In her first book, Beauty Junkies, New York Times reporter Alex Kuczynski takes on America's $15-billion obsession with cosmetic enhancement.

Did you have a personal reason for writing about America's beauty obsession?

I was myself a beauty junkie. I had liposuction on my posterior. I had my upper eyelids done because they were congenitally puffy. I did a lot of Botox. Rather than hating some part of myself, I think this was about preserving the wunderkind factor. You're a smart journalist in your 20s and people say, gosh, it's so great you've achieved so much and you're so young. And then you finally wake up one day and you're middle-aged. [Kuczynski is 38.] All of this work was a way of preserving an adolescent carapace of myself, the ideal marriage of youthful body and grown-up mind, which is what we all secretly want.

Can confessing to a beauty addiction hurt you at the Times?

I think of myself as a method journalist. I like inserting myself as a kind of test case in some stories I write. I couldn't have written this book without knowing intimately the experience of the cosmetic surgery patient. I don't think anybody at the Times would say, She's shallow because she had puffy upper eyelids and had them fixed. The extent of the procedures that I subjected myself to was not so over-the-top that it invites ridicule.

What are some of the grossest things you've seen people do in the name of beauty?

I was disturbed by labiaplasty, a procedure where the inner genitalia of women are tightened and the outer labia cleaned up like we're all supposed to look like porn actresses. It makes you wonder if they'll ever feel comfortable riding a bike again. I watched procedures at medical conferences for penile enlargements, which look really frightening and crazy. I've seen people who have gone through 12 different procedures to remove excess skin from their bodies after losing dramatic amounts of weight with gastric bypass surgery. They're like dripping wax figures.

What message would you send your 10-year-old stepdaughter about perfect beauty?

You're going to grow up with a lot of images of perfection, and I want you to understand that what we take to be perfection comes with a lot of airbrushing and a lot of lipo and a lot of Botox. There are actresses in Hollywood who do this 10 hours a day and this is their job. But you and I live in the world of human beings, and we're not always going to look perfect and you have to accept that.