One woman shares how bad plastic surgery helped her learn to love her body

American Society of Plastic Surgeons

When 17-year-old Nafsika Lourentzatos found herself in a New York City hotel room handing $1,500 in cash to a Columbian doctor for a covert breast-enhancement surgery, she knew her life was going to change-she just didn't realize how. The "boob-obsessed" teen received unlicensed silicone injections in her breasts (without anesthesia!), hoping to get results similar to the ones she saw on plastic-surgery shows on TV. But instead of Extreme Makeover, she got Botched!.

The free-floating silicone-a procedure not approved in the United States-quickly dispersed into her body, binding in painful clumps to her chest wall and internal organs. Immediately, she could tell that the surgery hadn't enlarged her breasts much, and within days she knew that something had gone horribly wrong. But for years she was too embarrassed to admit what she'd done and, instead, watched horrified as her breasts morphed into mishapen masses. After several years of dealing with the increasingly painful and obvious lumps (she lied to boyfriends, telling them she had cysts), Lourentzatos finally went to see a doctor, who told her that not only did her boob job not give her her dream D-cups but that she'd lose her breasts all together. In fact, she went to six doctors, all of whom agreed that her life was in danger. The silicone had spread throughout her body, putting her at risk for blood poisoning and organ failure. She ended up having a double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and five reconstructive surgeries before her 30th birthday.

The normally private Lourentzatos has now teamed up with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to share her harrowing story as part of their campaign against back-alley plastic surgery to help other women avoid a similar fate. But besides the plastic surgery implications, the experience taught her a lot about her body. Here's what she'd like you to learn from her botched boob job:

Healthy Is Beautiful

Ever since she was little, Lourentzatos says she saw big breasts as the ultimate in beauty. Now she says she sees the beauty in healthy bodies. "In the end, it was about taking care of my health," she says. "The silicone was poison. I poisoned myself and I ended up with a lot of health issues because of it."

There Is No Such Thing As the Perfect Breast

As a teen, she was deeply self-conscious about the gap between her "widely-spaced" natural breasts. Not only did the surgery harm her health, it didn't even fix the gap-a feature she now realizes is very normal. While we may see one "perfect" standard on TV and in porn, in reality, perfect breasts come in all shapes, sizes and colors. "I think it's so sad how critical girls are of their bodies when nothing is even wrong," she says.

Surgery Won't Fix Low Self-Esteem

"Surgery is not always the answer," she says, adding that is the one thing she wishes she'd known before her procedure. While she thinks plastic surgery can be helpful in the right circumstances, it's not a cure for body hate. "You have to learn to love yourself and accept your body the way you are," says Lourentzatos. "Surgery can't do that for you."

Beauty Shortcuts Can Have Long-Term Consequences

Even now that she's had several reconstruction surgeries, she says she is still self-conscious, leading her to avoid everyday things like washing her hands in public because of how her breasts contract when she brings her hands together. She says, "I feel better now but I still have a huge scar, thin skin and nipples that are different sizes. Normal people don't look like this."

There Are Other Ways to Enhance Your Looks

Before, Lourentzatos says she saw surgery as her gateway to gorgeous, but now? "I'm all about going glam with my hair, clothes and makeup! There are lots of fun ways to change your look and they're not permanent."

Work It Out

Nothing helps beautify both body and soul like a good sweat sesh. These days, Lourentzatos is a regular at the gym. "I still have a lot of health issues with my body and working out helps those," says the weight lifting and hot yoga devotee. "It also helps me appreciate my body for what it can do. I love being strong," she says.

If you're interested in safe plastic surgery, the ASPS recommends finding a doctor who is board-certified in plastic surgery, who works out of an accredited facility and is happy to share references from other patients.