Nip and TalkPlastic surgery used to be a secret, but now some people are breaking the
silence—and creating a new social conundrum. Can you ask? Do you tell? Is it
OK to lie? There's a new meaning to reading between the lines. By Joan Kron
Anyone who wants to know if Nina Griscom has had a face-lift can just ask her. Griscom, an ex-model turned culinary reporter and a familiar face on international fashion and social pages (as well as a contributing editor for Allure), thinks the custom of lying about plastic surgery is "devastating to other women." Griscom says she started collagen injections in her 30s; at 35 she had the "congenital fat rolls" taken out from under her eyes by her husband, Manhattan plastic surgeon Daniel C. Baker. Now, at 47, Griscom sees her dermatologist, Patricia Wexler, a few times a year for Botox injections in her frown lines, and recently started receiving injections of fat (taken from her hips) in her smile lines. "I'm cracking, and Pat is spackling," says Griscom with a laugh. "I have good genes, but it would be unreasonable to have no wrinkles at my age." Though Griscom believes women are at their most beautiful in their 40s, she plans to have a conservative lift when she sees a "downturn" in her face. And when that day comes, she promises, "I won't deny it." She realizes that most of her friends are "not as open." That's an understatement.
Anne Slater is a member in good standing of New York and Palm Beach, Florida, society. Ask her a plastic-surgery question and you'll get a cold stare. "I'm in the discreet generation," Slater says. "No one has ever asked me, and I've never asked anyone else if they've had surgery. In my group we don't discuss personal subjects—bedroom things, how much money we have, how much we spent on something." Slater's group is becoming a minority. Whether people consider their eye-lifts and wrinkle treatments to be private medical procedures or routine maintenance—something that can be discussed without embarrassment or shame, though not necessarily on Joan and Melissa's red carpet—they are talking.
In Hollywood, screenwriter Carrie Fisher reports, while personal revelations about face-lifts are few and far between, everyone talks "incessantly" about everyone else's surgery. "Who's had it, who went too far, who's lying about it," and the number one topic: "Who [as in, which doctor] is good." This isn't idle gossip. It's news you can use, a word-of-mouth Consumer Reports. Today, $50,000 is the median household income for cosmetic-surgery patients. And as surgery trickles down to the middle class, some people are more willing to declassify information on their nips and suctions. According to a 2000 study by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, 61 percent of American Women and 63 percent of men approve of cosmetic surgery. And 77 percent said that if they were to have the surgery, they would not be embarrassed if others outside the family knew.
"It has become very acceptable to talk about," at least among circles of professional women, says Nola Rocco, owner of The Hidden Garden, a Beverly Hills plastic-surgery recovery house favored by entertainers and film executives. "Plastic surgery is girl talk." She could have been channeling the scene at a recent social lunch at fashion reporter Judy Licht's town house in New York, where the guests, many of them newscasters, gathered around a fellow TV personality as she lifted her dark glasses and showed the results of a week-old eye-lift.
While more people are nipping and talking, the discussions don't always reach full disclosure. There's still an advantage to be gained by pretending that the narrower nose and the slimmer hips are God-given and not credit-card purchases. Even Carrie ("everyone knows everything about me") Fisher, who repackaged her parents' divorce and her own addiction in Postcards from the Edge and These Old Broads, is reluctant to talk about her scalpel work. "I've had the undereye thing done," she says, "but I would sooner tell people I go to AA."
When you don't want the world to know you've had surgery, what do you tell people?
"A bad case of the flu is always an effective excuse," says Donna Phillips, a private-duty recovery nurse in New York. If you have to warn coworkers in advance, "tell them you're taking off some personal time to have a 'procedure' done," says makeup artist Kimara Ahnert, who has a large post-face-lift clientele. "People assume it's female problems—a hysterectomy or something." In his experience, says decorator Mario Buatta, "Women are proud of their liposuction and talk about it, but they are most secretive about a face-lift. They rarely say they're having one. They'll say, 'I'm having my gallbladder out and I don't want any visitors.'"
What do you do if you don't want your mate to see you battered and bruised?
"Lots of men do not handle illness well," says psychotherapist Lois Akner. "It's especially hard for them when you are electing to cut into your face or body." Some women plan surgery around a husband's business trip, telling him they're having a simple procedure done, such as getting a mole removed. "But if you plan to have surgery while your husband is in Asia, and you lie or play down what you're having done," Akner warns, "what if there's a complication and he has to be notified? He could be very angry at you and the doctor." Many surgeons refuse to operate on patients who are overly secretive. So some women tell the truth—without the gory details—and then take a nurse to a hotel until the worst of the bruising subsides.
And your children? Is it OK to hide the surgery from them?
"If you had another kind of surgery, would you tell your kids?" Akner asks. "It's a privacy issue—there are things we don't tell our children. But if they ask, you can't lie." To reduce the chances of being asked, many women send their children off on a little visit to Grandma—or time procedures for when kids are away at summer camp.
What can you wear home from the hospital so you won't be noticed?
"A head scarf and sunglasses are a dead giveaway, especially in the summer," says Peggy Broderick, a nurse in plastic surgeon Daniel C. Baker's office. "But you don't have to bother with too much camouflage," Broderick says, because thanks to the swelling, "your own mother wouldn't recognize you." (Unfortunately, the doorman will. If that bothers you, stay at a hotel for a few days or sneak back home during the night shift.) If your face is red from laser or dermabrasion and you see someone you know, "grab a handful of tissues and act like you're about to sneeze," Broderick advises. Some patients hide out under hoods or hats—but hats can draw more attention rather than deflecting it. "I've seen some enormous hats," Phillips says with a sigh.
What do you do if you run into someone you know on the way home from surgery?
Each city has a different worst-case scenario. In Los Angeles, says Rocco, "no one in the entertainment business wants to bump into the paparazzi, who can get $550,000 for a picture of someone famous looking her worst." In Washington, D.C., the enemies are the faceless Deep Throats who feed information to the capital gang of editorial writers for their columns. "There is an understanding that you don't embarrass women, but a man is expected to take what you dish out," says D.C. journalist Judy Bachrach. "They'll make fun of Bob Dole, but not of political wives." And in Manhattan, the person most post-operative patients want to avoid—but can't—is the doorman. "I can always tell," says Rafael Ruil, an East Side doorman. "They're with their husband. They get out of the cab real slow and they're wearing these big glasses and a scarf. I don't say anything then, but the next time I see them, I say, 'Feeling any better?'" Since the doorman always knows, why not take him into your confidence, says Susan laSalla, a Today senior producer whose face-lift and recovery were broadcast on the show for five days and seen by 6 million people in January. The day before her operation, LaSalla, who lives in Washington, D.C., prepared all the doormen at the New York hotel where she is a regular guest. "I said, 'Guys, I'm coming in here Sunday night looking like I was hit by a truck.'" When she returned two days later, LaSalla was predictably wrecked. Instead of rushing past the doorman, she quipped, "How do I look?" And as LaSalla recalls, "He said, 'Ugh. Are you OK?' After that," she says, "I could comfortably come and go. No one had to stare at me from behind a column. Now every time I stay there," she says, the doorman remarks, "You look wonderful."
What's the best way to keep your surgery to yourself?
Blowout your hair at home, says Nina Griscom, especially when scars are fresh. "There are no secrets in salons."
Who should mention the recent surgery first, the client or the colorist?
"I never say anything if the client doesn't," says Constance Hartnett, the color director at the Frederic Fekkai salon in New York. "They come in, stand right in front of me, and say, 'Well, Constance?'—waiting for me to say something. If I still don't get it, they're disappointed. I tell them, 'You're supposed to look like yourself, only better.' But I think they have a fantasy—they really want to come out different, vastly younger looking."
If you can't hide the bruises, how do you explain them?
Is there any social capital to be gained from telling the truth?
Confessing to some, if not all, of your procedures "can give you the upper hand," says Wendy Lewis, a New York plastic-surgery consultant. "If you deny everything, people will assume it's worse than it really is." She advises downgrading every procedure and being consistent with the story—lest friends compare notes.
Once you're past the camouflage stage, how can you divert attention from your new face?
"Change your makeup, your haircut and color, and the neckline of your sweater and buy something in a color you've never worn before," says Pablo Manzoni, another makeup artist experienced in post-surgical makeup. "A woman who invested thousands in surgery should spend a few hundred more on a new cosmetic approach. And she should change her earrings." Just make sure that they don't betray you. "Wear hoops or studs, but never clip-ons," Nina Griscom says. Clip-on earrings, she warns, are the classic device for camouflaging front-of-ear scars-and therefore a dead giveaway, like the scarf and big glasses. And, "don't act self-conscious when you go back to work," Peggy Broderick says. "Just go brazenly about your business. It's the self-consciousness that attracts attention."
How do you tell a friend she needs a tune-up?
"Unsolicited advice is inadvisable," Griscom warns. "If a dear friend is clueless, use an allegory. Plant the seed. Say, 'I just did this and feel so much better about myself.' Or, 'Have you seen so-and-so? She looks wonderful.' Never attack directly."
How do you ask someone if she's had any work?
"There is only one way to do that," Carrie Fisher says: "You say, 'God, you look great. Have you had anything done?'" Time-honored denials such as, "Thank you. My new haircut [or makeup] has livened me up," are being replaced by New Age excuses, Griscom has noticed. "Now people say, 'I've been away at a Zen ranch,' or 'I've found faith.'" One fashion power has taken to accepting compliments on her refreshed look with this non sequitur: "I've been to Texas." Griscom has dreamed up the perfect alibi for the entrepreneurial woman: "I'm developing a new face cream. I would give you some, but it's still being tested."
How do you deal with people who tell you-or worse, show you-more than you want to know about the plastic surgery they've just had?
One California resort is abuzz about the couple who had surgery together and showed up, still battered, at a social gathering. Manners manuals have yet to address conspicuous convalescence, but etiquette author Letitia Baldrige, Jacqueline Kennedy's White House social secretary and chief of staff, sees "faux pas" written all over their bruised faces. "When people are swollen and look repulsive," she says, "they should not go to a party and take away everyone's appetite." But now that face-lifts and other surgeries are standard fare on the Discovery Channel and Today, there is always bound to be someone at the party who will say, "Tell me more."