In the March edition of their monthly column for Document, Liara Roux addresses a reader’s inner turmoil around cosmetic procedures and the doors they open

Dear Liara,

I’m a fellow sex worker. I’ve been thinking about getting some work done. I have fillers, eyelash extensions, and botox already and I feel like it’s really helped my business. I want to get implants, a nose job, and have my jaw shaved. Some part of me is worried about looking “fake” and about recovering from surgery. But I’ve seen how much more money I’ve made, even since just getting filler.

What do you think?

Dear Z,

Surgery is certainly no joke. The recovery is intense, of course, and there are often serious risks. Even with filler, there can be the risk of permanent nerve damage, blindness. With surgery, there can be death. Is beauty worth dying for? Is money?

But I’m assuming you know this. You seem like you’ve done your research, and now you’re grappling with a problem that is a bit more emotional in nature—which is why you’re writing an advice column. I’m not a medical professional. The only surgery I’ve ever done was for my wisdom teeth.

I got a bit of filler in my lips and in my chin, under my eyes. I had it done as I was exiting in-person sex work; I did very little while I was actually working. Microbladed eyebrows, eyelash perm, Latisse, an extensive skincare routine, and monthly facials. Perhaps that’s not truly a little, but it felt like it at the time. While you’re working, it feels like your appearance is one of the few aspects of work you have complete control over. I always felt hot, except for my moments of crippling insecurity.

I worked hard at it, this hotness. I did pilates three times a week, which, in addition to all the fucking, made me feel strong and lean and toned. My skin glowed. Other women would look at me enviously, I thought to myself. I examined every pore. I would cry when I got a zit. I would lay down to have my face punctured with needles, coated in my own blood, covered in thick, blue jelly under infrared light. I laid in the sauna, swam laps in the pool. I drank liters of water, forced myself to eat bacon cheeseburgers so I wouldn’t be too skinny.

“While you’re working, it feels like your appearance is one of the few aspects of work you have complete control over. I always felt hot, except for my moments of crippling insecurity.”

I got filler in my chin, in part, to have less baby face. I was tired of being in my late-20s and having people tell me I looked 13. It does seem to have worked. TSA doesn’t tell me to keep my shoes on anymore when I go through security. Why do you want to get filler? Is it to control your body, to make more money? Is it a mask—something that will let you get into character a bit more?

Sometimes, filler acts like glamor, changing very little while allowing you to feel like an entirely different person. That feeling of being different bestows a certain type of confidence—that, in turn, results in people treating you differently. Have you considered that part of why you’re earning more money might be because of your different behavior? Because now you see yourself differently?

Of course, society rewards people who look a certain type of beautiful, too. Being on social media—as I assume you are—really shows us an aspirational image. Beautiful women everywhere, walking down the street, sipping perfect lattes, shopping bags covering their five-star hotel rooms. We become these aspirational images, too, mirrors unto ourselves.

Lacan wrote about the specular I and the social I. The specular I is the I we see in the mirror. As children, we compare ourselves with this image—the imago—and find ourselves lacking. This imago is complete, whole, self-contained, while we are still discovering our bodies. Now online, we strive in our daily lives to reach the filtered ideal we play at on social media. If I said that my social media presence while I was working was just to attract clients, I’d be lying. I was casting a spell on myself, too.

Sometimes, I compare myself to old photos: Am I still hot? Have I lost my touch? Then I remind myself that they were photoshopped, filtered, unreal. What would Lacan write about these new filters, which erase wrinkles, pores, blemishes, and change with surgical precision the shape of the face? These ideal images, this merging of the specular and social I in our digital worlds, that we ourselves must now compete with?

“Sometimes, filler acts like glamor, changing very little while allowing you to feel like an entirely different person.”

Do you want to join that race? Do you want to turn yourself into that flawless image you’ve projected? Of course, other people will appreciate it. You’ve turned yourself into a work of art.

What will make you the most happy? It’s easy to lean on other people to tell us the right thing to do. It’s easy to listen to a doctor when they say, I can make you more beautiful, more lovely. I could tell you you’d be happier if you stay “natural,” “pure,” “innocent.” I could tell you you’d be happier if you “hustle” and “grind.” But at the end of the day, you are the only one who knows what you really want. That’s the secret beginning to the path of sustainable happiness—finding out how to really be with yourself.

Maybe those needs will be met by surgery. Maybe they won’t be. I do think that, in writing me, you may be looking for someone to tell you that you don’t need it to make more money, because that seems to be your main motivation. I made a shit ton at the top of the industry while I was working with very little work done (by industry standards).

Surgery is expensive. If you want my real advice, take the money you would have invested in new tits and take a class in portrait art. Go to figure drawing classes. Paint yourself. Learn first to see yourself as you really are. Learn how to see beauty for what it is, not beauty as what a certain group of people—very motivated to make you insecure—tells you it should be. Find your angles in the light.

If you’re still dissatisfied, you can still get surgery. But when you own your own beauty, no one can take it away from you.

All my love,

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