Sexy Feminism Excerpt: What I Learned From a Laser Facial Peel

Leading up to the publication of our book, Sexy Feminism, on March 12, we’ll be sharing some short excerpts of it with you, the readers who helped make this book possible! Here, Jennifer’s “Feminist Confession” about trying a laser peel, one of the most popular cosmetic procedures available.

I spent years with a laser facial treatment on my wish list, but it remained far from possible for most of my twenties and thirties, thanks to the prohibitive $2,000 cost. But when I got my first book deal while I was still working at a well-paying full-time job, I found myself flush with disposable income. Regular taxis, luxurious dinners out, and overpriced designer jeans became part of my new reality, and I decided I would also choose one big-ticket indulgence before socking the rest of my newfound money away in my savings account. The winner was a laser treatment to smooth away the evidence of hard-fought battles with terrible teen acne.

I have a fancy dermatologist, the kind who’s quoted regularly in women’s magazines and who’s worth the hour-plus trip on the subway from Brooklyn to the Upper East Side of Manhattan, so I wasn’t worried about safety. The nurse who handles the outpatient cosmetic procedures at the office told me to expect some discomfort. She also advised me to take a few days to a week off work for recovery,  because my face would be a little red, “like a sunburn”—a mantra everyone in the office would repeat often throughout the process. I’ve had sunburn. I could live with that.

But I am here to tell you that in cosmetic-surgery land, all reality is distorted—not just the shape of your breasts or the texture of your skin, but the basic agreed-upon-by-all-of-society definitions of words and perceptions of what is reasonable. Here, a few lessons I learned from undergoing even the most minor of cosmetic procedures:

1. Discomfort means “searing pain.” I had imagined, with all this talk of discomfort and sunburns, that this thing would be like having someone kind of point, like, one of those laser pointers you use in presentations, at my face until it stung a little, and then I’d be sent me home. It turns out the doctor was actually burning my face off so the skin could grow back slightly smoother.

2. A few days to a week off means “at least a week.” I had scheduled myself to go back to work five days after my procedure, which meant I’d taken three days plus a weekend. I was lucky enough to have a job at a magazine where I could hide in my office under the guise of writing, but I wonder what any of my poor coworkers who caught a glimpse of me must have thought about the chunks of skin still in the process of molting off my face at the time.

3. They are not kidding when they advise you to have someone with you to take you home afterward. I thought, Sunburn? Surely that can withstand a taxi ride home without assistance. Then I found myself with my face wrapped in gauze like a mummy, oozing everywhere under the June sun, hailing a cab near Central Park. I’m glad I didn’t invite my new boyfriend to witness this event, but I did wish I’d dragged a friend along with me.

4. “May require multiple treatments for desired results”? No, thanks. My dermatologist wants to do it one more time to achieve the perfect results promised on the brochure—in fact, this is included in my original price, so I’d be getting my money’s worth—but I can’t bring myself to do it. It was just too painful for the results, and I’ve found one of those nice spot-erasing creams that works enough to make me happy. Going through this whole thing made me come to terms with my face as it is—there are still a few marks here and there, but now that I know what it takes to get rid of them, I don’t mind them as much.


Author: Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong grew up deep in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, then escaped to New York to live in a succession of very small apartments and write about pop culture. In the process, she became a feminist, a Buddhist, and the singer/guitarist in an amateur rock band. She also spent a decade on staff at Entertainment Weekly, cofounded, and now writes for several publications, including Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Writer’s Digest, Fast Company, and New York‘s Vulture. Her history of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2013; her collaboration with Heather Wood Rudulph, Sexy Feminism, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2013. She is the author of the Why? Because We Still Like You, a history of the original Mickey Mouse Club published by Grand Central in 2010. She has provided pop culture commentary for CNN, VH1, A&E, and ABC, and teaches article writing and creative writing. Follow her on Twitter: @jmkarmstrong

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