It isn’t rare for a person to feel like their looks aren’t good enough or to want to slow down the aging process. Indeed, we’re often bombarded with advertisements promising us a better, more attractive and younger-looking face and physique.
However, if left unchecked, low self-confidence may lead to a constant desire for plastic surgery to “improve” the body. And some people pursue these procedures even at the cost of their own well-being. That’s what happened to Jenny Lee – and it took her a long time to overcome her addiction.
When Austin, Texas-based Lee was a teenager, she knew that she was good-looking. And while high school can be a difficult experience for many young girls, it was largely fine for her. Indeed, people told her that she looked like the actress Julia Roberts and that she should take up modeling. She was even voted the “Most Beautiful Girl” by her classmates at one point. Nonetheless, she couldn’t quite see the same things that her peers all saw.
In fact, Lee had a severe lack of confidence in her body, which only became worse after she left school and got married. Her husband – now, unsurprisingly, her ex-husband – made belittling jokes about her appearance, especially her breasts. She consequently had breast implants, but then he became jealous that other men were checking her out. And while the relationship eventually fell apart and Lee would gain custody of her daughter, Kaleigh, in the divorce, she would remain scarred by the treatment she received from her former spouse.
Plus, Lee’s newfound addiction to cosmetic surgery proved impossible to kick. “After the divorce, plastic surgery became an obsession for me,” Lee told Oprah Winfrey when she first appeared on her show in 2004. “Today I look nothing like I did when I was first married to my ex-husband.” Indeed, by the time she was 28, she’d already gone under the knife 26 times.
And Lee had had nips and tucks everywhere, spending $80,000 in the process. The procedures included Botox, two breast augmentations, liposuction treatment on her stomach, arms, thighs, hips and knees, three lip implants and a brow lift. Lee was addicted and she knew it, but she also knew where the urge to better herself had come from: her ex. “I just moved from a bad relationship with him to a bad relationship between me and my reflection,” she told Oprah.
“I still want other things done,” Lee continued. “I’m unhappy with stretch marks left from pregnancy, and I would like a tummy tuck. I still see imperfections in my nose and wrinkles around my eyes and all kinds of stuff. I mean, it just depends on the day.” The mom subsequently admitted that her low self-esteem and her “continuous need to feel like I should fit in somehow” was ruining her life.
Lee further explained, “I don’t know what an addict is. I’ve never been addicted to drugs, I’ve never been addicted to alcohol, I’ve never been an alcoholic. So if this is what addiction is, then, yes, I’m addicted to [plastic surgery]. I think about it all the time.” It was a desperately sad story.
But Lee’s stint on The Oprah Winfrey Show didn’t dissuade her from altering her face and body. And the more surgeries she underwent, the more interesting she seemingly became to the media. In 2005 she went on to appear on Larry King Live alongside a clinical psychologist and a plastic surgeon to discuss her addiction. By this point, she’d had 30 cosmetic procedures.
And on the show, Lee explained that her second husband was alright with her having so much plastic surgery. “He’s okay with it all, [but] I think he’d rather that I just stopped while I was ahead,” she admitted. Lee subsequently talked about her ambition to finally be comfortable in her body and about how she was “spacing out” payments for her surgeries. Then she started discussing the physical toll that the procedures had taken on her body over the years.
“People don’t realize how much they could appreciate taking a tissue and wrapping it around their finger and sticking it up their nose and being able to clean their nose out,” Lee said. “I have to take Q-tips everywhere I go so that I make sure that I can breathe out of my nose.” It sounded like she was in agony. “Otherwise, I can only breathe out of my mouth,” she continued. “And I can’t blow my nose because then, you know, it’s a lot of blood. And then it’s stuck up all in there, and I can’t get it out, and it’s just a nightmare.”
Lee also revealed that she had been professionally diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). This condition, which is related to OCD and depression, causes a person to fixate on bodily flaws to an unhealthy degree. People with BDD can also end up feeling like people are staring at or judging them whenever they go out. Needless to say, this can cause them a tremendous amount of anxiety and stress.
Then, towards the end of the show, a caller asked Lee if she had any regrets. Lee was open about the fact that she did. She was most worried about how her constant plastic surgery had affected Kaleigh, her daughter. Kaleigh hadn’t yet been born when Jenny Lee began her most serious bodily transformations. As a result, she couldn’t even recognize her own mother in some of the photos taken during her childhood.
Lee was optimistic, however, that her daughter wouldn’t fall prey to the same addictions. “I have instilled in her a very true sense of self and how incredibly beautiful and strong-willed [a] child that she is,” she said. “I think she really understands that she is a pretty little girl and that it’s not necessary to go through the extremes that I have gone through in order to have self-acceptance and to be pretty.”
It is, however, very easy indeed for young girls to end up feeling like they need to be “fixed.” For example, in 2012 a study organized by the Keep It Real campaign found that 53 percent of 13-year-old girls and 78 percent of 17-year-old girls were unhappy with their bodies in some way. What’s more, it has been suggested that the media is in many ways to blame. Indeed, the constant use of Photoshop to adjust the faces and sizes of models may have given young girls distorted ideas of what their bodies should actually look like.
As for what happened to Lee after her appearance on Larry King Live? Well, she fell off the radar for a while after having had another child in 2007. In 2010, though, she appeared on a show called The World’s Strangest Plastic Surgery And Me, where it was revealed that the total number of procedures she’d undergone now came to 44. Indeed, it seemed that no matter what she did, she simply couldn’t kick the habit. Then, two years later, Oprah invited Lee back on her show for a “where are they now?” segment.
And Lee looked noticeably different when she talked to Oprah again. Her plastic surgery obsession had, incredibly, become even more drastic. She’d now had 59 procedures performed on her, including a circumferential body lift – a mass removal of excess skin – and another nose job. However, she had also gained a lot of weight, and it wasn’t in a way that she had wanted or could control.
In fact, the weight gain was a symptom of something much more worrying. Lee had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a serious illness that causes constant pain and fatigue. This had been a huge blow for her, and both her physical and mental health had been severely affected. “I had to really come to terms with the fact that, for once in my life, I’m not in control of my body,” she told the cameras.
Lee went on to talk about her eldest daughter, Kaleigh. Had she inherited the same insecurities as her mother? “Where Kaleigh’s concerned, I’ve always made it very clear that she needs nothing, that she’s beautiful the way she is,” Lee said. “Personally I would prefer that she don’t do anything to change that.” Kaleigh herself agreed wholeheartedly with this assertion. “I don’t think I’ll be following in my mom’s footsteps with plastic surgery,” she said.
“When people see me, they say, ‘Here’s the Barbie girl!’ but I take it with grace,” Lee continued. “I live a very normal, grounded life. And that’s what I’ve tried to instill in [Kaleigh].” So, even though Lee’s appearance had changed drastically since the days of her youth, she did seem to be happy at last. What’s more, she also had a loving husband and children, which may have been a huge help.
But while Lee has Twitter and Instagram accounts, she isn’t on social media a lot. And this may be a deliberate choice on her part. After all, many mental health charities have speculated that platforms such as Instagram, where beauty can very much be a form of social currency, have a negative effect on body image. However, when she does post a picture, Lee is very open about her health and the problems she’s had to overcome. She now describes herself on her Twitter as a “plastic surgery enthusiast, educator and expert” – and she certainly seems to be all three.