LAHORE: Plastic surgery has become increasingly common in Pakistan. Scores of ‘image clinics’ have popped up all over Lahore, offering nose jobs and hair transplants and other procedures to make you look younger and more attractive.
“Cosmetic surgery, especially hair transplants, liposuction and Botox injections, have become incredibly popular over the past few years,” said plastic surgeon Dr Shahzad Rauf.
“Many Pakistani doctors who have trained in the US are now returning home.The clientele for cosmetic surgery has risen dramatically over the past five years.”
Another doctor said that few cosmetic procedures were done 20 years ago. “Back when we started it wasn’t really popular and we essentially dealt with burn victims and repair work,” said Dr Jamal Fareed, one of 60 members of the Pakistan Association of Plastic Surgeons (PAPS), which was established in 1993. “But now that the beauty industry itself has expanded people are much more conscious about their appearance and the industry is booming.”
In the west, the rise of cosmetic surgery was accompanied by a debate on the status and importance of beauty and image in society. As cosmetic surgery has taken off in Pakistan, so has this debate.
On one side is the argument that cosmetic surgery is shallow and a waste of money. “I don’t think it’s such a good thing for us to adopt the western woman’s obsession with her appearance,” said Naila Ather, a human rights worker.
“There is already enough of a divide between the average Pakistani woman and the elite socialite. Adding surgery to the mix will only mean a waste of millions of rupees that could be spent helping others.”
But others argue that cosmetic surgery is just another method that men and women use to make themselves appear more attractive. “I think that people who oppose plastic surgery are extremely narrow minded and sanctimonious,” said Nabeela, a designer.
“The same people don’t mind paying for a diamond but somehow only surgery is considered shallow. If someone has a complex about their appearance and wants to look good and can afford to make that happen, I say go for it.”
Plastic surgeons reject the charge that cosmetic surgery encourages appearance complexes and plays upon people’s insecurities. “People who are dissatisfied with their appearance can suffer severe psychological complexes and find it hard to adjust socially. All we offer is a solution,” said Dr Rauf.
But psychologist Rehana Salman said that the beauty industry encouraged people to have unrealistic ideas about what they should look like.
“The obsession started with the media and the beauty industry, which told us that growing old is a crime,” said Salman. “People are expected to always look like they are 30 and in the prime of their life. We are all working to attain the unnatural body type we see on screen. The cosmetic industry is just an offshoot that feeds on our obsession with our appearance,” she said.
She also questioned “bizarre” new procedures, such as injecting silicon and bee venom into one’s lips to make them plumper.
One of the most common cosmetic procedures is hair transplants, usually on male clients.
“It’s all about feeling good and whether or not people admit it, that often involves looking good. I spent thousands of rupees a month on gym memberships but what I was actually troubled by was my baldness. Eventually I decided to opt for a hair transplant and frankly, it was the best decision I ever made,” said banker Usman Khan.
Schoolteacher Irum Niaz felt that it was up to each individual to decide if cosmetic surgery was right for them. It is no one’s right to really judge who should or should not get plastic surgery and why.
If one’s weight or some particular feature is a cause for perpetual insecurity and is interfering with their lifestyle then they should opt to correct it if they can afford to do so,” she said.
“But the constant obsession with wrinkles and stabbing ones face with Botox injections until no one can even decipher a person’s facial expressions is taking it a bit too far. I think people need to work to strike a balance.”
Sarah, a trainee nurse at a plastic surgery clinic on MM Alam Road, said people often labeled people who underwent plastic surgery as shallow. “This is not the case at all. This is merely a choice and regardless of which one we make it is always good to know we have one,” she said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2010.