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I write well when I am brave enough to speak my mind. Soy milk fund


This year, more than 450,000 ponies and other creatures will undergo cutie mark cosmetic surgery. The Manehattan Times investigates, in this exclusive report.

(This story is written in the first person POV of a pony journalist. Takes place roughly 20 years after Twilight’s coronation.)

(Cover image sources: 1; 2; 3; 4)

1/15/21: Reached #1 on the feature box! Thanks y'all! :pinkiegasp:

Chapters (1)
Comments ( 67 )

That was deep man.
To deep.
Why you gotta make ponies deep man.
I like my ponies like I like my pools.
Cause I ain't never learned to swim.

I have tried my best to make this AU as convincing and immersive as possible.

Also depressing. Who wants to see a realistic ideological conflict with no clear answer present in Equestria? For real, though, this was a damn accurate representation of a long-form news article.

Excellent journalistic voice. The level of remove from the intense subject matter helps keep it from being oppressive. I honestly can't tell where the author stands on the issue. I suspect they're in favor of allowing the surgery, but that lingering image of Toola-Roola suffering an existential crisis of buyer's remorse... Haunting stuff.

That said, Gabby burning the cutie mark placard the Crusaders gave her may be the part that got the biggest reaction out of me. Yes, she doesn't need it as medical science marches on, but it's about what the gift meant. Mind you, I don't know what long, dark night of the soul she went through before the operation...

Great thought-provoking piece. Thank you for it.

"An intriguing premise presented in an equally enticing manner. Kudos!"

Three quarters of the way through this story, that was all I'd had to say. I'd all but forgotten about the Sad tag.

And then it hit me like a freight train. The doctor's daughter, Gabby's reminiscence, Starlight's well-meaning fall from grace, Toola-Roola's frantic last-minute doubts... Damn, man. I was not prepared for that heaviness.

Needless to say, I got sucker-punched right in the gut. And in all honestly? I'm all for it. So, for the second time this comment: "Kudos, Mica!"

Funnily enough, that's the second time today I've been blindsided like this...

This is really good. I feel like I'm reading a real journalistic piece. There's good points on both sides, though I do feel bad for Starlight Glimmer and what is happening to her school. I mean, there is a point - you aren't how you are when you're 8. And there's ponies whose cutie marks don't match their names. I have thought of the idea that ponies are allowed to change their names for free once they acquire their cutie marks and maybe once more later on when they're adults. Like, maybe Diamond Tiara's birth name was Diamond Dazzle and when she got her cutie mark she simply changed it a tad.

I could see this ending up in a few years as "a valuable medical procedure misused as a fad " that is a smaller percentage of creatures discovering in the long run they needed to change thier mark or in the case of non-ponies it amounts to a tattoo, but a lot finding future side effects like Starlight fears come to pass mostly for pony and zebra paients. Resulting in "cutie mark restoration surgery" and a "Cutie mark Interpretation" becoming fields.
The story does come off very much like a magazine article as intended.

RDT #7 · Jan 15th, 2021 · · ·

I don't know how many of these points were inspired by real-world issues, but each one felt like something genuine to the world of MLP. I could imagine the reporter writing this article. The bias of a reporter/newspaper based in Manehatten came through in just the right amount - not outright insulting the opposing view, but implying enough bad things about it, substantiated or otherwise.

Wow. Very nice story.

A thought-provoking tale in a fomat that works well for it, augmented by the fact that, like those in the story, we can only make up our minds on the natter from guesswork, faith and uncertain statistics.

Dang dude, you really nailed this. The story radiates the fictional authors or magazines little biases through the grammar and “” marks. From the loaded question about what if “she’s not into orchids later” to the scoff at non ponies calling equestria their “homeland”.

Very fresh and though-provoking story. The journalistic style is delivered well enough, although I feel there is still too much "story element" to it. There are parts providing descriptions that are usually not seen in a journal article, like this one:

She steps inside. The lighting changes from a soft yellow in the waiting room to a harsh white fluorescent. The ceiling is higher in the operating room, creating the feeling of a daylit cavern.

They take the immersion away from reading the "article".

About story structure, it's a little lacking in coherence and conciseness. There're sections that should be combined together. Some parts, such as the one about the theory of "core cutie mark magic" are repeated. These should be rearranged to give the "article" a more coherent flow. For example, section 4 should be combined with section 2, section 5 with section 3.

About plot elements, the story provides many interesting aspects of the topic. Still, I think there are a lot more that could be explored, such as the effect of cutie mark surgery on employment and social standing, influence of age on the surgery adverse effect (given the mention of the "core cutie mark magic" theory, one has to ask what if the pony removes their cutie mark at too young an age?), adverse psychological effect post surgery, etc. Also, I would think the ones who have the most problem with changing cutie mark through surgery would be the CMC, given that finding cutie marks has essentially been their life purpose. How would it change the importance of finding cutie marks in young ponies and in society as a whole then, if you can just swap it with whatever you like afterward?

I really like the writing style and the switches between narrative voice and objective reporting were very well used. It feels like a long-form article out of a major publication. And what an interesting topic! Great work.

I liked how the article seems to be biased in favour of the operation (essentially portraying the opponents as nothing but irrational far-right extremists) while remaining objective enough for us to understand why some may feel queasy about, or even strongly dislike, the procedure.

daaaaaaaaaaamn this is heavy.

They felt bad for me, so they gave me this hunk of wood with the image of a cutie mark painted on it.” She giggles again. “At least I like to think they felt bad for me.”

She burnt the wooden “cutie mark” in the fireplace a long time ago.

Wow, Gabby felt really snooty and arrogant in this bit. I can kinda see where she’s coming from but that fact that she threw it in a fire make her come off really ungrateful right here. Is that just me?

Our sources suggest that Her Majesty may be estranged from her former pupil.

Errrr, what?

I really like the idea behind this fic, and a lot of the early stuff was super interesting ad well written. I loved the way Toola Roola is portrayed, she comes off as ditsy like someone who you’d expect to fall into a craze like this without properly thinking it through especially after a friend had gone through the same thing. And the moments of self doubt coming to the surgery itself we’re extremely chilling, really giving you a sense that maybe this whole procedure isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least with such little thought up into it.

For me though, when we got to around starlights bit it started coming off as a bit heavy handed and preachy. I imagine that might be because you were trying to make this “documentary” one sided to push a narrative, which many documentaries try to do. However considering how much evidence there is for how beneficial this procedure is and how little risk it almost took me out of it of how anyone is against it, mainly because we never have a good reason to.

Having the school of friend now loose it’s rep over becoming connected to hate groups also feels pretty forced. I know this is an AU but it felyblike a stretch considering this is supposedly still the Equestria from the show, and not a darker retelling. Unless things went down hill after Twi too charge but there’s nothing to indicate anything like that.

Maybe if it the procedure wasn’t coming off so one sided in how successful it was or maybe we get a couple of interviews from the people against it that actually have some weight to them. You have Starlights but that holds no weight to it. Maybe get a interview for the CMCs saying how getting rid of your cutie marks means your throwing apart of yourself away instead of healing that part of you. Or maybe interview some who are unhappy with their surgery.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way as it’s supposed to be a interview format, which is expertly done. Maybe I’m looking for something different then what’s being presented.

Overall, it’s a very unique idea and your writing is on pointWish the drawbacks of this idea was explored a little more to really flesh it out.

Feeling existential about butt tattoos. Must be a Friday.

Ouch. What did I read? That's deep. Brilliant. It's a take-your-breath-away story. It's going in my favourites folder.

Gabby torching her "mark" was understandable in the light of her body dysmorphia (I have to have a cutie mark to fit in, I have to have a cutie mark, a cutie mark!) only to have a reminder she can't stop looking at but never thought she truly could (until medical science saves the day).

That kind of reminder, even done in kindness can easily sour when it becomes a constant association with failure.

I REALLY liked this. Very well done and seemed extremely realistic. 👌nice

I loved the theme of body dysmorphia in Gabby's bit. I related to that feeling of not feeling right in my own skin so hard, and for me it felt like Gabby felt more comfortable in her own body because of it. Like, I'm not disregarding the entire point of the story about the psychological dangers of body altering surgery and how people can feel pressured to alter their bodies to better fit in despite the fact it might not be right for them, but I am biased. I don't like my body and can't change it - so it felt nice to read about a fictional character who had surgery to change themselves feeling slightly better.

Man, I'm surprised I hadn't followed you until now. I'm correcting that mistake!

You do some very cool "social worldbuilding" pieces, and this is yet another great example, one that I would say even surpasses "Five Stages of Assimilation". This sort of stuff feels like something that could be a legit "extended universe" novel, if MLP had those. Albeit one aimed at a more grown-up audience. It was something that I read in one go.

I do have one piece of criticism, which others have already mentioned granted:

Starlight Glimmer's actions as the anti-surgery advocate. I definitely agree with her speech being realistic, but I'm not sold on the idea that she would accept under-the-table support of extremists. I suspect that you wrote that piece to give the story some needed antagonism, to make it not appear as a "wow this is so awesome, how is this bad at all?" feeling. That being said, I feel like the drama and conflict was nicely paced and executed on with Toola-Roola and her increasing level of doubt as the story went on.

If I were writing this, I'd have her more aimed as a character struggling with a strong cognitive dissonance between her experiences with cutie mark modification, and how the surgery appears to be almost entirely harmless. Maybe leaving it off with an implication of her having a crisis in conscience that she would have to explore in the future.

Overall great story, and I look forward to more from you in the future!

I don't think you understand at all how Cutie Marks work.

They come when the ponies uncover their special talent, you know, magical stuff that helps them find out what they'll be great at and will give them the best chance of being happy and fulfilled, though they must still work at it.

It's not like here, where people have no clue what they're doing and often end up miserable because they let other people call all the shots for them, because thinking for yourself is hard!

Anyway, the surgery works perfectly, because of course it does! The story has an agenda and everything is PERFECT for those who follow it, while those who question it are both mocked and shown false sympathy as 'simply not understanding' or letting their own experiences cloud their judgement. An excellent example of how propaganda works on the weak-minded.

Children, I've seen this all a hundred thousand million billion times before, from every regime under the sun.

It's getting ANCIENT. You hairless apes never learn.

10629761 But we're not magical ponies. We're horrible naked apes that used to eat each other. You're projecting YOUR experiences upon ANOTHER SPECIES! SO RACIST!!


Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

I'm sorry for punching you. I'm against violence. :derpytongue2:

Your criticisms of Starlight in this story is valid. Maybe she did go a little too OOC by affiliating with extremist groups. But considering that she was a radical cult leader for many years, it might not be as implausible as you think that she would be willing to work with extremists. You could also interpret it as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" sort of deal. I intentionally left Starlight's motivations to the reader's interpretation.

When I started writing about this AU, I realized there were so many potential implications of cutie mark surgery that I simply couldn't cover them all. Two ponies trading cutie marks, ponies deciding they want their natural cutie mark back...there's so many ways to look at it. I had a section on "voluntary blank flanks" that I cut out for concision. I almost cut out the bit about Starlight and the extremist groups. If I had more perseverance I could've made a novel-length story out of this.

I can see how the story might be seen as "one-sided" in favor of cutie mark surgery. But there's one character who's at the very least skeptical: the reporter himself. Notice how he portrays Toola-Roola in his report, and the kind of questions he asks her. For example, in the first section, he calls it a "natural cutie mark" while Toola-Roola calls it her "old cutie mark."

Thank you for reading my story.


Anyway, the surgery works perfectly, because of course it does! The story has an agenda and everything is PERFECT for those who follow it, while those who question it are both mocked and shown false sympathy as 'simply not understanding' or letting their own experiences cloud their judgement. An excellent example of how propaganda works on the weak-minded.

Well, firstly, there were multiple passages about Toola-Roola having doubts, so the "everything is PERFECT" line isn't entirely accurate.

Second off: for all we know, Starlight is right, and the long-term consequences are indeed going to be dire. But, 10629950 as RDT suggested, that's not the perspective the paper wants to propagate.

It's not the author who has an "agenda"; if anyone, it's The Manehatten Times that does. Maybe try looking at this from that perspective.

EDIT: Additionally, consider reading the second-last paragraph of 10631157 this comment by the author.

Fuuuuuuuuhhh... man. This went hard. Thank you. This deserves every like it gets. Whew.


Definitely fair, and it's a perspective I really appreciated.

That being said, I def think it's a high-quality story. Even with the criticisms, I'd say it was both an engaging read and one that made me want to think about the subject matter and its implications. A lot of stories struggle to do that, and I honestly can't say anything that expresses my praise adequately in a comment.

Doctor Vibrant Insignia sharpens his scalpel.

Ugh... sharpening scalpel... means they are REUSING scalpel... that's barbaric...

I was confused by this line:

He’s performed this operation for almost ten years—this will be his 800th time.

If we pretend eight is "almost" ten, that's 100 operations per year, or two per week. That's not very many.

If Toola-Roola is the third (and last) of the day, and if he only does surgery two days a week (with the other three being used for consultations and the like), it would be more like 6+ per week, 300+ per year. So a much larger total for almost ten years.

But overall, the story put forth some interesting ideas worth thinking about.

Thing is... The procedure is FAR from this perfect... It does NOT show as perfect in any way.
I'm quite perplexed as how you got that impression.
The way the article is written seems to be moderately pro surgery, and it shows it's bias clearly.

The only nitpick I may have is on the numbers...
Half a million pony a year is a HUGE number given that pony population appears to be "smallish".

Yeah, Gabby burning her painted gift felt pretty extreme. With her later appearances in the show, she's not hauling it around like some desperate replacement or security blanket. Plus, the CMCs were just middle schoolers (at most) when they gave that to Gabby, so it really shouldn't be read as a condescending proclamation.

In-universe, I would really criticize the author of this article for picking an obviously depressed and dysmorphic person to represent the population of creatures who underwent the procedure. It paints them all as having some degree of self-loathing. Of course, like anything in this article I might have a problem with, I'm not so certain how much Mica planned it as the journalist being either biased, overdramatic, or trying way too hard to thread a theme through all the disparate material they gathered. It's something I've observed before in publications.

No I get that, the article format works very well and is very clearly bias. It’s just that with the idea of plastic surgery to change cutie marks is so interesting that I wish it could have been explored more, and the side I wish it explored was more the negative sides of this.

The percentage showing how effective the procedure is is our own frame of reference for the idea. The only thing we really get against it is Starlights viewpoint, but that feels so OOC (for me anyone others might not have had a problem), that it makes the actual subject matter a bit too clean cut. I guess you could say it’s possible manipulated for the article but then all the other interviews seemed too genuine (especially Toola-Roola’s) so it makes Starlight’s comes off as fact. That might just be the in universe writing of the article like I said however.

What would 100% fix this fic for me really is if there was a second companion piece to this from the otherside, with each groups having different research with extremely different outcomes. So then we the readers could compare and make our own decisions on the matter. As is it’s still a very well written fic, and the idea of doing it in a article was a brilliant choice.
I just wish we got a little more from the idea.

That is a good point, and it was a great way to write it. As it’s not from the interview itself actually just stated afterwards. Perhaps Gabby threw it into a fire in a bout of angry and instantly regretted it. Or maybe she did really feel like it was given to her out of pitty. That’s a bit of very cleaver writing right there.

And I think your right on the journalist from. The article is very clearly trying to be bias for the process, so finding someone like Gabby who is very clearly effected by it, but is clearly not the most mentally stable would be in their favour

The percentage is... unrealistic. It is the sort of percentage you would see in cooked data. As there is no way that an invasive procedure like the replacement of a patch of skin about ten percent of the total surface has ONLY that amount of negative reaction. So it is to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt.
We don’t have any information on the “Canterlot School of Medicine” it could be a bogus institute, the article reports ONLY the results of the study on psychological effect without saying anything on measurable physiological consequences, this may be because the article author does not want to put those out OR the study do not report them, another point is that the way it is written in the part about the mood swing is ambiguous... As I said such a huge skin graft would get MORE than 0.1% of adverse effect.
The interviews... we have Toola-Roola who goes on as awfully shallow... she is replacing her cutie mark just because it’s “old fashioned”. Gabby is not a pony and so is physiologically different than a pony, to her it is just an aesthetic point. And she comes out as PROFOUNDLY disturbed... in her case the surgery has a modicum of sense...
The last interview is with the doctor... he has issues... HEAVY issues.
In what ways do Starlight come out OOC?
Even the financing... it look like a lot, but what is the WHOLE budget of the School of Friendship?
2 million bits is about what 40 ponies makes in a year. The school has WAY more ponies employed is a boarding school with a huge number of students, and fundamentally the second most prestigious school in Equestria... I’m sure you could get dubious contributions to ANY institution.

I'd say the only way Gabby burning the mark would make sense would be if the author deliberately left out the part where she was talking about how she had placed it on her firewood pile one day while cleaning or how she tripped while walking by a fireplace. I really doubt it was done on purpose.

I said it another comment it kinda works as it could be some manipulation by the writer of the article itself, as we get no context for why she burned it.

While I can see her having a strong stance on cutie marks, her reason for taking them away was completely a selfish reason, and she knows this. She herself has become much more stable and able to think these things from multiple points of view. So the idea that she would be this strongly against to the point of banning anyone from the process or those associated from the school it too harsh. While you could say that’s just the article manipulating the facts, the interview with Twilight and her reaction to it makes it come off as fact, not to mention her cutting ties with Starlight all together is a extremely off.
Also taking money from known hate group is also extremely out of character. You could say that it’s just the opinion of the article but at that point it was just coming off as preachy to me. (Which once again might have been the point).

It’s why I would really wanna see more info from this world from a different perspective, cos it is a great idea to explore. Hopefully see find out some facts behind all this (possibly) made up numbers


Also taking money from known hate group is also extremely out of character. You could say that it’s just the opinion of the article but at that point it was just coming off as preachy to me. (Which once again might have been the point).

Can't speak for the other unnamed extremist groups, but honestly, I can kinda (keyword being kinda) get why Starlight would trust Neighsay's: as far as she's aware, he realized the error of his ways following the events of "School Raze" and stopped going full-on xenophobe.

(Unless, of course, the AU tag's revoked that aspect of his conscience, but I'm just spitballing for the sake of the discussion.)

I would say that is due to deliberate slant in the article. Possibly that in reality Starlight was ignorant of the extremist's actions.

See, that’s why I could (like you) kinda get behind it. But with it in the same section saying that these groups are known for anti none pony actions and that Neighsay is vocal about these things just makes me say “o he’s just not reformed in this AU”.
They could just be using stuff Neighsay said and did before his reform, but considering I’d been 20 odd years I’d say that’s a bit of a stretch

I would take that if it wasn’t said in the article that these groups are not only known to be anti non pony hate groups but also very vocal about their stances. Considering Starlight’s the headmare of the school that started bringing other creatures to Equestria (at least on such a scale), she would never take money from them.

That could be an interesting story of how she took it out of desperation but that’s apart of fic itself I can’t use that as an excuse

Still interesting that this one story makes people think on things like this.

O for sure, it’s what’s so interesting about this fic. It could have came off a lot more preachy or simply is a stand in for something obvious. the characters really flesh out this idea and having it be in the format of an article makes it work so well, but also makes you question it a lot more. As opposed to be simply being presented as factual fiction

The REASON behind the removal are (relatively) immaterial, what counts are the effects, an Starlight is describing a serious problem.
Twilight did not have an interview. She has released a statement as head of state are used to do.
Where does it says that she has cut ties with Starlight? The statement is highly supportive of Starlight while maintaining the distance needed by any head of state.

About Starlight, I actually don't have much problem with the extremist group thing, as I perceive it as Starlight not tracking her donation source very well. After all, it would be weird for Starlight to have secret xenophobic agenda after all the time with Twilight and being headmare of a school with 62% non-pony students. (Although, I am little surprised that Neighsay was the one founding the extremist group. But if you don't consider s8 finale onward as canon, like I do, then it makes sense.)

What I have more problem with is how radical Starlight was back in her village as presented by the story. If she had seen with her own eyes by then the terrible effects caused on the others by her taking away their cutie marks, it feels quite sinister of her to just let it go on.


That is a good point, and it was a great way to write it. As it’s not from the interview itself actually just stated afterwards. Perhaps Gabby threw it into a fire in a bout of angry and instantly regretted it. Or maybe she did really feel like it was given to her out of pitty. That’s a bit of very cleaver writing right there.

Yeah, it's very plausible that even if the CMCs didn't intentionally give it to her out of pity, she might later in life start to see it as a constant reminder that she'd never have the real thing. I was reminded of the scene in "Flight to the Finish" where Scootaloo throws her scooter in the trash after getting picked on by Diamond Tiara.

Plus the reference to Gabby's personality being "very atypical of griffons" seems to imply that Griffonstone had made at most modest progress from the grossly toxic culture from which Gabby sought to distance herself. Give that that was pretty much her only reason for wanting a cutie mark, it's no wonder she turned out like she did.


Our sources suggest that Her Majesty may be estranged from her former pupil.

It’s what I took from this, though maybe I’m just looking into that wrong since it’s not a proper statement.

Starlight maybe to talking about the after effects of the removing a cutie mark, but like I said she was forcefully removing them then brainwashing a town. And she knows this. I can see her having an inside view of cutie mark removal but her going as far as she does (if this is true and not just the article speaking lies) is very OOC.

Not to mention this 20 years in the future. Already in the show has Starlight matured and grown enough to understand her actions. Now say if there wasn’t loads of evidence that this treatment worked so well (which once again could be BS) then I’d think she has more weight to her argument.

That is classic journalistic talk for lying through their teeth ^^;;;;
It's an hypothetical coming as a suggestion from an unnamed source... It's written to have plausible deniability embedded into it.
I'm not really understanding what is that you find OOC for Starlight. Is it the funding? The funding is as I said some what meh...
The lawsuit on school acceptance may well be just fluff, and again are the bread and butter of politicized journalism, as one can say easily "Dude has been accused of eating kittens!" while avoiding to cite that the lawsuit has been thrown off as frivolous and without any merit.
And in the end just from this article there ISN'T that much evidence that this treatment works so well. [As I said a skin graft of that kind is literally impossible to have that low complication rate, people are NOT that good in taking care of things]

Hm Two things Neighsay may have founded that... nowhere it says that he is STILL in it and the group may be old.
The other is that... That money do not look THAT much in reality. I don't know if there was any calculation behind them but given the numbers around and how big is the School of Friendship supposed to be that is probably the janitorial staff budget.

About Starlight back then... well... she was in a REALLY REALLY bad place and had very distorted thinking. Just look at what lengths she went and what she needed to see to stop destroying time itself ^^;;; That is NOT justifying her, just understanding where she was.

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