But it is noteworthy that if we secretly deceived this lover of the beautiful by planting in the ground artificial flowers (which can be manufactured exactly like natural ones), or by placing artificially carved birds on the boughs of trees, and he discovered the deceit, the immediate interest that he previously took in them would disappear at once; though, perhaps, a different interest, viz. the interest of vanity in adorning his chamber with them for the eyes of others, would take its place. This thought then must accompany our intuition and reflection on beauty, viz. that nature has produced it; and on this alone is based the immediate interest that we take in it. Otherwise, there remains a mere judgement of taste, either devoid of all interest, or bound up with a mediate interest, viz. in that it has reference to society; which latter furnishes no certain indications of a morally good disposition.
—Kant, Critique of Judgment §42
A quiet train ride, uphill walk to Union Square chilly and full of life in late afternoon. The giant Christmas tree lit up, skaters doing circuits on the holiday rink. I show my appointment bar code to the bored attendant at the Tiffany’s elevator (yes, it really is the Tiffany’s building), and then up, up among the outliers: half the floor for “wealth management,” half for the clinic I’m going to.
“You ready to get that stuff off your face?” The unwrapping is gentle, alcohol wipes to wet the adhesive and then a slow peel. Patchwork feel of cool air on the sensate parts of my skin. “There it is. Do you want to see?”
It’s only a moment in the hand mirror, I’ll need hours to take it in. A concave emptiness where the old beak had been, that’s a shock. But orient to the eyes as before, the new ratio of brow, cheek, chin... yes. Smile. There she is, she’s smiling.
“The incision line on your forehead is lumpy”—lumpy? it looks like Boris Karloff—“but that will fade in the next month or two. Shall we take some photos?” Pictures snapped, the doctor and I review the before and after at his desk. “We de-schnozzed you, de-foreheaded you... de-everything, really. I’d say wait three months, until the swelling starts to go down, before you have any pictures taken where you want to look good. That’s when you’ll see your result.”
It wasn’t a result I saw in the hand mirror, it was a process. It doesn’t matter. The banged-up woman in the photos came through the portal, survived her passage; it feels like a solved puzzle. I ask how long till I can go cycling again. Give it two months, says the doctor, “but please don’t fall on your face,” and tells the tale of a gymnast patient who somehow kicked herself in the head during a maneuver and shattered what had been an excellent surgical result. I’ll keep that in mind. “Any other magic tricks I can do for you? Sorry, I really only have the one.” Well, let him crow a bit, he’s very good at what he does. Hustled out with my final paperwork, a tasteful gift bag that fails to disguise the transactional nature of the exchange, back into the elevator and out to Post Street.
Still afternoon, still chilly and among the same crowd, but as I start down the sidewalk the little warning loudspeaker of the past two years—check your shoulders, check your hips, how’s your hairline, how’s your mask—is stilled. The glasses that I didn’t need to see, the mask that I didn’t need out of doors, that I wore to scramble the signal: I’m not using them now. I’m breathing the same air as everyone else, watching the same show. Ice skaters and a Christmas tree.
You got your wish. You’re a woman in the United States in 2022. As for what that means—