transformations as social interaction play equal roles in a person’s sense of self. Kleine and Kernan (1991) hold similar notions, concluding that the meaning people ascribe to a consumption object is influenced by both its kind and amount of external context. In other words, my personal motivations and the meanings associated with cosmetic surgery can only be understood by studying the context in which it is consumedCCmy world.

According to Stryker (1980), the self is conceptualized as a structure of identities organized in a hierarchy of salience; identities are defined as roles played in distinct sets of social relationships. The more salient an identity, the more sensitive one is to opportunities for behavior that can confirm the identit. Markus’ (1977) work on self-schema explains how such self-fulfilling prophecies operate.

Studying the self

Theories of self can be traced from sociological and psychological perspectives (see Yardley and Honess 1987 for an historical overview). From the autonomous Self of the Middle Ages, assertive Self of the Renaissance, competent Self of the Age of Reason to the postmodern Self as object, we arrive at a contemporary view that culture determines our sense of self; such a paradigm is embraced here. Concepts borrowed from Pascal (self-esteem) and Locke (self-knowledge) represent a legacy of resources that inform more recent identity studies. Today, most of what we once viewed as psychological knowledge is conceptualized as a product of social interchange. This social construction of self leads to a conception of self that includes the relationships in which selves are made possible (Gergen 1987).

EVOCATIVE REPRESENTATIONS

Richardson (1994) suggests that narratives are a method of knowing where one can learn about self what is unknowable using traditional methods of discovery. Narratives of the self incorporate literary devices to re-create life experiences and evoke emotional responses. By using self-narration, I hope to understand my motivations for electing aesthetic cosmetic surgery. Props, prose and poetry inform the subject, and the process of deciding and undertaking a facelift dominates this inquiry.

My self-narrative relies upon several elicitation devices for recall and discovery as well as expression. I use photo-elicitation (Heisley and Levy 1991), object elicitation, poetry and audio-taped field notes as stimuli for recollection and understanding. Using my own subjective experience as a source of data in a phenomenological mode as well as visual empiricism in a narrative mode to structure my data into accounts, I gathered photographic data from friends and family, personal archives, a physician, and media images to act as elicitation devices in a technique discussed by van der Does et. al (1992). My collection of 27 pairs of eyeglasses also serves as an archival text for my self-discovery.

GETTING TO YES: THE PROCESS OF DECIDING IN FAVOR OF COSMETIC SURGERY

In this initial narrative, I present my past history, present social interaction, and considerations for future possibilities related to the decision to have a face life as I recall it through elicited disclosure from photo albums crammed full of lifestage snapshots, a Bay High School (Ohio) yearbook, and eyeglasses.

It’s a material world: Possession inventory

Several passes through photo albums of early and late childhood initiate my reflection process. An abbreviated chronicle of important possessions begins with a photo of myself at age four; a child guards her new birthday presentCa backyard slideCfrom invasion by neighborhood intruders. At eight years of age cowboy gearCcap guns and a kerchiefCis important. By ten, an army hat, complete with lieutenant’s bars, is featured in a photo where a young teen proudly displays a fish caught during our Canadian summer vacation. During junior high, ice skates become prized possessions; a newly acquired pair is worn every season to keep up with growing feet. Symbols of power, occupation and sports prevail in photographs of my formative years.

By high school, boyfriends, girlfriends and classmates appear in place of material possessions. The photos reflect gender socializationCTomboy urned teenager. First "steady" boyfriend, Steve poses in his T-shirt and dog tag; his class ringCwrapped with string and nail polishCadorns my fingerCa proud blonde eighth-grader.

Yearbook pages are a reminder that body cathexis has historically been an identity factor. High school class photos from the late 50s suggest that fashionably large breasts became the impetus for augmentation devices. Wearing falsiesCa requirement for a flat-chested girl’s socially acceptable sexualityC results in countless moments of photographic humiliation. During close-dancing, stiff foam-rubber cones become visibly inverted beneath snug sweaters. Escaping from bathing suits, rubber cones bob around back-yard pools like flags of sinful admission. Tell-tale smirks on guys show they always know who wears falsies and who doesn’t. College pictures from the early 60s reflect fashions that are no longer predicated on mammary gland development for their style, a boon for this less fortunately endowed coed. These photos are evidence of generational and personal self consciousness.

Yellow with age is a long-forgotten shot of two sisters dressed alike in crisp plaid Easter dresses. Hair ribbons in place, our sisterly pose is stamped with a proof. The older sister (me) is wearing glasses. In another bespeckeled photo taken some 20 years later I wear black tulip-shaped frames. A numerical accounting shows only two photographs taken over 45 years of documentation show me wearing glasses. A public persona?

Boys don’t make passes: Reading glasses

I approach the collection of 27 frames as a text (a la Berger 1989), first categorizing the glasses by style and shape, material of composition, and physical condition, and finally by conceptualizing them as personal signifiers. Styles and shapes seemingly correspond to fashion trends. Chronologically, the first 14 pair are conservativeCnatural or bland in color, functionally large. The next eight are timely, more shapely, and darker in color. Finally, smaller and avant-guard shapes indicative of a more confident purchaser complete the collection.

Materials used to make eyeglass frames are technologically current but hardly state-of-the-art. Most are plastic and utilitarian in nature. Newer frames are metal or combinations of metal and plastic, indicative of being fashion accessories rather than vision crutches. Most recently, my titanium frames boast bold design and a high price. Lenses are glass at first, then plastic; first single vision, then bifocal, finally variegated. Condition of the glasses varies from chewed earpieces, taped bridges, and severely bent to nearly perfect. Several pairs of the archive, protected by stiff cases, are authentic classics of the popular retros now on the market. Each pair has a memory, a time and place, and its own story. Together, they’re signifiers of occupational roles and economic status. Frames financed by parents or purchased during frugal and family-oriented periods are poorer quality and more utilitarian than those bought during times of employment and singlehood. I wondered if the absence of eyeglasses from most of my photographs evidenced the presence of an identity struggleCor did I simply look better without them?

THE MILKMAN MADE ME DO IT

In this section of the narrative, I assess the context in which I made the decision to change my appearance. Photographic texts yield a variety of insights, and mine are best explained as six "influences" for a predisposition to cosmetic surgery.

California girl: Geographic influence

My present experiences can be best understood in the context of place. At 49 and a single mother of two grown children, I am forced by circumstances of employment to relocate to Southern Clifornia where appearance is the established medium of exchange. Living near the beach necessitates constant exposure to youth, physical fitness, and beauty. Weather encourages abbreviated dress, necessitates fitness, and requires youthfulness. Writing on postsuburban life, Kling, Olin and Poster (1991) declare that consumption has replaced the family as an important basis of human interaction in Southern California. They’re right on.

Since the 1960s, my home county of Orange has become increasingly cosmopolitan; by the fall of 1987, residents spent 25% more per capita at retail stores than the residents of any other county in California (Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1988). Vankatesh (1991) argues that an economic eliteCa "core consumption culture"C sets taste trends for less fortunate county residents who fantasize about owning similar possessions. What he says is trueCupscale ownership patterns are celebrated in local mass mediaCluxurious homes, fancy cars, stylish furniture, designer clothes. And in 1986, Orange County ranked 11th in the nation in drug, health and beauty product sales (Survey of Buying Power, 1987). National statistics from the American Society for Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for 1996 show that of the 87,000 breast augmentations reported nationally, 25% were in California. According to Wells (1997), we are influenced by where we live and who we live by in southern California, it’s Hollywood and celebrities. Who can be oblivious to appearance in the capital of #hedonic consumption’ (Hirschman and Holbrook 1982)?

The in-crowd: Social influencers

Daily activity furnishes the creative moments in which the matrices of my identity are transformed to a new actuality. Social influences begin with friends who drop names of plastic surgeons, suggest anti-aging treatments, and recall their own transformative experiences. My snapshots provide a visual census of group norms: silver-haired Irene hosts a tea party in a white, low-cut cotton frock that proudly reveals her implant acquisitions; Elisabeth hugs her beau-de-jour, a man twenty years younger who is obviously infatuated by her purchased youth-enhancements; Bali Bill is surrounded by saronged female companions who are probably unaware of his recent hair transplant; Linda sports tight pants proudly purchased to fit her newly liposucked thighs; and Grecian Formula-improved Ray kisses a twenty-something fiancee at his retirement celebration.

Once my mirror reveals signs of the aging process, I began to consider dealing with the sun-baked skin that could push me way out of the socially acceptable envelope. Group snapshots are cruel reminders that this writer lacks the cosmetic advancements implemented by most of my friends. Will I be pressured into conforming to the norm?

Hyperreal persuasion: Media influences

A quick review of my media cohorts of the 1950s suggests that female media images were film stars Marilyn Jane, and Liz who all were preoccupied with snagging men (Rosen 1979), and television’s Jeannie and Samantha (Bewitched) whose sole preoccupations were looking good for the men they loved. During what might be called this age of "commercialized feminism" (Ewen 1988), women were encouraged to emulate the fabricated perfection depicted by advertising’s Ivory complexions, Breck-girl hair and Coke bottle figures. Culturally conditioned by advertising and the media in the 50s and 60s, this cohort was socialized to be overly conscious of appearances of faces and bodies. Blumberg (1977) highlights these and other outcomes of growing up with Beaver, Archie and Veronica, and the beginnings of rock #n roll.

Goodman’s (1996) recent study of 24 women who underwent cosmetic surgery concluded that the "steady growth of cosmetic surgery as a recourse to bodily discontent or visible signs of aging stems from the media-idealization of women in our culture."

Likewise, today’s mass mdia continue to provide a plethora of visual justifications to reinforce perfection norms. Television commercials imply that everyone covers gray hair with artificial color. Magazine advertisements show men conquering baldness with hair transplants and women enjoying new popularity with saline or silicone implants. Cosmetics advertisements boast complexions instantly transformed by tanning creams. Video and film personalities are ageless reminders of the power of surgical restoration. I see media images screaming synchronized endorsements of physical enhancements. Beaudrillard (1987) may be on to somethingCafter all is said and done, simulation may become reality.

Blood is thickest: Family influencers

My family members pull in different directions on the issue of cosmetic alteration. Mother doesn’t count because she loves me whatever. But my sister, especially since she’s a surgical nurse in Minneapolis, is a devout advocate of surgical solutions to nature’s mistakes. Beverly has subjected many parts of her body to the knives of various care givers: Navy surgeons for breast implants during a husband’s military career; a surgeon-employer for a face and brow lift; a physician friend for liposuction. All procedures are free of charge, but none are free from paymentCimplants break; nerve damage inhibits facial movement; cellulite comes back in a less desirable location than the one from which it is removed. Photographs are the only remaining evidence of a pre-surgery sister.

Daughter Aubyn believes that nature should be allowed to take its course, and son Ryan contends that "outward is as inward does." Purists be damned, I think. If they are against it, then it must be a good idea. After all, what do offspring understand about the aging process?

AARP wants me: Personal influencers

The minute the clock strikes midnight of a 50th birthday, AARP begins sending membership solicitations to the celebrant. Getting into the movies for a senior ticket price is my limit to joining a club where membership is terminal. For me, chronological age is much less a factor for self-definition than circumstance. A crisis inventory yields three significant factors existing concurrently with this decision process: 1) tenure review and the economic uncertainty of potential unemployment, 2) deaths of two former husbands and the departure of a significant other, and 3) pending costly repairs to a personal residence devastated by termites. In the seasons of my life, this is the dead of winter.

If you have to ask: Economic influencers

Even in the capital of hedonism, the cost of cosmetic surgery is substantial. One can expect to pay in the neighborhood of $10,000 for a basic face lift. Regardless of all other influences, money is the ultimate enabler of possible self. Having extra money to indulge myself is a contributing factor for self-gifting, say Mick and DeMoss (1990). Considering the alternativeCaging and reclusionCI rationalize the expenditure as an investment in self, a gift to me.

So, I’ll do it already

The youth culture of California, a physically-enhanced peer group, pervasive media images, contrary offspring, role transition, and access to sufficient funds characterize the present self prior to cosmetic surgery. This combination of circumstances plus a refusal to accept physical deterioration are significant factors in my decision to have a face lift.

Having made the decision, I begin the involved three-step process of choosing a plastic surgeon from among the 867 located within one hundred miles of home.

If the knife fits: Selecting the surgeon

The intial cut of doctors is from a roster of friends who provide names of surgeons they’ve used, they wish they’d used, and that relatives have used. The next cut is made following preliminary office visits that range from a half hour of routine questioning to a few minutes of cut-and-paste recommendations. A final cut eliminates doctors who provide a plethora of before and after photographs as evidence of their surgical skills.

Physician charge between $35 and $75 for initial consultations. Some physicians perform surgery in their offices, others use medical centers. Some use general anesthetics, others suggest local medication. Board certification, number of operations performed, and doctor #s disposition are primary considerations; glitzy office interiors, boastful collateral materials and before/after yellow-pages ads are turn-offs for me.

My final decision criteria for choice of physician is based on a perception of the doctor’s: projected trustworthiness (e.g. addressing my needs and concerns rather than his net worth), reputation within the medical community, and surgical environment.

I’ll Just Do It

When the physician is chosen, the date is set and the cash paid, my surgery is a fait accomplit. I write a poem to commemmorate the occasion:

Changing Faces

Cosmetic surgery is

a notion I entertain

regularly amid the

voices of caution that

punctuate my peace.

 

"Why not grow old like everyone else,"

snarls my son.

"If it will make you happy, dear"

smirks mom.

 

What do they know?

Do they have the skin of Cochise?

Do they view the world beneath billowing lids?

Do they dread passing reflective surfaces?

 

The knife is my magic wand,

a Maginot Line keeping

time on the other side.

I’ll have no second thoughts,

I’ll have no second thoughts.

With the aid of a vodka martini, I schedule a ride to the hospital, book a nurse, stock up on drugs and load the Polaroid. Dreams and more dreams fill my Valium-laden night before surgery causing a neurological Fourth of July. Visions of dead husbands in suspicious locations form the basis of abbreviated plots and illogical dream narratives. With nightfall I feel at once a coward, a warrior, a feminist, and a wimp; at daybreak, a general anesthetic provides an absence of any feeling at all.

I assemble a Polaroid diary to stimulate the following narrative of seven daily, two weekly and one monthly post-operative recollections about the phenomenon under study.

Out from Under the Knife

Before the count of five, the lights go out. Eight hours later I am transported from the hospital in two surgical gowns, fingering the layers of head wrappings and tracing tubes from inside the bandages to drains resting on my chest. I have a blood reservoir for a necklace. Numb and groggy, I climb two flights of stairs and fall into bed. I can’t see. "Your eyes are stitched closed," says a strange person who calls herself Debby. Debby’s first task is to stuff frozen peas into surgical gloves, tie two gloves together, and apply them to my swollen eyes. Wonderful cold. Sleep. Awake and pills. Sleep. Awaken and more pills. Fresh iced-pea bags. Sleep. Awaken and get rubbed with salve. Awaken and get rewarded with a strawberry smoothie. The first Polaroid is taken. Sleep and frozen peas.

Post-op day one

A new sensationCpain. More pills, more sleep. Morning. Another trip to the hospital, this time blind. As the stitches come out, light forces its way into sticky eyes. Bandages and drains are also removed. Blood, pain, more bandages are put on. I wonder, "Whose ideas was this, anyhow?" and think, "I must have been nuts."

The previous day’s sequence is repeatedCsleep, pills, salve, smoothieCevery half hour, interspersed with short moments of lucidity. Hourly pea-packs. Another Polaroid. Phone ringing wakes me. Son calls, daughter calls. Nurse Debby said I am doing fine. She liesCI am not feeling fine. Skin pulls around my neck so I can’t turn, and the swelling permits only occasional words to escape from a sealed mouth. Accolades for whoever invented the bendable plastic straw.

The doorbell rings and my mother’s familiar voice calls, "Yoo hoo." Nurse Debby explains the #pillBsalveBsmoothie’ routine. Mom climbs the stairs, looks at me, and falls to the floor. Nurse Debby gives her smelling salts and puts her in a chair. My own mother, who saw me through childbirth, faints at the sight of me.

Post-op day two

After she gathers her strength and sends Nurse Debby on her way, mom resumes the recovery routine. I begin to form intelligible words; I even demand another flavor of fruit smoothie. For Polaroid number three, I pose, eyes wide, almost completely cognizant of my surroundings. Flowers arrive from a female friend. My voyages to the bathroom become easier and mom plays music downstairs where she lingers between pill-giving, salve-rubbing, pea re-freezing and smoothie-fixing.

Post-op day three

As the time between administrations lengthens, mom decides to clean and Pledge-dusts the stairs. On my first venture from the bedroom, I slide on the third stair and bounce to the bottom; only minor abrasions, but I get a headache from hell. Mom decides this is the perfect time for another Polaroid. Next, she helps me into a new sleeping garment and disposes of the bloody hospital gowns. I refuse her offer of a sponge bath, settling for Handi-wipes and a promise to shower the next day.

Post-op day four

The subsiding pain is inversely proportionate to an increasing state of discomfort from tight skin, itching stitches and watering eyes. I muster up enough nerve to look in the mirrorCa bad move. Depression manifests itself in demands for a new culinary experience. Mom ventures to the market for ice cream and soup while I mope in silent despair. I am swollen, red-raw and disfiguredCauditioning for X-Files?

On her departure, mom makes certain all pills and supplies are in their proper sequence, writes notes of instructions, and sets me up for the next Polaroid shot. "You’re looking much better, dear," she says on her way out the door, "now don’ t forget to shower". Thanks, mom.

Alone at last, I begin to take physical inventory of the damage from the top of my head downward. Two wounds in my hairline are insertion points of the orthoscopic procedure to lift my eyesCmy forehead is completely numb. Laser resurfacing has reddened the areas around my eyes and mouth, initiating a tug-of-war between the areas above and below my eyes. No wonder I was ordered to tape them shut at night.

"Yikes," I say out loud after feeling my ears. Careful inspection reveals that an incision has been made in my hairline above the ear continuing inside the ear and around behind it Cmy entire ear has been lifted and the skin pulled behind! Braided ridges of scar tissue are beginning to form, and blood oozes from the stitches located inside my ears. The hairline above the back of my neck is sore and full of metal staples. Enough inventory. My skin feels stretched and taught, so uncomfortable I have trouble sleeping. Never mind the wounds from the stairs episode, I think. Pills to the rescue.

Post-op day five

On my own now, the prospect of fixing meals to quiet my ever-increasing appetite prompts a call for help to a friend who brings Chinese on her way home from work. She avoids talking about my appearance, but I can tell she’s making a mental note never to have similar surgery. After snapping the requisite Polaroid, she flees.

Post-op day six

The day of the shower provides its own series of rewards. Washing matted hair full of staples and stitches is first. Using a sponge to soap my body, I steer clear of neck and face. No one told me how to cope with this catastrophic discovery syndrome. I’d ask the doctor tomorrow during my first-week office visit, an outing that would require hours of preparation with a few hundred dollars worth of "essentials to carry me through the first phase" of post- surgery purchased from a Clinique cosmetic surgery counselor.

Post-op day seven

I emerge from beneath the makeup looking somewhat like a person. Of course, I can’t smile, and I glisten like an oil slick, but never mind. Onlookers are not rude, just obviously shocked. I vow not to go out again until forced to do so. After a neighbor shoots the final Polaroid, I place the pictures in a string and view my progress. No wonder mother fainted. Death to the butcher who did this, death to the friends who kept their suffering a secret, and death to everyone who casts a disparaging glance, I vow in silence.

Dr. responds to a question about his lack of truth in advertising by asking me if I’d have gone ahead with the surgery if he had been forthcoming with all the details? "Never," I mutter as he yanks on staples and cuts stitches, "and no referrals for you, you sadist." Secretly wishing him death by fire, I retreat home to remove the piles of makeup, scarves and hats needed to hide the damage inflicted by the butcher I had so carefully selected from among thousands.

Post-op week two

Forced to return to the classroom, I assign group activities to avoid talking, a task which is still uncomfortable and nearly impossible. Numbness restricts facial movement, so my expressions don’t change; I am a mannequin-head. I hurry home to pills and bed. The days run together and I come off pills only long enough to drive and teach.

Post-op week three

Scheduled to present a paper to a professional association conference in St. Louis, I pack up my ten pounds of makeup, oil my face to protect against in-flight air conditions, and sit rigidly erect during the four-hour, two-stop trip. Following twenty minutes in the limelight, I submerge myself in a tub full of hot water for three days until it’s time to go home. Colleagues are polite, but their patronizing remarks about it still being "too early to tell the outcome" of surgery are dead-giveaways that I am not going to be cast as the star in a Hollywood film just yet.

I purchase a facial vibrator to stimulate the tendons in my neck that have been crisscrossed tight. Discomfort saturates my every activity, and no amount of creaming, vibrating, massaging or drugging can reduce the throbs, aches and pulls in my face and neck. My mirror and I are not yet on speaking termsCI look like a different person. My eyes are round, my jaw line’s gone, and my earlobes are funny-looking. I bury myself in computer tasks and pretend life is good.

Post-op month two

Sitting in a flat in Brussels without my facial vibrator and creams renders me miserable and agitated. Sleeping soundly is still impossible, feeling has not returned to forehead, temples or neck, and itching prevails on every inch of scalp. Before and after photographs provided by the doctor (who I have since forgiven for his deceptive marketing tactics) and several post-surgery Polaroid’s taken for friends are evidence of the perceptible change in facial facade. Possession of the product-cum-face-lift, however, is somehow anticlimactic for this owner. Like stiff new shoes, my face lift is a product that must be "broen in" before it can be properly appreciated.

Possessing a face lift

For critics, a manufactured identity is proof that women are victims of a male-dominated society where physical beauty is preeminent. Ultimately, a face liftCregardless of the motivation for having itC becomes just another acquisition, another factor of personal identity, helping to define and reinforce self-concept. But because aesthetic products come with no guarantees, no warranty and no possibility for exchange, I feel compelled to perpetuate the myth of satisfaction. So to answer my own question, "Why?", I understand the only answer can be, "I am who I am because of where I was when and where I am now"CI had no other choice.

According to Snow and Machalek (1983), a change in self-conceptCsuch as one brought about by a face liftCshould become established when others provide us with social support for these changes. By affiliating with friends who my share signs and symbols, I am able to establish a positive and stable sense of self.

My mirror is kind, my confidence has improved, and all is right with my world. Except that I can’t get into my new clothes with this extra weight . . . . .

CONCLUSION

Like aesthetic cosmetic surgery, self narrative and introspection require a high degree of personal involvement and risk. As such, the resulting narrative becomes more than simply a research project or an academic study for the writer as informant. It serves as personal discovery, as a personal construction of self.

In planning this project, I did not anticipate the degree of emotional ownership that occurs between self and a piece of research. Photographs often elicit painful memories and intense introspection. Once writing begins, my pen does not leave the paper. Days and nights are dedicated exclusively to a literal yanking of information from my subconscious and molding it into a cohesive narrative. While vacillating between subjective feeling and objective reporting, my first and third person perspectives begin to merge. As a writer, I cannot be free of the text, yet submersion in the text causes fear of drowning in reflective confusion. There are times when I entertain abandoning the project to be free of its emotional drain.

Ultimately, social norms and popular culture have performed their own psychological surgery on American women such as I who succumb to the beauty myth. And although neither aesthetic cosmetic surgery nor subjective research methods require a surgeon general’s warning, I find that both face lift and this personal account pose dangers to my health.

This single narrative about a solitary face lift in a specific county is only one of thousands that are performed daily in America; I makes no claims for generalization to other women and men who undergo aesthetic cosmetic surgery. What this narrative provides is a microscope to examine a consumption phenomenon at close range for the presence of prevailing themes that might be overlooked by less subjective research techniques.

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