My beautiful mommy

A new kids book about plastic surgery tries to explain why Mommy went to the doctor and came back with a new nose.

By Catherine Price

Published April 17, 2008 10:56PM (EDT)

If I told you there was a new children's book out called My Beautiful Mommy, aimed at 4- to 7-year-olds, what would you guess it'd be about? I'll give you a hint: Its bright pink cover has a picture of a perky-breasted mom sprinkled in stardust, with the sort of waist-to-hip ratio that's the stuff of Barbie's dreams.

Yup, you got it right: It's about plastic surgery. Written by plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Salzhauer, it's the tale of a girl and her mom -- who, it turns out, has scheduled a nose job, tummy tuck and breast implants. The mother is preparing to go under the scalpel of "Dr. Michael," who looks less like a surgeon and more like Mr. Incredible, and doesn't want her daughter to be scared. After all, as the real Dr. Michael rightly points out, it'd be pretty frightening for a little kid to have Mommy -- who seemed totally fine that morning -- go to the doctor's office and come back home bruised, bandaged and bedridden.

Salzhauer told Newsweek he was inspired to write the book when he noticed that an increasing number of women were bringing their kids with them to the doctor's office, but weren't necessarily doing a good job of explaining why they were there. "Parents generally tend to go into this denial thing," he said. "They just try to ignore the kids' questions completely." So instead, the book's notably un-chunky mommy explains to her daughter, "You see, as I got older my body stretched and I couldn't fit into my clothes any more. Dr. Michael is going to help fix that and make me feel better." "But you're already the prettiest mommy in the whole wide world!" protests the daughter.

Oh, silly girl. That might be true in your sweet little head, but mommy's illustrated thought bubble shows her imagining Dr. Michael crowning her as winner of a beauty pageant. She's getting that goddamned nose job.

Say what you will -- and if you're like me, you probably could say a lot -- about teaching kids the idea that aging women need to be "fixed" and that plastic surgery can make you "feel better" in the same way as an appendectomy. But I mean, it's a plastic surgery book for kids. What do you really expect its philosophy to be? What I find weirder is that despite the spirit of openness and explanation that supposedly was the inspiration behind the book, it doesn't actually seem to explain much. For example, the book doesn't go into any medical detail, says Newsweek, about what is actually happening to mommy during her "makeover." Instead she emerges looking like a "slightly bruised Barbie doll with demure bandages around her nose and around her waist."

Also, and almost more surprisingly, there's no mention in the text of the woman's boob job. She tells her daughter about the tummy tuck and nose job (comforting her daughter about the latter by saying that it won't just look "different," but "prettier"), but remains silent about her chest. Instead, her post-surgery breasts are just inexplicably perkier and larger than they were before. "I tried to skirt that issue in the text itself," Salzhauer told Newsweek. "The tummy lends itself to an easy explanation to the children: extra skin and can't fit into your clothes. The breasts might be a stretch for a six-year-old." Right. Because paying someone to break your nose and cut open your stomach makes a whole lot of sense.

The silver lining to this story, such as it is, is that this book is self-published on a vanity press -- as pointed out by this post in Making Light. The author of the post thinks this means that "clearly, this book is not destined to make its way to the shelves of your local bookstore" -- but I'm not convinced that that's the case. I have a feeling the reason it wasn't picked up by an actual publisher has less to do with the book's marketability and more to do with Dr. Michael, who presumably is better at surgery than he is at coordinating publishing deals.

Which isn't to say, actually, that I don't think there should be a kids book out there that deals with the subject of plastic surgery. I mean, come on, it's happening -- and if I were 5, and my mom came home with two black eyes, I'd be totally freaked out. (I'd like to see a tale where the daughter convinces her mom to forgo surgery and recognize what she's got, but I'm not holding my breath.) But if we're going to have books where Mom decides to go under the knife, I'd rather see a book that was less ... well, plastic. Like, one where the mother didn't already look like Barbie. Or where the doctor explained what it takes to do a tummy tuck. But, see, there's the problem: if you actually explained to kids what Dr. Michael was going to be doing to Mommy's stomach, they'd probably be even more horrified than if they hadn't read the book.

Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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