I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've been offered free Botox, free Kybella, free breast augmentation, free you name it, it's free. If I actually took everyone up on their kind offers, I would have morphed back into a zygote by now.
While I get the argument that beauty is skin deep and I agree, that logic can also be flipped on its head. Since physical appearances aren't everything, shouldn't we all be able to do whatever we want to our bodies without judgment?
If you can't tell, I'm feeling defensive. And my turtle shell morphed completely into steel the morning I went to New York City to pay Dr. Richard Swift a visit and take him up on his offer for free Juvederm Voluma.
I just turned 38 and my somewhat hollow face has started to make me look tired. It's cute when you're young and have that line of definition beneath your cheekbones and can walk around pretending you're from Eastern Europe and work in Vogue's shoe closet. But after a few years, an angular face and a lack of facial volume tells the world: I'm exhausted, famished and in need of hugs. Will I take a few vials of Juvederm Voluma to go with that hug? If a well-respected plastic surgeon like Dr. Swift has agreed to work his magic with a needle, consider me the Real Housewife who once defaulted on her student loan.
Voluma is a relatively new filler by Allergan, the same folks who brought you Botox. This gel injectable is made from hyaluronic acid (a molecule composed of sugar that our bodies naturally produce) and is inserted deep into the facial tissue. So far, Voluma has only been approved for use in the cheek area. The biggest difference between Voluma and other injectables is that it is said to last up to two years (most fillers last a maximum of nine months to one year).
It would be catty and possibly libelous to go into detail about certain gorgeous celebrities over the age of 30 who plastic surgeons (Dr. Swift, I should mention, is not one) have told me are definitely using Voluma, but let's just say it's a powerful secret weapon that few people are copping to using and we'll leave it at that.
Dr. Swift's Upper East Side office is located in the same building as people with Tibetan Mastiffs named Thane. I showed up at 10 a.m. for our appointment and there were already well-dressed women waiting for their beauty pick-me-ups. They looked completely at ease, reading magazines, checking their phones, prepared to dart in and dart out without a second thought. And I was terrified. Embarrassed. Part of me felt like a fraud. I grew up admiring women like Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth, women who might find this choice horribly un-feminist.
Well, to hell with all of that, I told myself. My face, my decision — those were my final thoughts before meeting Dr. Swift and begging him not to make me look like a cat.
At this point, I'll take a moment to debunk a cosmetic treatment myth: The only way you'll walk out of a doctor's office with cheetah face is if you a) request many procedures at once and ignore the advice of your board-certified plastic surgeon or b) have visited a cheap medispa that does not employ a board-certified and credible plastic surgeon. If you find yourself in the second scenario, run like the wind and don't look back.
Dr. Swift was patient, thorough and clear about the procedure and what to expect. I would probably experience swelling for a few days and should sleep on my back. After 72 hours, the injectable would set, but I was told not to massage my face or apply direct pressure until then.
A numbing cream was applied to my cheeks and Dr. Swift let it work its magic for about 10 minutes while he explained that Voluma is considered a superior filler for long-term results but can cause lumps and bumps, tenderness and redness. In extreme cases where the Voluma creates an unflattering bump, hyaluronidaise can be injected into the area to dissolve the filler — not something you want to do, but a nice thing to know when you're sitting in front of a doctor contemplating running out the door.
Dr. Swift inserted the first needle directly beneath my cheekbone and kept it in my skin for a few seconds while he worked the product into place using both the needle and his finger. It wasn't painful, but it was an odd sensation — I felt like a flank steak in the hands of the most graceful butcher on Earth. He inserted the needle about three or four times into each cheek and told me he could see a difference already. Each time he removed the needle, he placed gauze over my cheek lightly to control the bleeding — which was minimal.
In less than 10 minutes, the procedure was over. Dr. Swift handed me a mirror and an ice pack that I was told to apply to my face every few hours for the next 24 hours to reduce swelling. I was shocked to see needle marks and redness (seriously, what was I expecting?) and volume restored to my cheeks. Even better: I looked like the exact same person if you took that person, added a pound of flesh in all the right places and sent her to Jamaica to relax on the beach for a week.
Fast forward two hours. I made the mistake of checking myself out in the mirror too soon. I had started to bruise around my left cheek and right nasolabial fold, something that I knew might happen but wasn't prepared to see. I now looked like the most well-rested Frankenstein on the Upper East Side.
It took about two weeks for the bruising to go away and I also experienced a day or two immediately after the procedure where my cheeks looked puffy and swollen. My face never hurt, but my skin felt tight for a few days. The most worrisome side effect of Voluma was the appearance of a lump on my cheek, one you couldn't see but that I could feel. The lump resolved itself in about three weeks, but if I hadn't had a professional like Dr. Swift to answer my calls and ease my worried mind, I would have probably run back to a medispa to demand the Voluma be removed, which would have been hasty on my part.
Here's the craziest thing about injections like Voluma: I assumed everyone would be able to tell I did something different to my face, but not one person — not even my husband — said anything about it. Had I spent $2,000 or more on the procedure (prices vary depending on where you live and your plastic surgeon's level of expertise), I may have demanded that they take a closer look at my face. But if the whole point of getting something done is to look as natural as possible, Voluma is fantastic because the results are very subtle.
Voluma hasn't changed my life and it hasn't taken away my bad days, but it has taken my mind off of a part of my body that irked me. And that's key to remember: Cosmetic procedures can make us feel happier about our appearance, but they won't provide actual happiness. That part is still up to us.