Paige Handley recently wrote a compelling piece in XOJane about her decision, at age 11, to have an unsighly mole surgically removed by a plastic surgeon. She explores the tension between the idea that "you are beautiful the way you are" and the feeling of having a physical characteristic that makes you insecure and uncomfortable.
Read her compelling piece below, or on XOJane.com.
IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Decided to Have Plastic Surgery at Age 11
Before even starting middle school, I decided to do something more associated with Real Housewives than pre-teens.
JUN 23, 2015
"As a kid, I had an unfortunately large, hairy mole on the side of my face.
By hairy, I do not mean a few strands poking through it. It grew its own lock of hair that had to be routinely trimmed. If I had ever let it grow long enough, I could have had a tiny pony tail on the side of my face.
The mass itself was about the size of a dime. As a young child, I found it amusing more than anything else and toddler me giggled at it in the mirror. It was just a thing that was there, not gross or weird or any of the other adjectives I would hear later.
It wasn’t until around fourth or fifth grade that the mole became a source of insecurity. Kids noticed it, and unsurprisingly, kids can be dicks. It was right at the edge of my hairline and I was able to successfully hide it in my chin length haircut as long as my hair stayed in place, but I lived in constant apprehension of who would discover it.
It turned from a quirky birthmark to a source of shame. From ages five through twelve, I never wore my hair up. No ponytails. No buns. Girls in my class got to change their hairstyles while I frantically hid my face behind my hair.
Even when I played soccer and basketball as a kid, my hair stayed down no matter how much it got in my face or how much I sweated into it.
Despite my growing apprehension about it, I still lived with my mole without much ridicule until the summer I went into junior high. There were isolated incidents that were mildly embarrassing, but the worst one happened when I went swimming with two friends.
I wasn’t even thinking about the mole until the water swept my hair back behind my ears. The two girls I was with immediately pointed out my hideous secret with some less-than-sensitive exclamations of “EW what is THAT?” directed at the side of my face. It was mortifying and I wanted to cry.
I had started to become slightly self-conscious about it, but that was definitely the defining moment that made me feel truly isolated by the otherwise harmless growth on my face.
I was about to be a teenager, some of the most superficial and judgmental years of a person’s life. My mother had several small moles on her face that I knew bothered her as well, and even though none were as prominent as mine, she understood what I was going through. It’s painful to know your daughter feels she needs to constantly hide part of her face.
Shortly after the swimming pool incident, she finally suggested the option of consulting with a dermatologist and plastic surgeon and seeing what could be done. We both knew it had to go.
My mole was classified as congenital, which allowed its removal to be covered by our insurance despite being benign.
So at age 11, after being reassured by the plastic surgeon that I would not be left with any major scarring, I went under the knife.
I wanted acceptance. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to like myself. I didn’t see how any of the above were possible with what in my mind was something as disgusting as a second head growing out of my face. While my mother brought the idea up in the first place, I never felt pressured by her to make the call. It was superficial and yet also completely necessary to me.
It’s easy to look back now and say I should have gotten over it. That I would have grown out of it. That someone should have told me I was beautiful the way I was and I should just be myself. (For the record, my mother has always told me that.) That teasing should never be a reason to be anesthetized and wake up with a part of your body physically missing.
We can talk forever about how unfair beauty standards are and their negative impact on young girls, but none of that would have changed my opinion. At the time, I saw removal as the only solution. I know, even today, that no amount of kind words would have made me feel differently.
When you truly dislike something about yourself, compliments sound hollow and patronizing. I regret none of it. I don’t want to know what I would be like now if I still had my mole. I was (and still am) lanky and weird enough without any added help.
My scar is faded now, but when it was still fresh classmates frequently pointed it out and asked about it and even that was painful for me. It triggered my paranoia over someone discovering my mole all over again. I would lie and say it was a scratch or a birthmark just to avoid the conversation.
Nowadays, at 22, I almost forget the mole ever existed. Outside of doctors’ appointments where I have to supply my medical history, it doesn’t cross my mind. Occasionally I tell new friends about it and joke about how “I’ve had a little work done.”
My scar is virtually undetectable but on the off chance someone notices, I do not feel like I need to lie about where it came from. (Clearly, I’ll even tell strangers on the Internet all about it.)
I know cosmetic surgery sometimes has negative connotations, especially when offered to someone so young, but I hardly think I am any worse off. If anything, my life improved significantly and my personality flipped around entirely.
It also isn’t a slippery slope, like so many entertainment news specials reporting on celebrities addicted to plastic surgery imply. I had another mole removed roughly a year after the first one, but have had no procedures since then.
There are plenty of physical features I don’t like about myself, but I have no desire to change them. I also don’t harbor any hard feelings toward the people who picked on me. Kids can be jerks. I can think of situations where I was too. That’s just a fact. (Although I’ll offer some general life advice: If you’re grossed out by someone’s face, keep it to yourself instead of pointing it out loudly like an asshole.)
I don’t want anyone to take my story the wrong way. I’m not advocating slicing off everything you hate about yourself and then feeling perfect forever. I’m just saying that plastic surgery does not make you weak, or mean you’re avoiding your feelings, or taking an “easy way out,” and anyone who feels that way needs to butt out of your personal choices.
I can wonder what I would be like if I hadn’t gone through with the surgery, but I cannot imagine it would have been happier than I am now. I ended up choosing a college nearly thousand miles away from home where I knew no one, something I doubt I would have pulled off if I was still hiding behind my own hair."