People are Hiding Cosmetic Work from Their Partners—and it’s Not for the Reasons You Think
Does your partner know everything about you?
If you’re in a relationship, you probably have a general idea of what your partner does regularly to maintain their appearance, and vice versa—working out, practicing skincare, a standing appointment with a hair colorist every six weeks—but not every last detail. It would be a little weird if you did. Still, you’d know if your partner got a treatment like Botox or fillers. Right?
You might think it would be difficult to hide a cosmetic procedure when the evidence is quite literally there on your face, but current techniques are more subtle than many people realize. A facelift or rhinoplasty, of course, would be pretty hard to hide from anyone, let alone someone you live with. But lots of less invasive procedures don’t tell on themselves with bruising or dramatic results, so theoretically, you could keep it completely secret. And some people do.
Stafford Broumand, M.D., FACS, a New York City-based board-certified plastic surgeon, says that he’s observed numerous patients with an interest in keeping their treatments secret from spouses and partners, especially during the pandemic. (He blames the constant video calls that have people looking at their own image all day, every day.) He also says this behavior isn’t unique to any particular age group or gender.
His practice is happy to accommodate. Dr. Broumand informs his patients on which procedures will cause minimal bruising or other obvious giveaways. His office is flexible enough with payments that clients can, for instance, divide the sum onto multiple credit cards or pay in installments if desired.
Norman M. Rowe, M.D., another NYC board-certified plastic surgeon, said that he’s witnessed similar behavior at his practice. In his experience, many patients as of late are trying to offset new wrinkles or weight gain they may have picked up in the last year. And generally speaking, there’s no shortage of examples of people being apprehensive of or outright opposed to their partner having any sort of work done.
For Dr. Broumand, spousal apprehension about cosmetic work is hardly worth batting an eye at. It’s extremely common for people to have doubts or reservations about their partner changing the way they look, especially when a scalpel or syringe is involved. This resistance is probably due, at least in part, to the pervasive stigmas and ideas about plastic surgery and cosmetic dermatology.
“I’ve had patients and friends of mine say ‘I’ve seen so much bad plastic surgery,'” Dr. Broumand said. “And the reality is, yes, you have—because that’s what you see. Good plastic surgery, you don’t see.”
Which is to say, cosmetic work can and arguably should be hardly perceptible to anyone but the patient and their doctor. Dr. Broumand said that even with his trained eye, he’s not generally able to tell when other people have had work done in the case of subtle tweaks.
If you’ve ever verbally considered getting cosmetic work done, there’s a good chance you’ve heard someone in your life say that you “don’t need it,” because “you’re beautiful as you are.” And while that sentiment is well intentioned, you wouldn’t be alone in find it annoying, maybe even paternalistic.
Rebecca, 41, is a patient of Dr. Broumand’s practice, where she has recently had Botox, fillers, and a laser skin treatment done. For her, it’s just another form of self-care.
“It was a personal thing,” she told HelloGiggles. Between parenting and working from home during the pandemic, Rebecca felt that she hadn’t been doing much for herself in recent months. “It was kind of at the point where I wasn’t feeling great about myself, I needed a change, and I felt comfortable enough to go to the office at that point. I didn’t really want [my husband’s] opinion.”
So, she skipped the conversation altogether. Rebecca had also scheduled a hair appointment that day and wore a bit more makeup than she had been during stay-at-home orders. As she predicted, her husband noticed that evening that she looked…different, but couldn’t put his finger on it. Maybe it’s just the hair? Or a particularly good night of sleep? In his words, she simply looked “refreshed.”
Some have playfully termed this behavior as “cosmetic infidelity,” but the people doing it tend to see it differently. For them, it’s just a form of independence and autonomy—something they should be able to do without consulting a partner first.
Alexis, 29, a patient of Dr. Rowe’s practice who recently had her lips filled, echoed this. “I don’t really feel like I’m hiding anything, per se, because it’s my body and I didn’t use [my partner’s] money, we don’t have a shared account, so really, no harm was done to anybody.”
She brings up an important point: In many cases, a partner’s opposition to cosmetic work is as much financial as it is aesthetic, if not more. And of course, making a financial decision that affects your spouse behind their back is ethically questionable, at best. But this may be a moot point, considering the practice of joining finances after marriage seems to be falling out of fashion, particularly with millennials.
Leela Magavi, M.D., is a Newport Beach-based psychiatrist who works with individuals as well as couples. Being based in Southern California’s affluent Orange County, she’s no stranger to conversations about cosmetic work and the tension it can cause in relationships. Dr. Magavi points out that hiding work from a partner is more of an omission than a lie, and not all omissions are necessarily bad for a relationship.
“If a man or woman were to steal in order to attain the funds for surgery, I would perceive this as deceptive and inappropriate,” she said, but even in less cut-and-dry situations, she cautions that hiding something like this from a partner can lead to “dyadic conflict and discord.”
Apart from money, Dr. Magavi notes that there are a slew of emotional factors that might lead someone to hide procedures from their partner. Sometimes it’s clear that a patient is acting out of shame, insecurity, or fear of looking vain. When that’s the case, Dr. Magavi will encourage them to work toward confiding in their partner to—hopefully—dispel those feelings. And regardless of reason, the feeling of having to hide something can cause serious anxiety. It’s not only better for the health of the relationship to open up, she believes, but for the patient’s mental health, too.
But fear of a partner’s negative reaction doesn’t seem to be the driving force for Rebecca, Alexis, or the many other patients Dr. Broumand and Dr. Rowe have described. They’re confident enough to get the procedures they want without a partner’s approval (let alone their permission). They’re not afraid of their partners getting angry, or otherwise reacting poorly. They just don’t think they should have to explain themselves.
Carly Claney, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who practices out of Seattle, agrees that not all secrets are bad for a relationship—but that if you’re thinking of keeping one, you should be honest with yourself about your motivations, and think through how it could affect your specific relationship dynamic.
“Are you holding a secret that, if out in the open, could have an impact on the ways in which you have merged with your partner (e.g., finances, intimacy, etc.) or on tenets that the relationship is grounded in (e.g., trust, judgment, etc.)?” Dr. Claney prompts. The balance between privacy and intimacy isn’t going to be the same for any two couples.
“The threat of maintaining intimacy amidst separateness within a relationship can be very scary. One question can be: Is it okay to be separate? Is it okay that your partner doesn’t support all your choices? Is it okay that you are different in this particular way? Can the relationship tolerate this difference? Could there be more capacity for separateness? Or does lying, and avoiding the potential discomfort of separateness, seem to be the only option to preserve your own individuality and the intimacy within the relationship?”
For some people, the answers are going to be simple. Rebecca and Alexis both expressed doubt that they would ever mention their treatments to their partners, even down the line, mainly because they just couldn’t think of a reason it might come up. It’s not as though other kinds of beauty treatments, like haircuts, are typically treated as major family decisions. Plastic surgery, Botox, and fillers are perceived as something else altogether, something expensive and risky that rings alarm bells and says “you’re going to get cat face.”
And maybe that perception is ready to be retired. Procedures like Botox and fillers are outpatient and minimally invasive. And the tweaks they’re getting are just that—subtle, small changes. Or maybe they’re just preventing changes brought by aging. And when you look at it that way, it’s not hard to see how getting a syringe of Juvederm could be about as significant a decision as getting bangs. Arguably even less dramatic, and less permanent.
Besides, as Alexis said, “I look amazing—and my lips look great.”