Dr. Ruth Celestin, a nationally recognized, award-winning, board-certified plastic surgeon at Celestial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, located in Atlanta, didn’t always want to become a cosmetic surgeon. The Haitian-American, New Jersey-raised doctor had her eyes set on pediatrics and wanted to follow in the footsteps of her own pediatrician, but she soon learned it wasn’t her life’s passion.
Celestin earned her bachelor’s degree with high honors from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., where she also earned membership in the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Sigma Iota honor societies. She went on to attend New Jersey Medical School, where she earned her medical degree.
After graduation, Celestin was accepted into a highly-sought-after combined-residency program in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Following residency, she undertook additional fellowship training in aesthetic surgery at the prestigious Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital and Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
In an interview with The Glow Up, the surgeon talks about her journey to something people felt was an obvious choice for her, and how plastic surgery has changed over the years.
The Glow Up: What made you choose to pursue cosmetic surgery?
Ruth Celestin: When people meet me and get to know me, they see it as an obvious choice, but it wasn’t an obvious choice for me for a few years. I was in a trauma hospital and reconstructive-oriented residency program, [and] it dawned on me ... after being raised by a cosmetologist, and being aesthetically minded, when my program directors pointed out that I might be good at cosmetic surgery, because they said I was into the makeup and aesthetic part of things. When I tried it out, it was something that I absolutely loved. And I knew that was how I was going to help people. People don’t think of cosmetic surgery traditionally as helping people, but it is, in the way that you’re helping people restore their sense of self and self-esteem.
TGU: As one of the few black women in cosmetic surgery, have you experienced microaggressions?
RC: There are not that many of us; there are probably about 10, and we all know each other. It needs to change, and with setting my legacy, I’m hoping to leave behind just more than one of me. Microaggressions are just part of being a black woman of any note. You’re met with a lot of surprise. I’m OK with someone being surprised when they meet me and they say things like, “You’re so young,” when they want to say, “Oh, you’re so black.” That’s fine, but I want everyone to be open to be re-educated. If I’m wearing my name badge that says Dr. Celestin, and I walk into an operating room and I’m giving you instructions on how we’re about to do the case, then respect me as Dr. Celestin.
TGU: When it comes to procedures, what is the most requested?
RC: I’m getting more requests for butt augmentation than from about four to five years ago, when it was liposuction.
TGU: When it comes to the evolution of plastic surgery, we’ve seen everything from the abnormally large breast augmentations of the ’90s, with celebrities like Pamela Anderson, to the disproportionate waist-hip-and-butt ratios of present-day celebrities like Amber Rose, Blac Chyna, K. Michelle and basically every Kardashian. When it comes to plastic surgery and self-esteem, what do you think about women who take it overboard?
RC: Just with any good thing, there’s always going to be excess. I think what we’re seeing in the world of hip-hop influence is a little bit of an obsession with the butt. It’s taken an arc, and it’s become the peak of concern for some people, and it’s also becoming more practical when some people realize bigger isn’t always better, but does this butt work for my body? Do I look strange, in that my proportions are off? And that’s why some celebrities are removing their augmentations and trying to be more normally shaped, because there is such a thing as too much.
In our industry, we look out for body dysmorphic disorder, when a person is trying to fix something that you don’t even see, and their goals are unrealistic. They think having this huge butt or augmentation is going to change their life dramatically. Even in our training, they stress upon us to be able to identify it because it’s a psychiatric disorder, and the treatment is not cosmetic surgery, but to refer the person to a psychiatrist.
TGU: Doctors nowadays are taking their procedures to social media and becoming social media celebrities. Do you think it’s changed the practice for better or worse?
RC: I think it’s a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s made our field more accessible and a little less intimidating because potential patients can learn about a procedure they’re interested in, and may learn it’s not for them when they see how it really goes down. It’s a bit of a marketing tool for doctors as well.
But on the unprofessional side of it, sometimes people can err on the side of showmanship and bring a clownish aspect that’s not becoming of us. When I think of other surgeons, they don’t have to attract clientele in the ways that we do. Social media is great, but not when you’re just doing it for likes.
TGU: With the popularity of plastic surgery constantly on the rise, especially when it comes to the costs involved, what are your thoughts on people opting to travel overseas where procedures are drastically cheaper?
RC: No shade on doctors in foreign countries, but I think the question is, what are the risks of going to other countries where they do things differently? People don’t realize that these countries have different sterilization procedures, what you can use and not reuse. Something [as] simple as can you have your windows open while operating can make a huge impact. It’s things like that that can add up to a different health care system to what we’re used to consuming in the U.S.
I don’t think it’s worth it for the risk and not having any recourse, because if I mess you up, you have the law on your side. Who are you going to go to if you go to Costa Rica and the doctor botches your procedure? And when you return home to the U.S., a lot of doctors are really not interested in taking on these cases if they become complications or a nightmare case. It’s a lot of risks to save money.
TGU: From overseas procedures to, now, hotel procedures, why are people willing to risk their lives like this?
RC: It’s not worth it. I really urge people that if they just don’t have the funds to do it, then save up for it. Put away a little periodically. This concept, sort of saving, applies to people’s minds when it comes to buying a car or a handbag, but for some reason, when it comes to aesthetics, it doesn’t translate as easily that you have to be careful.
If you go to a doctor’s office and they tell you the procedure is $5,000, but you’re willing to have it done by someone who works in a doctor’s office for cheap in a hotel room, you really need to do some critical thinking. I’ve seen a lot of these patients in an emergency room, calling my office, looking for someone to take them on.
TGU: How much responsibility do doctors have, when they receive requests for these outrageous body shapes, to talk patients out of having the procedures done?
RC: This is part of our training and board certification. We have moral standards that we’re held to, to be able to call ourselves board-certified. We have to ask ourselves if this person is asking too much. Is this person psychologically sound for this procedure? For me, I can’t say this for everyone, but that is a responsibility you carry the minute you meet someone.
That’s why you’re taking their whole history; it’s part of the conversation where you can have enough time with the person to evaluate their goals and expectations to determine if they even should be a patient. I’ve seen plenty of nightmare patients who’ve had 30 surgeries to look like Angelina Jolie, for example. I put that solely on the shoulders of the person who kept saying yes to this patient.
TGU: Most people assume it’s just women looking for plastic surgery. What do your male patients usually ask for?
RC: I have a lot of male patients. And I love when I get a male consult, because they’re probably the easiest patients to deal with. A lot of men are just straight to the point. Men are usually getting liposuction of the abdomen and the muffin top area, and gynecomastia, a procedure used to remove fat from the male breast area.
TGU: What word of advice would you give to people before having surgery, and to those medical students interested in choosing this as a career?
RC: Do your research. In the sense that you’re not just trusting someone with your looks and your body, but you’re also trusting them with your life. You want to make sure this is an actual plastic surgeon, not just someone who trained in another field, and just decided yesterday that they want to start doing liposuction. And you need to make sure they’re a board-certified plastic surgeon. Also, you don’t want to go to the guy who’s doing rhinoplasty all day for a Brazilian butt lift.
For medical students, don’t let anyone discourage you in your journey. Because it’s hard to get into this specialty; there aren’t that many programs in the country, and a lot of super-qualified applicants fight for very few spots. If it’s something you’re passionate about, you’ll get in eventually, but don’t let anyone talk you out of your dreams and passion.