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So off I went in search of a dermatologist in the beautiful and terrifying city of Los Angeles.
Around my sixth year living in LA, sometime around my twenty-fourth birthday, my skin started behaving like it belonged to a horny 14-year-old boy. I had adult acne. This wasn't your "Oh, I'm on my period" acne. This was going to a Sephora and saying, "Point me in the direction of your industrial strength foundation. Oh, you don't have that? Okay, do you sell straight-up paint?" I could only sleep on my back because it was too painful for my face to even touch a pillow GENTLEMEN FORM AN ORDERLY QUEUE. The point I'm trying to make here is that this wasn't something I could solve with a Clarisonic. This required medical attention.
So off I went in search of a dermatologist in the beautiful and terrifying city of Los Angeles, where dermatologists and plastic surgeons are the same people and dermatology offices have names like LazerAway and SparkleSkin and NuYou instead of just, like, the offices of Dr. Whatever. Off I went in search of a hybrid derm/plastic surgeon in the city where the beauty standard is created in a doctor's office. Nowhere else besides Los Angeles is beauty determined by a medical practitioner. Here, when a doctor tells you to do something, you do it, as I was unfortunately about to find out.
While I sat waiting to be seen by a highly-regarded (translation: four and half stars on Yelp) Beverly Hills dermatologist, I read the literature that decorated the walls. There were pamphlets for all sorts of things you could have injected into your face to make you prettier, including a BOGO sale (yup, as in Buy One, Get One Free) on Botox. Hmmm, okay. Lots of doctors make money on elective procedures, right? It's just like a dentist offering teeth-whitening? Whatever, I thought.
The doctor looked at my terrible skin with the kind of sad eyes usually reserved for homeless animals, gave me some meds, told me my face would get better, and sent me on my way. That should have been the end of my adventures in LA body modification. But of course it wasn't.
Laser doc looked at my face and delivered the most passive-aggressive mean-girl statement anyone has ever said to me.
On my follow-up meeting, as I waited for the doctor, I couldn't help but be distracted by that "buy one get one free" sale they were still having on Botox.
Curious, I asked the nurse, "What's the deal on Botox? Is it like, buy one syringe, get one free?"
She laughed. "No. If you pay for say, twenty units, you would get an additional twenty for free."
Me: "Oh...how many units would I need, hypothetically, if I were to get some?"
She responded, "Well, would it be for the lines around your mouth or would you want it to raise your eyebrows?"
I told her, a little too defensively, that I wasn't aware I had droopy eyes or lines on my face. "It's not a matter of need," she responded. "But the younger you get Botox, the less you'll have to get it as you age. Some of our youngest Botox patients are 21. Do you have any questions?"
Um, yes? I have ALL OF THE QUESTIONS! Twenty-one-year-olds get Botox? What's wrong with my eyebows? Do I look way more raggedy than I thought?
That entire car ride home I stared at my reflection in the rear view mirror. Damn, she was right. My eyes are droopy as fuck. I literally have no arch in my brows. My eyebrows are, like, ten stray hairs in a row. Would Botox fix that? And I do have one deep crevice that extends vertically from my lip. When did that get there?
I started pulling at my eyebrows, wondering what they would look like if they were "higher." I thought it just made me look surprised, but if a doctor suggested it, it must be necessary, right? And just like that, Beverly Hills' warped and medicated version of beauty had already begun to ruin me. LA was under my skin. Literally.
Eventually the acne went away and I was ecstatic. I got better insurance so I decided to see a new dermatologist just to take a look at some suspicious moles. I wasn't even thinking about my face anymore.
I have never identified more with the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
As with the last dermatologist, I found this office on Yelp and the glowing reviews made me choose it instantly. The thing about Yelp—which I learned a little too late—is that sometimes doctors will be listed twice: once for a dermatology practice and once for a scorching-your-skin-with-laser-beams practice. Unfortunately for me, I did not do my due diligence and just showed up to what I thought was a normal doctor's office. I told my practitioner about the suspicious moles. He agreed that they were "suspicious" and we got rid of them. And then came the lasers.
Laser doc looked at my face and delivered the most passive-aggressive mean-girl statement anyone has ever said to me. "Are you happy with all that hyperpigmentation and cratered scarring on your cheeks?"
What the fuck? I have craters? ON MY FACE? Of course I'm not happy with them! I handed him my credit card and told him to point whatever laser at my skin he saw fit, allowing myself to fall deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole.
I left there fifteen minutes later with an ice pack and a much better sense of what a third degree burn must feel like. I ELECTED to have someone essentially burn several layers off my skin. For the next two weeks, my skin flaked off in little brown patches while I religiously re-applied $60 SPF and ran around town in a baseball hat. I have never identified more with the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. What is this city doing to me, I wondered? Despite all this, I had the procedure performed three more times, because I am apparently broken inside and because the doctor said this procedure was only effective if done in sequences of four, so whatever.
Now that my skin is mostly under control and I've realized that those Beverly Hills copays are a bitch, I discovered that you can get the occasional zit injected with cortisone at medical spas. It's way cheaper and—bonus—they also offer like 100 other things you can do to contour your face and body. Which brings me to the butt lift.
While I was making a routine appointment to have a stubborn stray cyst injected at one of these med spas, the receptionist casually mentioned that they were doing free trials. I would be a perfect candidate for a special laser to contour my ass, she said. First of all, did she think I had a flat ass? Also, this was on the phone, so how could she know I was a "perfect candidate?" Whatever. I asked exactly one question, "Will it hurt?" She said "Not really" and I immediately said "Sign me up" because I love free shit.
Now, I'm a writer. I spend most of my time sitting in front of a computer. I have literally no business contouring my ass, but what the hell, it's free and I'm bored of these gateway drugs like stupid old face lasers. GIVE ME SOMETHING STRONGER!
At the appointment, the nurse injected my zit and literally was like "...and the pimple should decrease in size in about two hours. Now, are you ready for a plumper, firmer, and virtually cellulite-free ass?"
It's amazing how trusting you can become when you're insecure about something.
From there, it was off to the races! I asked far fewer questions than I should have. I didn't even ask if there were side-effects or what after-care was like. After having my face lasered away, I kind of figured I was an "expert." It's amazing how trusting you can become when you're insecure about something. Make me beautiful, I don't care what it takes!
Once I was naked and lying on my stomach, the nurse went in with his pitch—the "This is what I'm going to do to you" part. He motioned to a machine about the size of a small ice-cream cart sitting in the corner of the room. From out of the machine came a foot-long hose with, basically, a shower head at the end. This machine was called VShape by Alma Lasers, and it was going to use a combination of ultrasound and radio frequency to zap away cellulite and shape my butt. (Apparently it could shape any part of your body you didn't want to tone naturally with, oh, I don't know, exercise.)
The nurse picked up the shower-head piece and motioned with it towards my butt. "I'm going to use this to run passes up and down the backs and sides of your thighs, under your butt cheeks, in between the cheeks and on top of your butt where it meets your back. I'm basically molding your legs into a new shape."
Me: "Okay." What was I supposed to say? "How about we throw in lower calf?" I just nodded through the rest of his pitch.
As my skin heated up, I was supposed to tell me him on a scale of one to ten how "unbearable the pain" was.
He then told me that the apparatus would get progressively hotter but he would only do each leg and butt cheek for a total of about ten minutes. As my skin heated up, I was supposed to tell me him on a scale of one to ten how "unbearable the pain" was. I suppose if it got past ten, he would stop? I didn't want to find out.
"Ready?" he asked. "Uhmm?" I squeaked. Off we went.
The shower-head touched my thigh. "Five!" I immediately yelled. Damn, this thing was hot, but definitely not unbearable—kind of like when you microwave a frozen burrito for too long and then try to touch the plastic wrapper.
The nurse ran the shower-head up and down my thighs and in circular patterns around my butt, molding my ass like putty. It actually just felt like a hot-stone massage. It was mostly relaxing, but every other minute it would tread into eight-hot territory and I'd let him know.
I yelped out "Eight!" or "Nine!" only once or twice and then it was over. Once the nurse was done, he stepped back like an artist admiring his work, smiled broadly, and told me I should go check myself out in the mirror.
Apparently, this treatment is popular because the results are immediate. There is no recovering or downtime (except a couple hours of soreness) which is why the nurse kept saying that all his "actress clients" come and see him hours before they shoot a nude scene. However, the downside to the VShape butt contour is that it only lasts about two weeks. When he told me this, I felt cheated. Granted, I didn't pay, but what the hell? I took time out of my day for a butt contour that would last for a fortnight?
My butt looked like it had been stung by a thousand strategically-placed bees, then set high on a shelf.
Craning my neck around in the mirror, I could see that my cellulite was 80% gone, but my butt didn't look contoured or lifted. It just looked swollen. It looked like it had been stung by a thousand strategically-placed bees, then set high on a shelf. Like a big blob resting on my legs, or a Tempur-Pedic pillow. In my opinion, it was low-key gross. I was afraid that if I touched it, I'd leave an indent. The nurse assured me it would not. I was actually relieved the results would disappear in two weeks. (It would last longer if I exercised, said the nurse).
As soon as I left the exam room, I felt embarrassed. Like, great, now I can act in a porn! Why am I doing this? In the lobby, the receptionist asked me how I liked the results. I lied and told her it was great and she showed me a pricing brochure: $99 per session, if and only if you get the procedure done weekly FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR. So like, what is $99 times 52 weeks? A stupid amount of money. And then what, you do it for the rest of your life unless you want to return to your normal human-shaped butt? Everything is stupid, this is stupid, I hate Los Angeles.
As I left the office, limping slightly and feeling weird and shameful, I was greeted by a ticket on my car. I immediately took this as a sign from God that I'm making all the wrong life choices. As I sat in my car, my brain played a quick slide show of my evolution from the girl who just three years ago washed her face with a bar of soap to the sad LA cliché I had now become, trying to find a comfortable way to sit lest I get an indentation on my new swole butt. "How did I get here?" I wondered to myself. Oh right, this all started because I got a fucking zit.