Pop Culture Decoder: Cosmetic Dermatology


A scene from Dr. Giggles. It should have served as a warning.

Misty Harris suffers the horrors of Thermage so you don’t have to

Pop Culture Decoder with Misty Harris


By Misty Harris

I always intended to grow old gracefully, like Audrey Hepburn or a chunk of parmesan cheese. Things did not go as planned.

Around the time I turned 30, a collection of creases made camp on my face – the human equivalent of rings on a tree – and proceeded to mock my age every time I looked in a mirror. Now, I’ve never thought of myself as vain, but I also never thought I’d look between my eyebrows and see skin pleats that resembled a vagina. So there’s that.

This is how, about four years ago, I wound up forking over nearly two weeks’ salary for Thermage – a cosmetic dermatology procedure that proved so traumatic, I’m only just now able to discuss it. My consultation went something like this:

A physician identifying himself as Dr. Bob* (in the grand tradition of quackery, he omitted his last name) escorted me into his office and asked me to describe my “most urgent” issue. I told him it was my droopy eyelids; he told me I was wrong.

My most urgent issue, apparently, was my entire disgusting face. From jowls to sagging skin, frown lines to dullness, Dr. Bob listed my faults with the enthusiasm of an ex-boyfriend. I also learned that one of my eyebrows thinks it’s better than the other.

“You know, your right eyebrow is much higher than your left,” Dr. Bob told me.

“I hadn’t really noticed that,” I replied, a bit shaken.

“You need to look in the mirror. Do it! Look in the mirror! Do you see it?” he insisted.

“Not really. I guess I’m just used to my face,” I mumbled apologetically, squinting at my reflection in search of this circus-sideshow defect.

“Well,” said Dr. Bob, “you really should have somebody take a picture of you because your right eyebrow is DEFINITELY elevated.”

I’d love to say that I told him exactly where to go. Alas, I folded under the weight of my crumbling self-esteem and handed over my credit card.


Behold, the offending eyebrow. (And if you’re looking at this photo and thinking: ‘Hey, her skin actually looks pretty magical,’ please know that it is not because of Thermage; it is because of Samsung’s selfie beauty filter. I highly recommend it.)


I arrived at the clinic the following week only to learn that Dr. Bob didn’t actually perform the procedures he was selling. Of COURSE he didn’t. As the centre’s medical director, he simply logged a few consults every second Saturday and then passed off his patients to technicians.

To give this some context, imagine hiring a realtor to sell your house, then having him hand over your business to an intern who once won a game of McDonald’s Monopoly. Here’s a bag full of nope! But because my payment was non-refundable (well played, Doctor), I surrendered to the whims of an “advanced esthetician” whose own flaccid face did nothing to assure me of my investment.

Now is probably a good time to explain Thermage: it’s a popular procedure whereby radiofrequency pulses are “gently” delivered to the face to stimulate new collagen growth, tighten the skin, and ultimately turn back the clock. It’s said to take three to six months to see the complete results, which are projected to last for years.

My esthetician – let’s call her Jigsaw, in honour of her affinity for torture** – began by securing me into a blanket, arms pinned at my sides, and informing me that she would be placing “ocular shields” on my eyeballs. ON MY EYEBALLS.

Again, had I not paid in full (a pox on you, Dr. Bob!), I would’ve called the whole thing off. Words can’t describe the horror I felt imagining what it would be like to have someone slip a pint-sized plastic bra over my peepers. On a scale of terrifying things, 1 being Taco Bell’s breakfast menu and 10 being Donald Trump as president, it rated a solid 9.


Shields similar to these ones were placed on my eyeballs. Now they can haunt your dreams the way they do mine. (PHOTO VIA PRECISEMEDICAL.COM.AU)

Shields similar to these ones were placed on my eyeballs. Now they can haunt your dreams the way they do mine. (PHOTO VIA PRECISEMEDICAL.COM.AU)

For the next 90 minutes, I became intimately familiar with Dr. Bob’s twisted notion of a “painless” treatment. The majority of the time, my level of discomfort had me oscillating between wanting to kill Jigsaw and wanting to kill myself. If only I had the use of my eyes and arms.

At least half of the hundreds of pulses of heat delivered to my face during the Thermage session felt comparable to being branded (I will forever share a sense of camaraderie with cattle). It was less like Jigsaw was “stimulating” my collagen so much as reanimating it from the dead a la Dr. Frankenstein. RISE, ZOMBIE COLLAGEN!

To say I didn’t cope well is an understatement. It’s a miracle I don’t have scars on my hips from digging my fingernails into them. Childbirth hurt less. And the entire time, all I could think was that it was my own lousy vanity that put me in that ridiculous position.

Years later, however, I’m glad I went through the pain of a procedure that made absolutely no difference to my appearance (unless you count a permanent look of embittered regret). It serves as an ongoing reminder that trying to cheat time has a price, whereas embracing your age with a sense of grace and gratitude is actually a gift – not least because it doesn’t involve wearing the ocular version of a jockstrap.

And you know what? I like my snobby eyebrow just fine.


* His real first name has been changed because I can’t afford any lawsuits. The therapy for my post-Thermage PTSD takes all my discretionary income.

** Jigsaw is the villain of Saw, a horror franchise about a sadist who hurts people for sport. Basically Fifty Shades of Grey but without the informed consent.  




2 Replies to "Pop Culture Decoder: Cosmetic Dermatology"

  • harry September 15, 2015 (5:27 pm)

    Damn it, I love your writing. More more more. (Bonus for naming the previous career of that song’s singer.) But one challenge for me: the type, because it’s grey and in a serif face, is very hard for my older eyes to read.
    Kudos, Misty–Harry

    • Misty Harris September 15, 2015 (6:32 pm)

      Thanks, Harry! Really appreciate the kind words. I actually find the font very hard to read, too. It’s much easier to read on the mobile version of Ex-Press. I will pass along the feedback to our fearless leader 🙂
      As for Andrea True’s previous career, I had to Google it. That is one area of pop culture with which I can thankfully claim no expertise.