When I was 16 I told my parents that I wanted breast implants. I asked them if it were possible to consider it an “investment,” kind of like paying for piano lessons or gymnastics or college: “But think of the opportunities! The opened doors! I could do anything!” They didn’t buy it. Like any good parents, they ignored it like my other long string of attention seeking stunts and chalked up to a phase.

As a child, I examined the Barbie dolls and imagined what it would be like to fully “emerge” as a woman. When I was a teenager, I stuffed my bra, a trick I continued to pull through college which came in handy in toilet-paperless barroom stalls and fraternity parties. I watched old movies, the women pouring out of low cut dresses, and held out hope through my mid-twenties that maybe I was just a late bloomer. I think it took turning 25 for me to accept that I had probably completed puberty, even if unsuccessfully. The butterfly metaphor just didn’t apply.

I envied women who could wear those ridiculous corsets, even if they were strippers and Playboy models. Any lingerie would do. I even wanted to be a burlesque dancer—something I was very close to pursuing in New York. After watching a show in the Lower East Side, I was sitting at the bar stirring my drink when the respected NYC dancer, Runaround Sue, came and sat next to me, propping her bare chest on the bar, like she was carrying around too many bags. I tried to look her straight in the eyes, not the nipples, as I told her that I wanted my own act. “Chest size doesn’t matter!” she said excitedly, “You should do it! Come meet me and we can find you a costume!”

I masterminded a routine in the event that I was ever ready to bare all. The routine goes like this: I am wearing an eye patch, a pirate hat marked with a skull and crossbones, and I have strapped on a wooden peg leg. I hop in from one side with my arms on my hips and kind of sway around on the stump. After some enticing hip movements and a wink at the audience, I kick my leg and the wooden peg leg goes flying at the same time I tear off the eye patch, fling the hat and let down my hair. Sexy right?

With all the practice and planning, the whole stunt just didn’t seem right without swinging breasts and flailing nipple tassels. I still wanted implants. Yes, Dolly Parton is one of my role models and I adhere to her shameless, yet, dignified pursuit of plastic surgery. Broaching this topic with anyone usually invokes some kind of heated response. For some reason, people have very strong opinions about what we should or should not do to our own bodies. Men will say, “But you are fine just the way you are,” as if I just needed their personal voice of approval to change my mind: “Yes, of course! What was I thinking? How could I change something about myself that you believe to be just fine. Thank you for the compliment and highly relevant opinion of my body. I no longer want to go through with this.” I think it’s cute that every guy thinks he is the first to try and dissuade me. When it comes to this particular issue, I am immune to flattery.

In the same vein, women will categorize plastic surgery as an affront. It is anti-feminist, it means you are insecure, not happy with yourself. They think you are a secret cutter. I felt the most resistance from women who were already big-busted, although this, I kind of understood, the same way that women with straight hair always want it to be curly. We want what we can’t have.

For me, it has always been very simple. To put it bluntly: I wanted boobs. Big ones. The kind that fell out of my shirt and made people look twice. The kind that I could take shopping and go swimming with. Boobs that screamed, “Hey you! Look at me, even though all I’m gonna do is sit here. And maybe bounce around a little. Either way, it’s FUN FUN FUN, til her Daddy takes the T-Bird away!” I thought of them as long-lost friends. The term “bosom buddies” didn’t come out of nowhere. It just so happened that we had not met yet. We were like estranged family members waiting to get reunited on Montel Williams.

Some things we can change and some things we cannot. Fortunately, in my case, change came last week in a Thai hospital at a discount price. I planned the surgery months before arriving in Bangkok, corresponding with some androgynous internet personality called “Nann.” I sent him/her pictures, medical records, descriptive prose about my desired breasts, which I am confident went ignored or untranslated.

One of the reasons plastic surgery is cheaper is because the entire process is streamlined. Instead of making an appointment, you basically sit in a line and wait until the doctor can see you. Same day consultations and surgery make the process even more efficient. I had a nightmare the day before my appointment. You might think it would have to do with some infection or botch job, but no, my subconscious fear was that the doctor would have to perform the surgery Friday instead of Tuesday, as planned.

The waiting room was packed and felt a little bit like that afterlife waiting room scene from Beetlejuice: we are all kind of messed up, looking around wondering what happened and what needs fixing. I kept thinking about that guy with the shrinking head and all the dead people holding numbers. Some of the patients are legitimate: a child with a harelip, the burn victim, and the row of lady-boys waiting for sex change operations. Then there are the rest of us: Europeans, Australians, and Americans who are either seeking nose jobs, facelifts, liposuction, or implants (insert me).

I decide that the hospital, in general, is way too colorful and bright. Also (this is my favorite part)…. the nurses are on roller skates. They are wearing those tight suits like flight attendants from the 60’s gliding by holding documents, medication… SYRINGES .There is techno music playing in the background as if the whole experience should say, “Plastic surgery is fun! Let’s do it again!”

Throughout the hospital there are advertisements that say things like, “Be happy. Be beautiful.” On the posters there is a running list of procedures you can undergo to make this happen (beauty and happiness both start to seem like suspect outcomes). I find myself unintentionally holding my breath at several points: when I hear my mispronounced name and stand, weighing the implants in my palms, standing nude in front of the doctor while he took pictures and made incomprehensible comments in Thai, laying down on the operating table, arms spread eagle, a split second, right before I inhaled the anesthesia.

The good thing about general anesthesia is that you are fully aware that, in what seems like seconds, you will wake up and it will all be over. The bad thing is that when you wake up, you will have been sliced open, prodded, stuffed, and sewn back together like Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t remember much except for yelling at one of the roller skating nurses to rub my arms because I couldn’t feel them. This is one of those anesthesia horror story moments, although they reassured me in broken English that everything would be fine in a few hours.

So, in less than 48 hours, I landed in Bangkok and woke up with breasts. Big, swollen, tightly wrapped, fake breasts. It is one of those moments in life that makes no sense and you know that nothing you have ever experienced or will experience can compare. It’s like coming out of a coma or The Matrix only you have new body parts. And I don’t mean this in a positive or negative way… just that lying there, knowing that weight of what seemed like 50 pounds pressing down on my chest was now my own body is definitely a WTF moment.

I stay in the hospital overnight and within a few hours after waking up, I am trying to prepare for departure. I knew I had to go back to the creepy old Bangkokian hotel alone and take care of myself for a week before the stitches come out so I do my best to conquer the surgical feat with minimal angst. Everything hurts: sitting up, bending over, lifting, reaching, picking up the phone… reading. I start to feel like a good primate when I use my feet to pick up my purse. I had to learn to sit up on my own. Not to keep referencing movies, but I just watched Kill Bill and I was channeling Uma Thurman in the backseat of the Pussy Wagon. Instead of saying, “Wiggle your big toe,” I was like, “Just sit up. Sit up. Sit up. Sit up. Sit up.” Mustering only strength from my lower-abs and using some leg momentum, I lift my chest and throw my legs over the side of the bed. Success. I practice walking around the room but am off balance, because I am holding the new weight up with both my forearms.

After packing up my things, I throw some cash for my new tee-tas at the check-out, step out to the curb and hail a cab (unable to lift my arm, I give a low-five wave). Up in the room I was prepared: Luckily, pirated DVDs cost less than a dollar in Thailand and I learned that there was at least one guy in the kitchen who could take room service orders in English. I was in air conditioned recovery and spent the next few days reclining in a king sized bed, trying to avoid the ubiquitous Bangkokian smells of street meat and cat piss.

In a few days, I am out and about. Another thing I like about Thai health care is that you can pretty much get whatever you want from the pharmacy. They even have a Botox counter where you can walk up and they just start poking needles in your face. Be wary though: the guy behind the counter is so tight and shiny, he looks like robotic Jude Law in AI. Thai health care is pretty much a free for all. When I show the pharmacist the painkillers I was prescribed, she says, “Das for kindergarten pain! You need dis!” She throws me what I suspect to be some concoction of Oxycodone, Percoset or Vicodin, I am not sure what. She throws in a pack of Valium and says, “You jus take easy and relaaaaaa-AX, ” (winks and smiles).

The million dollar questions: How are they and how do I feel? My friend warned me about body dysmorphic disorder and the psychological dangers of plastic surgery. For me, there was no dysmorphia because (well, maybe this is dysmorphic), I believed they were supposed to be there the whole time. Like I said…. reuniting with old family… and just in time for Christmas. My only complaint is that they may not be big enough. The doctor laughed at me today when I asked if he could make them bigger. Since he does not speak English very well, he made a series of gestures and sound effects, which I interpreted to mean that the implant would overflow from the side, implode (or explode) beneath the muscle and potentially collapse and come out my mouth. Really, I have no idea what he was trying to indicate, other than something really terrible might happen if I tried bigger implants.

Maybe he is right and I should just get used to these. I already kind of have this feeling that I am auditioning for porn when walking down the street. Okay, to be fair, I have an active imagination.

I got my stitches out today and we are all healing on schedule. When I fully recover, I am thinking of putting that pirate routine back together… possibly integrating a talking parrot and a flute.

But, first things first: I am taking my new boobs and getting the F— out of Bangkok.

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  1. Henk

    Yees Kate, you really did it! RespecT!

  2. Laura

    But. When do we get to see them???

  3. Sarah


  4. Erin

    I’m curious about the lifespan of implants. I’ve heard that they last about ten years. Do you have a plan for what you’re going to do then? It’s not something that gets talked about much and I’m interested in your thoughts.

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