As a husband, Coleman Brown says, he has to be open about what’s bothering his wife. As a plastic surgeon, he has to be diplomatic: “I let her bring it up, and then I’ll guide the conversation.”
Which isn’t exactly what happened when his wife decided she wanted to get rid of fat that had taken root in her outer thighs.
“I trapped him in a low moment,” she remembers, then cornered him in the bathroom in her underwear, pointing to the offending areas. “He usually gives me an ‘Oh, you look great,’ ” she says, “So I have to tell him, ‘You’re not my husband; you’re the doctor, and I want brutal honesty.’ ” Once he switched into his metaphorical white jacket, she remembers him saying, “ ‘Okay, I see some fullness here. We can do something.’ ”
She soon was treated to SmartLipo, a method of liposuction that uses lasers to liquefy the fat within fat cells—a procedure she says was pretty painless: “You take a Valium. If you know the doctor, you take two.”
Fat has been Carter Brown’s scourge since childhood: “I was always being appraised by my parents. It was a silent knowing that I put on some weight.”
She compared herself to her Southern mother, whose code of upkeep included, her daughter recalls, “looking nice when you travel.” Says Brown: “Looks were a big thing when I was growing up, and I spent a lot of time trying to look a certain way. Then I married a plastic surgeon, and now I finally feel comfortable in my own skin.”
She admits that even if she weren’t married to a plastic surgeon, she’d seek one out. “I will have a facelift done when I need it,” she says. “Talk to me in ten years. Who knows what I’ll look like or how much work I’ll have done?”
For a glimpse into that future, Brown may consider talking to the grande dame of wives, Julia Hopping. With her high cheekbones and higher brows, Hopping, 61, is the perfect floor model for husband Steven Hopping’s handiwork, a lovely cross between Barbara Walters and Carolina Herrera.
“My husband likes to say that he’s done me from head to toe,” she says, conducting her hand down the length of her Alexander McQueen suit to her Escada pumps.
Before she married him, Hopping says she “was not stone ugly” and that these days, even as the doctor’s wife, she “cannot always get on the schedule.” But she receives a yearly injection of Botox, a mini-tuck on her lower face and neck, and liposuction to her midsection.
“I walked up the Pyramids eight days after a facelift,” she adds.
For these wives, perhaps being married to a plastic surgeon is akin to being the wife of a diamond dealer or a furrier—they just wear the goods on their faces.
Hopping is the daughter of a former ambassador from Nicaragua and a descendant of that country’s once-ruling Somoza family. Her maternal grandfather, former Nicaraguan president “Tacho” Somoza, was assassinated in 1956.
When she was a teenager, she was diagnosed with a crippling autoimmune disorder and spent time at the National Institutes of Health. “I was so weak,” Hopping remembers. “But I figured out a way to comb my hair by propping my elbow on a towel rack.”
Her mother always had a hairdresser at the embassy. Her father—who let his daughter tag along to the White House, where, she remembers, Jackie Kennedy had bow legs and wore no stockings—used to tell her, “Whenever you go out, people will see you, and that’s how they’ll remember you.”
Today, along with her husband, she runs the Future of Nicaragua Foundation and makes frequent pilgrimages with him to her homeland, where he performs reconstructive work on babies with cleft lips and palates.
As she talks about their work together, it’s clear she sees her day job—as executive director of her husband’s Center for Cosmetic Surgery in DC—as her most defining attribute.
“You can’t lose your identity because your husband is a surgeon,” she says. “You still have to be paid.”
This article first appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.