Women of Influence: Cosmetic surgeon stresses importance of inner beauty, happiness

FARGO - Dr. Susan Mathison says true beauty is "health and happiness made visible." The medical doctor and cosmetic surgeon, a soft-spoken woman with sparkling eyes and an engaging smile, shares a powerful message with her patients and other wome...

Influence on Redefining Beauty: Dr. Susan Mathison
Dr. Susan Mathison is the owner of Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo. Before performing a cosmetic surgery, Mathison says she talks to her patients to make sure their request is coming from a place of empowerment and not a place of self-loathing. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO - Dr. Susan Mathison says true beauty is "health and happiness made visible."

The medical doctor and cosmetic surgeon, a soft-spoken woman with sparkling eyes and an engaging smile, shares a powerful message with her patients and other women in the community.

"I think beauty is an active, living, divine spirit within all things," she said. "We see it in our environment, in artistic creation, in others, and if we look very carefully and with great love, we can see it within ourselves."

Mathison, 50, has struggled with her own beauty.

"I will never be a beauty queen," she said at a recent Women Inspiring Women speaking event she hosted at Fargo's Catalyst Medical Center, which she owns.


We're all born beautiful, she said, but somewhere along the way we question that. For Mathison, it was in elementary school when someone made fun of her in her gym uniform.

"And that was it," she said, telling the women at the event to own their beauty, love themselves first, and use the mirror as their friend.

As a doctor, Mathison specializes in otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), head/neck surgery and facial plastic surgery. She treats allergies, sleep disorders and skin-care issues. But she's also an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and philanthropist who wants to inspire others to live beautifully, she said.

"You can see the love and the joy and the passion that she has for what she does when she speaks," said Connie Bjerk of Fargo, a guided imagery therapist, who attended the Women Inspiring Women event.

Mathison sees her cosmetic work as a catalyst to transformation for women who can't see the beauty they already possess.

"We might be bothered about flaws ... but we can't allow that to define us and dim our light," she said.

Before performing a procedure, Mathison talks to her patients to make sure their request is coming from a place of empowerment and not a place of self-loathing, she said.

"People will come in with concerns that from an outsider's perspective seem very small but they've crushed their confidence," she said. "If it's coming from a dark place, they're not going to be happy (with the procedure) because they don't have that happiness in their heart."


Mathison will discourage a procedure if someone is seeking it out of self-loathing, she said.

"There've been a few patients over the years who were better served by waiting until they were in a happier and healthier place in life," she said. "That impacts healing, too."

Mathison talks and writes about inner beauty and fills her medical center with the work of local artists.

"Creating beauty in our environment and appreciating its presence in everyday life makes us feel more beautiful," she said. People sometimes feel guilty for spending time and money on outward appearances, but beauty rituals can be a form of self-care if done to make us feel good and not as a result of societal pressure, she said.

Mathison, who jokes she can do surgery but can't style her own hair, also says women should lift each other up, not tear each other down.

"Be that bridge that makes things easier for somebody else to reach their goals," she said. "Sometimes women unnecessarily compete with others, and I think this holds us back. It's a waste of our time and energy to compete."

At the Women Inspiring Women event, psychologist, author and motivational speaker Chris Linnares called Mathison, "the most amazing woman that I ever met in my life."

Stefanie Blilie, clinical specialist and Mathison's medical assistant at Catalyst, has known Mathison for 10 years and said she is influential in that she practices what she preaches and is an excellent teacher.


"She is an excellent role model, someone to really look up to," she said.

Mathison is married to Steven Johnson, a farmer and real estate broker. She calls their 5-year-old son, Grant, her "wish granted," and beams with pride when she talks about him.

"There's nothing better than seeing the world through a child's eyes," she said. "He is so funny, and he's so spontaneous and he reminds me I definitely need a little bit more play in my life."

She also has two step-children who are in their late 20s.

Mathison is the oldest of seven kids. Her family moved to Fargo when she was 10. Health care seems to be a family affair. Her dad was a physician and her mom was a nurse. She also has brothers in dentistry.

She received her undergraduate degree from Stanford University in California and her medical degree from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School. She spent seven years in training at the University of Washington.

She also lived in Japan for two months while her sister taught English there. And she spent five months in Peru volunteering with the Rev. Jack Davis, a North Dakota priest who leads an impoverished parish in Chimbote, Peru.

Mathison moved back to Fargo in 1997 and started her own practice in 2000. She moved to her current location at 1800 21st Ave. S. in Fargo, in 2007.


She spends about half of her time on medical work and half on cosmetic procedures, she said.

"I'm drawn to the psychological aspects of beauty and wellness," she said. "Beauty is kind of an expression of our health. I find those same psychological forces that make you really question your beauty often lead to a path where nothing feels right, nothing is working in your life."

It's that line of thinking that lead Mathison to start writing about beauty and wellness, she said.

Mathison has written a book about mind, body, beauty and balance that she plans to update and publish this summer. Her weekly columns are featured Thursdays in SheSays.

"One of my gifts is taking complex subjects and helping people connect the dots toward leading a happier, healthier, more beautiful life," she said.

Carrie Leopold of West Fargo, project lead for the Great Plains Girls Collaborative and STEM outreach coordinator for North Dakota State College of Science, follows Mathison's blog.

"I love it," she said. "It's always got something so inspiring and something so pertinent to my life."

Mathison has donated to numerous organizations and has been involved with the United Way of Cass-Clay and Dakota Medical Foundation. In 2007, she and her husband established a family fund at Dakota Medical Foundation to support programs and initiatives that improve health and access to health care, with a special emphasis on women and children.


She helps organize TEDxFargo events, which bring people together to share ideas. She's also part of a social entrepreneurship group and views her practice as a business with a social conscious, she said.

Mathison said she learned her generosity from her parents, who were generous to a fault, and her grandparents, who were giving even though they weren't wealthy.

"That's kind of ingrained in me," she said. "It's done out of generosity but I think that, although you never give with the expectation of return, it certainly helped our practice be noticed and maybe encouraged people to consider us."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526

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