Learning self-love through cosmetic procedures

Everyone has gone through the phase where their relatives, or even strangers, would pinch their cheeks – mine just lasted well into my 20’s. Having a round face eventually became something like a personality trait to me – a trait that everyone seemed to love mentioning. 

So, I performed my own act of self-love: I decided to undergo a non-surgical procedure to make my face resemble the coveted ‘v-shape’.

There’s a whole spectrum of opinions of cosmetic procedures ranging from “Don’t ruin your natural beauty” to “You gotta look good to feel good”; for me, undergoing this change was an act of empowerment that helped me love myself more.

Growing up being lovably “round” 

Self-love and body positivity movements have gained a lot of traction in recent years, with individuals more willing than ever to embrace themselves and who they are. While extremely thankful for this movement, I also wasn’t completely ready to celebrate every single one of my features. 

I was a really chubby child with extra chubby cheeks, which was vastly different from the other members of my family who had smaller builds and more angular faces. One of my earliest memories as a child is of strangers asking if I was stealing food from my family members while pinching my “cute” cheeks. 

cosmetic surgery in thailand
My mother and I modelling Thai-style clothes – the designer told me that I’d need more fabric because I was so “full”.
Image credit: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thailand

My mother, who was often “jokingly” asked if I was really her daughter, would politely ask them to stop and tell me they didn’t mean it, and that it really didn’t matter. Whether or not they meant it, it still hurt.

Being six years old and already being conscious of your face shape was not a good way to start out in the early-2000s, especially when ‘heroin chic’ was the aesthetic, which perpetuated unhealthy ideas of the “ideal” body image for many young women out there. 

cosmetic surgery in thailandI remember a “friend” telling me that I looked like a bulldog in this picture because of my jowls
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

Getting old enough to speak for myself, I would tell people that observations about my face were not welcome. Some relatives even told me that my “baggy” cheeks would bring bags of money in my future, which I guess was a compliment. 

Whether the remarks on my face were positive or negative, the fact that its roundness was being pointed out affirmed others were noticing something I saw as a flaw. So, after years of comments and learning to love my round face, I decided I was spending way too much time trying to accept something I didn’t like. 

Consistent support and validation

I started begging my mother if I could get whatever procedure would make my face slimmer since the age of 14 – understandably, she said no. The rest of my teenage years were spent with side-parted haircuts, awkward poses, high camera angles, and come 2015 – Facetune. 

cosmetic surgery in thailandSam circa 2013 – the braces didn’t help my confidence that much either, tbh.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

My friends and family consistently told me that I was focusing on a problem that wasn’t actually there – I was fortunate to have people in my life who never got tired of telling me that I was beautiful no matter what. 

While my support system continued to lift me up, the off-handed comments were still there. I remember being 17 and being told that I would be so much prettier “if I lost weight” because my features were “hidden under layers of fat”. Luckily, I wasn’t six anymore, so I was able to express my lack of appreciation for unwelcome suggestions. In turn, I was met with “Oh, I was just joking, you’re absolutely perfect the way you are.” 

I’m not sure how gracefully others can handle such “jokes”, but it felt like I was being gaslit. The teenage angst combined with the cheeky remark led to further ambivalence regarding whether I was overreacting to peoples’ comments based on my own self-hatred. Perhaps it was a combination of both. 

cosmetic surgery in thailandI’m pretty sure I got pretty close to breaking my neck for this photo – just so my “jowls” would be hidden – when I should’ve been celebrating my pup’s kindergarten graduation.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

A few years ago, the #bodypositivity movement really took off. With celebrities like BTS telling us to “love ourselves” and Jameela Jamil spearheading the no-photoshop movement that prompted influencers to show us what #nofilter actually looked like, I was inspired. There were a number of posts showing us just how much work – nutrition, training and surgical alterations – that went into celebrities looking perfect.

cosmetic surgery in thailandImage credit: ahseeit

The movement seemed to empower people to love themselves exactly as they are and feel beautiful in their own skin. For me, it was mutually exclusive: there was no way that I could feel comfortable in my own skin when there was a feature I spent over two decades resenting and trying to change. So, I took the message of empowerment to be one of agency – I decided that cosmetic surgery was how I was going to achieve my idea of “beautiful” and love myself.

Turning to non-surgical face contouring 

After weeks of consultations and excitement, I gifted myself thread lifts and Botox for my 24th birthday. 

The Botox was injected a week in advance of my thread lifts to relax my jaw. I learnt that it’s not only flesh and fat that makes your face appear wider, but that strong muscles also contributed. Essentially, all the chewing and clenching developed body-builder-like gains in my jaw that needed to be loosened in order to achieve a more “v-shape” appearance. 

A thread lift is done by inserting needles under the skin and threading surgical fibres through the area, using the twine to pull the flesh upwards, then tying a knot to secure the position of the tissues. In my case, the threads lifted skin from the rounder part of my face towards my cheekbones, making them more dramatic and reducing the appearance of chubby cheeks. 

cosmetic surgery in thailandWaiting for the numbing cream to set in – I was SO excited that I forgot that this was the easy part.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

I cried happy tears when it was done. For a second, I’d forgotten all about the years I spent hating myself and all the comments people had made about me. 

Unfortunately, the insecurity I felt never really vanished – and probably won’t. However, I definitely felt more at ease and comfortable in my own skin – a feeling that I’d been chasing since the very first remark about my “auspiciously round” face. 

We’re always told not to internalise other peoples’ statements or opinions about ourselves, especially the negative ones, but, sometimes it’s inevitable and completely normal. So, instead of spending energy on learning how to let comments “roll off my back” and accepting what I saw as a flaw, I underwent a procedure that increased my self-confidence. Ultimately, it’s my happiness and my body that I have to live with. 

While my jowls have been lifted, my face is still round and I’m definitely not conventionally “fit” or “thin” in Thailand, so the body-shaming comments won’t end anytime soon. However, I have noticed that I put less thought into other peoples’ observations. 

cosmetic surgery in thailandThe cheek on the right has been ‘lifted’ while the left hasn’t.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

Of course, people in my immediate circle noticed the change. While a lot of them were quick to assure me that I was beautiful without the threads, they also commended my choice to take beauty and happiness into my own hands. 

I remember telling my mother, whom I’d been begging for surgery since I was a teenager, expecting her to say something along the lines of, “why would you do that?”. Instead, she told me she was proud of me for taking actionable steps against something that plagued me for years. 

The stigma surrounding surgery

I started seriously considering procedures when I was still living in the United States, where cosmetic surgery was simply someone’s choice: the individualistic culture there mostly commended those who took change and joy into their own hands, regardless of the reason. 

At my university, no one batted an eye if you came back from vacation with a new nose, a different sized chest, or double eyelids. 

cosmetic surgery in thailand
I used to hide behind my friends in pictures so my cheeks wouldn’t be too prominent.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

However, I never went in for an official consultation until I moved to Thailand, where I expected the stigma would be a lot higher, since “natural beauty” was so highly coveted. To my surprise, it most definitely was not: I remembered hearing conversations at work and in the gym about people going to get Botox together – like it was a bonding activity

I also learnt that Thailand is not only a hub for gender reassignment surgery, but also for many different types of procedures. At first, I only thought that ‘chin shaving’ or ‘liposuction’ were my options, but I was shown a whole new world of non-surgical procedures while I was shopping around. 

Both Botox and thread lifts are not considered surgery, as there is no laceration or general anaesthesia required – due to the minimal invasion, the results would last for about 6 months to a year. I figured this was a good start, just in case I didn’t actually love the results. In fact, my aesthetician and doctor actually informed me that shaving my chin would ruin my “already-nice bone structure.”

cosmetic surgery in thailandThis picture with my father was taken two months after the procedure, when I finally stopped using break-neck angles in pictures.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

Surprisingly, a family member was the one who referred me to my now-aesthetician, under the condition that I never tell anyone that they told me about the place and what they got done. It seems that while beauty enhancements are common, it’s more talked about by those in the younger generation than older folks. 

Taking self-love into my own hands

The idea that natural beauty is the utmost style makes being beautiful so exclusive – it makes it so that you can only be considered beautiful if you were born with features that just so happen to fit the current standard. It’s unfair to police how someone wants to achieve their beauty ideals, and continuing to do so will only further the advancement of companies that capitalise on people’s insecurities. 

Modern-day feminism teaches us that women can do anything while looking however they do and wearing whatever they want. The movement is liberating so many people from the pursuit of outdated beauty standards, however, there are also some that only see one side of the movement, and put others down for wanting to change the way they look. 

aerial silks thailandI’m soarin’, flyin! Aerial silks remind me that there’s so much more to me than my appearance and that I am strong enough – even to fly -, despite what others say.
Image credit: Sam Anukularmphai

When asked, “Why do you look so different?”, I’m very open about what I’ve done; not only because I’m proud of my decision but also because it’s the truth. I’m sometimes met with, “You were beautiful the way you were”, which is very kind – but the point is that I did this so that I could feel beautiful.  

Just as we respect others for their beliefs, it’s also vital that we embrace the way they choose to celebrate themselves. Whether it’s through posting #belfies (a cheeky trend where you take selfies of your butt), choosing not to shave or getting every procedure done, it’s really none of our business. By celebrating others, we can move towards a society with a lot less intolerance and a lot more happiness.

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Cover images adapted from: Sam Anukularmphai

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