What are people changing about themselves in Africa?

Why are so many people going under to lift up? As a medical science, many of the practices related to cosmetic surgery are still relatively new, but primitive cosmetic procedures have been around since 2000BC. Nowadays though, cosmetic surgery is almost de rigueur for many sectors of society - an often contemplated and regularly undertaken process, more excitedly approached, the older one gets. Among the well-heeled members of society, for whom the benefits of cosmetic surgery are more easily and economically accessible, it’s very obvious that it’s become well accepted and almost expected. A 2014 report released by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), highlighted a definite increase in the demand for cosmetic surgical procedures, with “15.1 million cosmetic surgery procedures, including both minimally-invasive and surgical procedures” being performed in the United States in 2013, up 3 percent since 2012. In addition, 5.7 million reconstructive surgery procedures were performed last year, up 2 percent”.

The Selfie Trend Effect

Interestingly – and possibly hilariously – the trend of snapping a selfie seems to have stoked the fires of cosmetic surgery. As the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) reported in 2014 too, “one in three facial plastic surgeons surveyed saw an increase in requests for procedures due to patients being more self aware of their looks in social media posts. In fact, 13 percent of AAFPRS members surveyed identified increased photo sharing and patients’ dissatisfaction with their own image on social media sites as a rising trend in practice. As a result, AAFPRS members surveyed noted a 10 percent increase in rhinoplasty in 2013 over 2012, as well as a 7 percent increase in hair transplants and a 6 percent increase in eyelid surgery”. And you thought that selecting the right kind of Instagram filter was enough…

Not Just Vanity

But it’s not just vanity that’s spurring people into surgeries. For a certain number of clients the need for cosmetic surgery is exactly that...a need. Cancer patients who have had to undergo mastectomies having breast implants becomes more than a vanity procedure. This is also true for women who are born with large breasts, which start to pose a number of health problems such as neck and back pain, skin rashes, breathing difficulties, problems with posture and nerve problems. To curb these issues, women then opt for breast reduction as a way of improving their quality of life. Those who are born with facial deformities also fall under this category as cosmetic surgery gives them a much-needed chance to live a normal life amongst their peers.

Signing up to go under, in pursuit of perkier breasts or a thinner waist, has become quite a popular practice nowadays. While plastic surgeons seem to be raking in the millions as more and more people sign up for nips, tucks and snips, what’s really happening to the idea of growing old with grace?

But what are people changing about themselves in Africa?

With the newly classified African Middle Class becoming more affluent and cosmetic surgery losing its taboo status, reports indicate that more and more black clientele are going under the knife. While one would think the most popular surgical procedures would be breast implants, the opposite is true with nip-and-tuck procedures, breast reductions and even lip reductions topping the list. South Africans are not the only ones who are following this trend, in an interview with Voice of Africa, Dr Lorraine Melvill, of Surgeon and Safari, noted that there has been an upsurge of clients who are making their way down the continent for cosmetic surgery. Due to South Africa offering a favourable exchange rate and first-class and safer methods and health institutions, the increase has resulted in 80% of her client base now coming from sub-Saharan Africa, mostly from Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Angola and Zambia, with an increasing number from Ghana. In tune with their South African counterparts, African clients are also choosing breast reduction over enhancement, liposuction and tummy tucks.

What’s next for fans of surgical enhancements?

The enhancing of posterior assets seem to be popular right now, especially thanks to the likes of Kim Kardashian and others and more women are heading to their surgeons for a little extra padding on the posterior. Why? Perhaps it’s because they’d like to snap beautiful belfies. Search the hashtag “#belfie” on your favourite social network and you’ll be greeted with grand displays of backwards glancing people, showing off what they sit on. It seems the butt is on the up, with Brazilian surgeons reporting that they performed 64 000 buttock augmentation surgeries in 2013. But like anything in the world, there is always more on the horizon. Offering women the ability to ‘test drive’ a new set of breasts, Dr Norman Rowe’s aptly named “vacation breasts” could be the next big thing in surgical circles. Dr Rowe claims a quick fix, temporary surgical solution whereby breasts can be temporarily enhanced for 24 hours. Great for those who need to look their best or most buxom under the glare of a camera or at a special event, Dr Rowe’s patients undergo a quick procedure whereby the doctor injects their breasts with a saline solution, temporarily increasing their size and fullness.

Dr Rowe claims he’s been using this technique to help patients get a better feel for how they will look once they’ve had a full breast augmentation surgery but also for patients who may want to enjoy a bigger cup size for a bit. He’s currently conducting trials to make these implants last up to two weeks, making them the perfect kind of “holiday breasts”. Dr Rowe is working towards FDA approval and getting this surgical enhancement into the general marketplace by 2016. Another surgical procedure that seems to be catching on is the strangely named, yet apparently popular, “Cinderella Surgery”. Many women seem to be signing up for this type of procedure to adjust the size and shape of their feet, enabling them to fit more comfortably into designer shoes. Often also referred to in relation to the globally renowned Jimmy Choo shoe range, foot re-shaping procedures are becoming more and more popular with women all over the world.

A Fountain of Money, in Pursuit of the Fountain of Youth

But, of course, staving off the effects of ageing or altering one’s body to stay on trend doesn’t come cheap. Cosmetic surgery remains a hobby for the richer members of society - especially as most medical aids or medical financial cover programmes don’t make allocation for the more vanity-induced sorts of surgery. In comparison to overseas countries though, the cost of surgical procedures performed here is minimal. It’s for that reason then, that many tourists flock to South African shores to reap the benefits of cheaper, professional surgical assistance. With well-qualified surgeons and an exchange rate that favours foreigners’ wallets, combined with the country’s tourist attractions, South Africa is fast becoming a popular place to visit, if you’d like to return home a little differently. The Medical Tourism industry is booming in South Africa, with a range of travel and tourism operators focused on fulfilling this unique type of travel and accommodation need. Larger tourism operators have begun offering specialized packages or service sets that cater for this particular need, while other smaller companies have cropped up, providing niche and specialized services for tourists keen on the South African sunshine and scalpels.

Locally, South Africans are opting to take out finance in order to get the body they believe they should have been born with. First Health Insurance (FHI), a financial institution that provides loans for plastic surgery, applications to the value of R100 million were lodged in 2012 and anticipated a lot more for 2013/2014. Without the required cash on hand South Africans are willing to put up their valuable items as the required collateral for surgery-related loans But it’s not all roses and recovery There’s a dark side to cosmetic surgery that many conveniently forget about in their excitement. Any and all surgical procedures carry some level of risk and, with cosmetic surgeries; these risks are often even higher. Aside from life-threatening complications, side effects or scarring, procedures can go wrong, leaving patients disfigured or in pain for life. Perhaps the allure of the fountain of youth’s sweet, yet illusionary, elixir is too much. But, as more and more people sign up to lift up, nip out or tuck in their bodies to look younger or different, we can’t help but wonder – is it really worth it, after all?