Seventeen thousand dollars.
That's the sum printed at the top of the quote from my cosmetic surgeon's office.
My boyfriend is gawping at it, mouth agape.
"You're not actually going to spend this amount of money on your face, are you? You know you could buy a car with that," he scoffs incredulously.
What he doesn't realise is, I could have bought several cars with the amount of money I've already spent on my face.
I learnt from an early age, the quest for beauty was one I'd be on for a lifetime, at any cost – an expedition with not so much an end destination, as a mirage, always just beyond the next horizon.
The average woman spends 335 hours a year – equivalent to an entire two-week holiday – and over $200,000 over the course of her life, on this quest. If you're a woman reading this, it's almost a sure bet you've exhausted considerable amounts of your day today, thinking about the way you look.
If this all sounds awfully superficial, vapid even, that's because it is. However, it'd be remiss not to point out we weren't born to be this way. Our cultural obsession with female beauty is far more uncomfortably weighted in nurture, than nature.
Consider the last time you visited a friend or relative with a young daughter. What was the first thing you said to her? That she looked adorable, or beautiful? How lovely the dress she had on was, or what a pretty bow she had in her hair?
These seemingly innocuous compliments condition girls to place an excessive amount of emphasis on their appearances. The subtext, we learn as young women, is that beauty is the currency we trade for acceptance and validation.
So powerful is this message, a study by University of Central Florida psychology professor Stacey Tantleff-Dunn and Sharon Hayes, found nearly half of all three to six-year-old girls worry about being "fat", something we've commercialised to be regarded as the worst possible thing for a woman to be.
(Other studies have found we're so terrified of it, when asked, women said they'd rather forgo a year of living, or be blind, than be classified as fat.)
My own disordered relationship with my body began at 22, when I started lying about the amount of food I was eating, covertly dumping packed lunches in neighbours' bins on my way to work each day, subsisting on little more than a piece of fruit, painstakingly quartered into meals.
I went from an already lithe 57 kilos on my 165-centimetre-tall frame, down to a mere 48 kilos in the space of six months, punishing my body with daily 10-kilometre runs.
However, instead of concern, my nutrient-deprived, dwindling figure drew a glut of compliments. "You're looking great! What have you been doing?" colleagues and friends would coo. "I wish I could fit into a pair of jeans that tiny," others would gush, as my BMI plummeted.
Even now, after more than a decade in recovery from my eating disorder, I'm still drawn to look at my newly soft, dimpled body as a personal failing. The ubiquity of diet products, waist-trainers, cosmetic treatments and surgery have, in many ways, made the modern pursuit of beauty one based almost entirely on effort and economic status, rather than an arbitrary victory in a genetic lottery.
One only has to look at memes proliferating the internet of the Kardashian-Jenners before and after their eye-watering physical transformations, punctuated with catchphrases like "Remember, you're not ugly. Just poor and lazy," for evidence of the way pop culture equates beauty with moral virtue.
The inverse of this then, is radical self-acceptance, of "letting yourself go", as we've disparagingly labelled women who gain weight, bare their wrinkles, and allow their grey hair to grow out.
This kind of woman is regarded as morally flawed, as lazy, and lacking in self-discipline. If she'd only put on some lipstick, adhere to a stricter diet, and see a hairdresser, she could really be something.
Almost as many times as I've been called "beautiful", I've been called "ugly" and "fat" (mainly online, and almost overwhelmingly by men). The latter terms are hurled like darts aimed at derailing me – the former, bestowed as a kind of gift. Though, in truth, they all perforate my self-confidence, and force me to confront the fact my body-positivity is shaky, at best.
Despite committing much of my career to dismantling lookism and fatphobia, I'm left realising those words – "ugly" and "fat" – still tug at my own discomfort with existing outside the beauty ideal I've been taught to strive for.
That while, intellectually, I realise "fat" should be no more a slur than being "a brown-eyed brunette" (it is merely a physical attribute, neither intrinsically good nor bad), I find myself struggling against the lifetime of conditioning that's taught me to see it as the ultimate character flaw.
Conversely, while the yearning to be beautiful still resides within me, feeding it with compliments feels akin to inviting an alcoholic to take "just one more sip".
Every time someone utters those words – "You look beautiful" – that part of me that would sooner spend $17,000 to have my face sliced open than wrestle with my own self-image, grows a little stronger.
This is the part of the story where I'm supposed to go out on some sort of peppy, feel-good message; to tell you that these days, I'm learning to embrace myself exactly as I am. Where I describe tearing up that quote from my cosmetic surgeon's office – a poetic metaphor for my self-loathing.
But the truth is, I'm still on that journey. And perhaps that makes me a fraud, to advocate for body-positivity and shedding the many countless hours of our lives we squander as women worrying whether we look good enough, instead of simply focusing on being good human beings.
To be frank, I don't have all the answers. But I do know this: I don't want to be called beautiful. Or ugly. Or any other adjective on my appearance.
Because, while I'm still grappling with it, I know I'm worth more than the sum of my parts, regardless of how they look. And I know someone, somewhere out there reading this, might just see that she is too. And that's worth continuing to fight for.