The Culture Trip

Nicole Grays Owens featured on The Culture Trip

Breaking Beauty & Rebuilding the Body

by Jill Di Donato
Fashion Editor

“I'd literally gotten to the point where I'd rather be dead than to continue living life as a fat girl,” says Nicole Grays Owens. Co-founder of a multimillion-dollar payroll and staffing company, a media guru, host of two podcasts, and a fixture in Atlanta’s elite social scene, Owens hobnobs with celebrities as a wardrobe stylist and local personality. She’s also spent tens of thousands of dollars over eight years on plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures to become the woman she is today: “charismatic, sexy, and dope,” in her words.  

Nicole Grays Owens featured in on The Culture Trip

Although body modification is not a new phenomenon, nor limited to western culture—the Mayans sharpened their teeth to show status, while tribes in Papua New Guinea practiced scarification to mark the passage into manhood—the types of elective cosmetic plastic surgery available in the West since 2000 have changed dramatically. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), overall, plastic surgery procedures have increased by 115 percent from 2000 to 2015. However, what’s significant is not just the growth in cosmetic surgery in the new millennium, but rather the shift in attitudes towards plastic surgery given the vast array of possible deletions, additions, and upgrades. Says ASPS President Dr. David H. Song: “Patients have more options than ever, and working closely with their surgeon, they’re able to focus on specific target areas of the body to achieve the look they desire.”

The ASPS reports 15.9 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures performed in the United States in 2015. That adds up to US$12.9 billion (around UK£10 billion) spent on plastic surgery in America alone, according to the same ASPS report.

So the question becomes: with myriad ways to fix yourself under this divide and conquer design, how do you know when you’ve gone too far?

Before her initial lap band surgery, where Owens shed about 150 pounds (68 kilograms)—going from a size 24 to a size six (UK size 26 to UK size eight) in just 14 days—she spent years as a social recluse and suffered anxiety from the most mundane social interactions. If there was a fire drill at work, she’d wait for her peers to walk back up the stairs. She couldn’t let them see her struggle “with the walk back up.” Despite successfully spearheading million-dollar deals, Owens was shamed by “the sound my thighs made when walking up the stairs.” Seemingly innocuous group activities caused her paralyzing anxiety. “I was embarrassed by my weight gain, unable to find clothes that fit, not wanting to travel; those tiny airplane seats are no joke, and no one wants to sit next to the fat person. I was out of control. My body was like a runaway train. I basically hid out at home. Alone. Those feelings led to me becoming an ‘emotional eater,’ and it just kept getting worse, until I reached a little over 300 pounds.” READ MORE