Dear Chase Kelly,
Looking for some advice/ help discussing the potential dangers of cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery with my 22 year daughter working in ” the industry” My concern is her young age, addiction to procedures, permanent changes or damage to her face/ body and how to help her discontinue the practice of lip fillers ( I’m starting to notice the ” work done” look) etc that she’s been utilizing.
Any advice on how to broach the subject, what to do or say would be very much appreciated.
A very concerned mom
What a ripe and beautiful age twenty two is. Your big girl is experiencing big changes that are being shaped by so many things. Your voice, which used to be gospel to her, is fading into the background and being overshadowed by culture, media, her social circle, and the people she is interested in dating and being friends with. If you want her to listen to you and come to you for advice, first she needs to know that no matter what, you respect her. This means that you not only respect her choices, but you trust her to make them for herself.
While there is a lot of shitty plastic surgery out there, none of it is SO bad that you need to stress about it and hurt your relationship with your daughter over it. It’s just a physical thing. The actual issue doesn’t seem to like your daughter is making decisions that will ruin her life forever, but that she’s making decisions that you don’t like. If she was shopping for wedding dresses or Ivy League grad schools, you probably wouldn’t have an issue (or maybe you would, depending on where your desire for control in the relationship ends.) You probably weren’t reading this site specifically because of her plastic surgery stuff, but because you want to know everything you can about her “lifestyle.” You don’t need to know those things. Prepare to read things you don’t like in this response, and trust that they will help you. Lip fillers and the “work done” look are not hurting her, her future, or her relationships, and if they are, they will teach her valuable lessons. The fillers will fade or she will have an actual issue, but it will be hers to deal with. Changing her physical appearance isn’t changing who she is inside or making her someone different. To be fair, our physical bodies are transient no matter how you slice it. Our appearance is not static, and playing with it can be undeniably freeing.
The best way to get your daughter to listen to you is to let go a little bit. She is clearly craving change and freedom to define herself. Part of having adult children means to allow and encourage that independence. You parented her already. Twenty two isn’t that young. She is a capable adult. If you disagree, that really is your problem. You can’t project a narrative onto a person you love that screams, “YOU SUCK AT DECISION MAKING.” That’s awful. The only way to actually solve your problem is to let go of micromanaging her decisions and learn to focus on yourself.
Maybe you’re saying, “A mother’s job is never done.” “She needs me!” “She can’t possibly know what’s right for her!” “I’m obviously right that she needs to stop this nonsense, and she is just a stubborn girl.” You’ve been literally obsessed with the development of this human since conception. You did all the jobs. If you progressed in a healthy manner, it looked like this:
0-4 years: Parent caters to each need, teaches basic ‘yes/no’ ‘right/wrong’
5-11 years: Parent encourages forward thinking, individualism, self esteem, teaches advanced moral development, judgement and decision making
12-18 years: Parent encourages emotional health and ‘supervised’ independence. Allows child to contemplate complex ethical issues and become an individual with own thoughts and values.
19-forever: Parent becomes a confidante, shares wisdom when asked, leads by example, and provides a safety net (but only when it’s healthy for both parties and does not come with a price tag.)
If you have a hangup somewhere you get stuck at one stage of the development process. Parents everywhere are relying on the techniques that once worked, but that aren’t healthy to enforce on an adult. Sometimes, if you stayed in one phase of development, you’ll want to sit down and lecture or at least lament about the blanks you left, feeling sad, guilty, robbed, or authoritarian. If you failed to move past one of the stages, it’s too late to try and get to the rest. You can’t go back in time. All you can do is move to where you’re supposed to be, and learn to lead by example. This will inadvertently teach the lessons you want to teach. You will have to learn to trust that your daughter is wise enough to make her own decisions, and that her lessons are hers to learn. From this point forward NOTHING SHE DOES IS A REFLECTION ON YOU, but a destination on her map towards self fulfillment. If you refuse to recognize this, you are stuck in codependency, and no one grows. You teach your daughter to be a rebellious jerk to everyone she loves. Starting or continuing this cycle renders you and every involved incapable of having a healthy relationship. This cycle gives everyone tiny martyr-like satisfactions from “wins” or the thrill of rebellion from “disobedience.” Just enough satisfaction to keep you coming back, no matter how much it depletes your soul and energy. Codepedency is an addiction in and of itself. It looks like this:
You need to let go of your habitual desire to control your daughter. You might be surprised at how much she actually follows your lead if you let go. Worst case scenario, if you focus on yourself instead of her, she will at least be led by example into learning RIGHT/WRONG, JUDGEMENT/DECISION MAKING, EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT, SELF ESTEEM, and all the other developmental things her inner child may be craving a role model for.
If she is stripping, she is a body language expert. Be careful not to let your tightening lips and tensing shoulders show her how harshly you’re judging her. This cuts her self esteem and gives her an opportunity to exploit an angsty teenage (underdeveloped) desire for rebellion. Every time you let your “small reactionary self” win, you lose an opportunity for real emotional development and connection. Move forward to the part of your development you’re meant to be in, and you will give her permission to do the same.
You certainly shouldn’t fuel or encourage her addiction at all, but you shouldn’t punish her for it either. If she is addicted to changing her appearance on the outside, I’d venture to say she is feeling small and invalid on the inside. Do not take any opportunity at all to encourage her self-doubt. REMOVE YOURSELF FROM THE SITUATION. Don’t judge her, don’t parent her, don’t tell her what to do, don’t do ANYTHING that says, “I know what’s best for you, listen to me instead of yourself, because I am more capable than you.” If you love your daughter, don’t undermine her. It’s making her hate herself. Go to therapy. Get better as an individual. Detach, and allow her to learn to mother herself. That is when a girl becomes a woman. When she can trust her own voice. That is when you’ve become a successful mother. When she can make the right choices without your input. If you want her to recover from her addiction, if you want her to love herself, you need to end your enmeshed type of smothering love and learn to love while encouraging FREEDOM. You need to take the addiction out of your relationship.
You can’t tell her to stop getting work done, it isn’t your call, but you can tell her to upgrade. Since you will be spending top dollar for your emotional upgrades in therapy, you may be able to use your wisdom and explain that self improvement is worth spending top dollar on. If she is going to keep on going with it, ask her to see the best of the best. Maybe you can help her come up with a plan to budget so that she doesn’t go broke on her quest for beauty. Maybe you guys can get some facials together and just bond over wanting to feel pretty forever. Maybe you will come to the realization that she is trying to make herself look and feel less like the family she comes from. Maybe it will all hurt like hell, but maybe, you will all get to have healthy love if you face the music. What bigger thing are you running from when you worry needlessly about things that don’t really matter? If she is healthy and her soul is intact, a triple D and some botox really isn’t a problem. If she is miserable and suicidal, her collagen addiction isn’t the source. It’s a symptom.
Learn about addiction and what role you could be playing in hers. Addiction doesn’t just involve the addict, it involves everyone, especially the one googling about the other person’s behavior. You, Mom, are the codependent matriarch here. You learned this somewhere. You need to get to that core and work on it. Stop it. The cycle can end here.
By removing yourself from her scenario and focusing on your relationship with yourself, you become a better mother, friend, grandparent, partner, and human. You become more proactive and are a better confidante. You cannot love in a healthy way if you are codependent on someone else’s addiction. Whether it is a phase or a true addiction that your adult daughter is going through, if you want to guide her, you need to be centered and healthy yourself. You cannot control, only share yourself. The only thing more beautiful than a chick in a nest is a bird flying free.
Let it be her idea to improve herself, Mom, and in the meantime, focus on you. If she thinks that physical perfection will bring her happiness, it’s you who can show her inner happiness takes work, time, discomfort, and the ability to take responsibility for our internal shortcomings. It means working on our weaknesses until we become strong in those areas instead. How can you show her? Start the process yourself.