When Elizabeth's husband left her for a younger woman, she didn't get mad, she got even -- literally. On the advice of a friend, the fiftysomething wardrobe stylist visited a plastic surgeon to get back her youthful glow, revitalizing not only her appearance but also her life.
In today's Botox era, women coming out of nasty break-ups are increasingly turning to cosmetic surgery for a glossy pick-me-up and fresh start in a newly single world, not to mention revenge against their former husbands.
"When breakups get real ugly, husbands can get abusive," says New York plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Freund.
"I had a patient a couple years ago who was a very accomplished and attractive woman, but her divorce did a number on her. Her husband turned to insidious verbal abuse, saying things like, 'I always thought you had lousy breasts and that they would sag.' I think it's testosterone-fueled -- it's like some of these men feel they have to get back at the woman," he tells StyleList.
Natalie from Boca Raton, Florida found herself in a similarly distressing situation.
"My husband of 26 years cheated on me with a real estate agent who I had hired when we were buying a house. She was 35, and married too. I knew I deserved better, so I filed for divorce. He tried to kick me out of our home and cashed in our 401K among other things. He financially ruined me. I was a stay-at-home mom, and had to scramble to find work. I'm a nanny now," says 50 year-old Natalie, who was rocking a baby to sleep as she spoke on the phone.
With her daughter currently engaged, Natalie realized she would have to spend the December nuptials with her ex-husband -- and his new wife, the real estate agent. That's when Natalie knocked on the door of Florida plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Pozner in search of a cosmetic surgery makeover that would give her the self-assurance to attend the wedding.
"I can only imagine the stories he'll be telling people about me. I want to walk in there and be there for my daughter, and I want to sit in that room with confidence and be very proud of her," says Natalie.
As to how the financially-strapped divorcée could pay for a full facial and neck rejuvenation, the Floridian says it all cost less than she would have guessed.
"Cosmetic surgery was more affordable than I thought. I went to three plastic surgeons, and Dr. Pozner's costs were a little higher. But I realized it was my face, and you can't replace your face if something goes wrong. They were very interested in helping me, and worked out a plan with me," says Natalie.
Meanwhile, Dr. Pozner says the coin flips both ways in sunny Florida.
"The men come in also! They're mainly interested in liposuction and facelifts -- especially facelifts for the guys who are 50 and chasing after women in their 20's and 30's," he says.
In flashy Beverly Hills, cosmetic surgery after a break-up is almost a given.
"One third of my patients are immediate post-divorce cases," says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. John Anastasatos. "Divorce is the second major stresser in life after death. It crushes you. It makes you feel like a failure."
"The effects of plastic surgery are not only skin deep; they have a profound emotional and psychological uplifting effect. People feel reborn after," he adds. "They feel like they can have a second shot at their personal lives."
One of Dr. Anastasatos patients, Alison, turned to cosmetic surgery after two divorces and the responsibilities of caring for a family had her feeling run down.
"In my adulthood, I had spent the majority of my time serving others. I allowed the needs and wants of others to become more important than any need or desire of my own," says the professional psychologist. "Then I began to listen to my own advice. 'What benefit are you to others if you don't place value on yourself?'"
Alison created a wish list for Dr. Anastasatos, and they worked towards achieving a fresher look.
"The results have enabled me to feel the confidence of my youth," says Alison of her procedures, which have included liposuction, fat injections to the lips, arm and thigh lifts, a face lift, earlobe repair and a calf reduction.
"Women spend their life uplifting others. They deserve to have an appearance they desire," she adds.
"It's common in my practice to see women who seek plastic surgery while contemplating divorce or separation," says New York plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Tornambe. "They don't immediately volunteer the fact that the divorce is imminent, and sometimes even arrive with their husbands for the initial consultation."
Months later, during subsequent post-op visits, is when many inform their doctors about the breakup. Some cite instances of verbal abuse, but most simply state that their husbands stopped caring about them.
"Often, they say that the surgery helped build their confidence to take the final step to leave their spouse," he adds. "Now they feel feel confident enough to get back out to the dating scene."
The most popular procedures women go for right before a divorce are the 'mommy makeovers' that include breast augmentation and lift, plus an abdominoplasty to recover the tighter body they had before childbirth.
Washington, D.C. cosmetic surgeon Dr. Hema Sundaram says she sees a lot of post-divorce surgery in her town, where single women highly outnumber men.
"I often see patients electing to have cosmetic surgery to regain self-esteem when they have been psychologically or physically abused. I think it's an issue of taking control of at least one aspect of your life when you have been powerless in other aspects. With break-ups of course, there is also the issue of being 'back on the market!'" says Dr. Sundaram, who has authored "Face Value: The Truth About Beauty and a Guilt-Free Guide to Finding It."
In Hollywood, where aging trophy wives are often unceremoniously dumped for younger women, the concept of post-breakup surgery has even taken on a diabolical level: they call it 'vengeance plastic surgery.'
"After knocking at their attorney's door, a growing number of women are then strolling down Bedford Drive in Beverly Hills looking for a plastic surgeon. They want to put their best face forward after finding out about their husband's infidelity. And guess who's footing the bill? You got it, their cheating husbands!" says Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Dr. Renato Calabria.
But the experts say that time is essential for the soon-to-be ex-wife who wants her husband to pay.
"I once had a patient who did not time it right and her temporary alimony cut off just a day before she was going to have her surgery, and she had to post-pone. She never came back." recalls Dr. Calabria.
When Elizabeth, a patient of Dr. Calabria, was left for a younger woman after 20 years of marriage, she had to sell a home she could no longer afford to live in and enter a job market with little experience -- all at the age of 50+.
"We had the perfect life -- my ex-husband is a urologist, we had a beautiful home in Beverly Hills and three great kids. We never fought. He started acting funny, and I remember asking him if he was having an affair -- but he told me I was crazy for thinking that, and I felt embarrassed for even asking that kind of question. Then sometime later when he took me to the Four Seasons for my birthday, he decided to tell me over dinner that he had met someone else. It was my worst nightmare. I literally threw up," says Elizabeth.
And she discovered a clever way to make her ex-husband pick up the cost of her ensuing cosmetic surgery refresher.
"I was so depressed and lost lots of weight. I overall looked like sh-t and went in to see Dr. Calabria on a friend's recommendation. He instantly made me feel better by saying I was fit, had never smoked and had a young attitude -- and would be a perfect candidate for surgery. I saw the estimate and wondered how I could pay for it. I went right home and sold my wedding ring to finance the whole thing. I couldn't do it fast enough!" says Elizabeth.
An invigorated look not only made Elizabeth feel better, but it initiated a second act to her life that has made her happier and feel more empowered than ever before.
"I was drawn, I was tired-looking. Everyone who knows me says I look ten times better now. I glow and am happier. I'm no longer the little wife either - I literally couldn't even order myself a glass of wine, my husband would do it for me. I'm now enjoying a successful career as a wardrobe stylist, and I work with young girls that are darling and I feel great and totally at ease around them. And I'm dating someone who I'm crazy about. My revenge is my success!" says Elizabeth.
As for the younger woman, even she's wondering what is going on.
"My daughter visited her dad recently, and the other woman asked my daughter what I've had done. 'Why does she look so good?' And then my mother-in-law started asking the same thing. My daughter just told them all that I had a peel because I didn't want my husband to know all the details. So I guess they're all going to run out and try a peel now!" laughs Elizabeth.
Some divorcées have such an energy boost from the cosmetic surgery, that they start dating much younger men. And they keep mum on their true age.
"I've actually had a few ladies who always call first before coming back into the office with a new partner, to make sure their true ages and surgical history are not details to be shared in the consult room," says Dr. Calabria.
Yet Washington plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Baxter emphasizes that while cosmetic surgery can help boost self-image and confidence, it won't fix life's problems.
"There is no question that surgery helps self-esteem and confidence when it's done for the right reasons. The very tricky part is to avoid what we call 'expectations for secondary gain.' In other words, while we expect people to feel better about themselves as a result of 'having a little work done,' it can't fix a failing relationship or promise specific changes in their lives," says Dr. Baxter.
New Jersey plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Zubowski has operated on certain cast members of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," and says that he even screens patients for unrealistic expectations.
"When someone tells me they've just had a divorce, I make sure the motivation is from within and not because they were led to believe by an ex that they were ugly, inferior or had a bad feature, and I turn down plenty of patients. If they legitimately want to move on with their life and improve something, that's a go," he says.
From a pick-me-up to plans of revenge, post-divorce plastic surgery intentions can run the gamut; yet the most common reason newly single women line up at the door is to regain the physical confidence of their youth in order to prepare for a potentially new intimate partner.
"You can't deny that having babies affects the body. When you're intimate with the man who you had children with, most people see those changes as a part of the parenthood experience. But with a new man, many women fear that they may not be as forgiving with the ravages of time, especially if the children aren't biologically theirs," says Dr. Freund.
For these women who are waking up to tighter and firmer faces and bodies, many say the chance to revisit youth is better the second time around -- as it's now combined with the wisdom of maturity and living a life rich with experiences and lessons.
But the cherry to top it all off is having the last laugh at the ex-husband, says Elizabeth.
"When I go to events or functions, people now come up to me and say, 'Oh my God! What the hell was he thinking?'"
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