Beautiful Stranger: A Memoir of an Obsession With Perfection
Imagine that your family has plenty of money, old money, and that
you were born with good looks, a good mind, and a talent for
writing. You'd have it made, right? Not according to Hope Donahue,
who holds a Masters Degree in Journalism and has written this
painful account of her obsession with plastic surgery. The book
details a period in her life beginning in her early twenties when
she embarked on an addictive quest for a more beautiful face.
The only child of an obsessive mother ("she showers two or three
times a day") and a diffident, hypochondriacal father, both loving
parents but hampered by their own fears and foibles, Hope began to
find comfort like no other in the attentions of her plastic
surgeon. If Dr. S is as she described him, then one prays he'll be
shut down, but we suspect he's fairly typical of the physicians who
prey on the insecurities of wealthy women. Charismatic and cool, he
could be all things to all girls, and Hope was dying for his love,
willing to undergo the needle and the knife to gain a few moments
of his time.
Her infatuation with Dr. S set her on the course that eventually
ended in a dark, frightening crash of self-esteem. Obsessed about
her face, particularly her nose, she went again and again to get it
fixed, submitting to other treatments, most horribly painful,
leaving her bruised and bloodied but, somehow, more content. For a
brief while. Then the need reasserted itself. The worst mutilation
she volunteered for was breast enlargement, something she had no
need for and that had long-term consequences.
Her parents were puzzled and upset by her repeated surgeries and
finally stopped bankrolling them. Her roommates confessed that they
despised her and wanted her out. Her boyfriend turned out to be a
married man who considered her nothing but a bit on the side. All
of this led her downhill, to seek attention and income from
pornographers who offered her big cash for photo shoots. Imagining
a Playboy style scenario, Hope was unprepared for the porn
scene and, luckily, backed out before she got embroiled in that
She was fortunate, and her story acknowledges that. She found a
counselor, got a simple job, started writing, and began to take
feeble steps down the road to recovery. Along the way were more
surgeries and Botox injections --- all expensive and all unneeded.
Yet they made her feel good in a way that nothing else could.
The book's high point is another surgery --- one to reduce her
breasts. This is a victory for Hope, a reversion to normal body
shape and an acceptance of herself that makes the reader heave a
great sigh of relief.
Donahue is able to recreate the sad, frantic and painful world in
which she once lived in stark detail. She treats with frankness not
only her own desperate desire for perfection, but also the general
suffering of the obsessive personality. Hope is well named ---
because this book will offer hope to others locked in a similar
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott, author of WITH IT, soon to be released by Behler Publications. on December 22, 2010