By Lubna Hamdan
The rise of the “selfie”, plus the relentless media focus on some of the world’s biggest stars, is encouraging more and more young people in the UAE to consider cosmetic surgery
If you needed any convincing that the need to look good is big business in Dubai, a short drive through the beachside suburb of Jumeirah reveals row on row of medical clinics, many of them focused on plastic surgery.
It’s not just those who are worried about the onset of middle age who are opting for facelifts and liposuction, however. Instead, peer pressure and a desire to conform to the latest trends are seeing a much younger demographic troop through the doors of the city’s clinics.
In 2011, 1.27 million liposuction and 3.18 million Botox procedures took place in the UAE, placing it ahead of both the US and Brazil in terms of number of the number of practitioners per capita.
To top it off, the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reveals that 15 percent of UAE plastic surgery patients are teenagers, with the “selfie” being the reason behind an increased demand for cosmetic procedures by 33 percent in this segment in the past two years.
One person who has witnessed the change in the UAE market first-hand is Vasilica Baltateanu.
After managing an aesthetics clinic in Dubai for several years, Baltateanu opened the first and only plastic surgery consultancy in the Middle East. It was through her experience in the field and her consultancy that she realised that Dubai has become the hub of plastic surgery.
“It [plastic surgery] is no longer a taboo subject and you don’t have to travel to different countries from Europe to see world-recognised doctors,” Baltaeanu says. “Now the doctors are travelling to Dubai.”
Baltateanu explains that the boom in the market is due to different factors, including the number of practitioners availabile, that weren't present before.
While the US has one plastic surgeon for every 50,000 people and Brazil one for every 44,000, the UAE has one for every 18,000.
Another reason is up-to-date technology equipment.
“Dubai has the newest and best cosmetic procedure equipment in the world — I have a lot of clients who come from the UK and Russia to Dubai to have their surgery,” she says. “The standards have definitely risen here.”
Yet perhaps a more interesting aspect to the market is its popularity among teenagers, young people, and more recently, men.
“About 40 percent of the patients undergoing plastic surgery now are men,” Baltateanu says. “Men are more careful with their looks. If before the man was the one choosing the woman, nowadays with women becoming more and more independent, men are feeling more pressure as well,” she says.
Baltateanu mentions that the most popular cosmetic procedures among men are breast reduction, rhinoplasty, liposuction (including the ‘six-pack Vaser hi def’ procedure), and the Hollywood smile.
Among teenagers and people in their 20s, it’s breast augmentation, Botox, lip fillers, rhinoplasty, and liposuction.
That’s where the problems start to come in, as many youngsters opt for surgery that they don’t need. Baltateanu thinks their decisions are due to the influence of celebrity culture and peer pressure.
“Teens tend to emulate what celebrities do. [The media] sets beauty standards too high, sometimes unobtainable, so teenagers, especially, feel pressure,” she says.
When the consultant sees fit, she’s not afraid to reject requests.
“I did send several patients home,” she says. “One of them was a teenage girl, Indian I think, who wanted to have a rhinoplasty. I looked at her, and her nose was straight. When I asked her if she had problems with breathing, she said no.”
Baltateanu explains that her client just wanted a thinner and more refined nose.
She continues: “When I asked her if her friends recently had nose jobs, she said yes. After spending one hour with her, I realised that the main reason for her to undergo a surgery was peer pressure and media beauty standards.”
Baltateanu told her client that she could obtain a thinner nose with make-up. She went on to explain to her the risks of having the surgery, after which the patient agreed that the procedure wasn’t worth the risks. She opted not to have the rhinoplasty.
A problem that has surfaced from the increasing popularity in the market is a lack of awareness.
“I don’t think there is enough awareness about the risks involved,” she says. “Most of the time during a consultation their primary concern is if they will get the result desired. They are very interested in the aesthetic part and neglect the risks involved and even if they hear about the risks they don’t take it seriously.”
“Most adults don’t read the consent forms before signing — especially teenagers,” Baltateanu says. “People don’t realise that even if it’s an elective surgery, it’s still a surgery. Certain changes you make are irreversible.”
She goes on to mention that many of her patients ask to have the nose, cheek bones, or lips of a certain celebrity, such as Angelina Jolie.
“I have to explain to them that it should match the rest of their face,” she says. “The beauty is when the features are synchronising, matching.”
These days, finding out whether a nose fits your face is not a problem. Thanks to computerised imaging, patients can see how their face would look like with a certain nose or cheeks, before undergoing the procedure.
“The doctor can tell them what is achievable and what is not. And they can see by themselves if that change would make them look better or not,” explains the consultant.
According to Baltateanu, the most popular procedures for women in the UAE are the Brazilian backside augmentation, breast augmentation/reduction, rhinoplasty, facelifts and the Hollywood smile.
But the downsides don’t outweigh the positive outcomes of a booming plastic surgery market in the UAE.
“Many ladies were feeling compelled all their life or having small breasts, or having no breast at all after breast feeding. Others had really crooked noses, many after accidents,” Baltateanu says.
“Others had lost massive weight and are psychologically devastated by the loose skin, so some of them wish they were still fat. So the only solution for them is plastic surgery,” she says, before adding: “There are many, many cases in which plastic surgery improved the life of many people”.
Despite the risks of plastic surgery, such as the potential to develop an addiction to the practice, Baltateanu thinks it’s the doctor’s job to say “no” when enough is enough.
Her advice for anyone planning to get a cosmetic procedure done is to gather as much information as possible and to speak to specialised people. In addition, she adds: “Never be in a rush. It’s an elective procedure. Take the time to see three to four specialists before making a decision,” she says.
Though plastic surgery has proven to be controversial, Baltateanu has a message for those who are against it.
“I would say, ‘stop judging’,” she says. “If anybody is choosing to have a surgery it’s their decision and they are the ones supporting the consequences. Plastic surgery, like many other procedures, has advantages and disadvantages, but I still see the cosmetic surgery as the art of medicine. Some artists are doing a good job, some are not.”