Nip and tuck culture booms

2011-06-25 16:39

Every time Mandisa* looked in the mirror, all she saw was “this big, chunky person”.

A low-fat diet and lots of gym time made no difference: her love handles, tummy and outer thighs wouldn’t slim down, and the extra kilos undermined her confidence.

So the 31-year-old business analyst took out a loan, found a plastic surgeon, assessed all the risks and had 2.7 litres of fat siphoned from her body.

Her friends were excited and supportive – but Mandisa still hasn’t told her mother. “I know she’d disapprove,” she says.

Yet judging from how celebrities like Khanyi Mbau and Uyanda Mbuli publicly extol the virtues of cosmetic surgery, attitudes are changing. The number of black women seeking this type of surgery has increased dramatically.

Two Johannesburg surgeons say their patient numbers have leapt 10-fold in the past 10 years.

“We have no official statistics available to us in South Africa,” says Dr Chris Snijman of the Association of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons of Southern Africa, “but anecdotally we are definitely seeing more patients of colour.”

“Numbers have exploded,” says Dr Saul Braun. “Several things are driving the incredible growth.

“First, there is an economic group that can afford it, and secondly, there’s an aspiration towards a more Western look, there’s no doubt about it.

“Women are sculpting themselves from the top down.”

Breast reductions, enlargements and lifts are all popular, as are liposuction, tummy tucks, and increasingly, nose jobs.

Jason Sive of First Health ­Finance, which provides loans for medical and cosmetic surgery, says black client numbers have jumped from just 5% of applications in 2008 to 12% last year. Clients from Johannesburg and Cape Town make up 90% of this figure.

Sive says TV shows like Dr 90210 and Nip/Tuck have popularised cosmetic surgery and the subject is no longer taboo.

“As the work environment becomes more competitive, image does play a part, and many women pay to retain that youthful image, or restore their self-confidence.”

Dr Moshe Fayman, a Johannesburg plastic surgeon, attributes the boom to improved economic status and increased media exposure. But he adds that thanks to a competitive job market “some (young African professionals) request cosmetic surgery to improve their competitiveness”.

Mandisa says she had surgery for herself, but concedes: “The pressure to look good is very high, you must, must look good.

“I think it’s partly the media and the places we go to; you see these slim beautiful models, and everyone thinks that if you want to look beautiful, you must be skinny. But I did it for me, not for any man, or for work?.?.?.”

Zodwa?Kumalo-Valentine, ­assistant editor of Marie Claire, says “women in business, socialites, ladies who lunch and housewives” are flocking to treatment – as long as they have the disposable income, which means largely 30-something-year-olds and older. And she doesn’t think they’re ­hiding it.

Some are completely open – such as Tselane Tambo, who televised her liposuction treatment, and singer KB, who told True Love about her breast reduction.

“It’s certainly not anything to be ashamed of (unless it’s a face-lift),” says Kumalo-Valentine.

Claudia Tshiloz (39), a PA based in Johannesburg, had a breast reduction two years ago.

Her size 42DD breasts had caused her severe back pain – her medical aid paid for the procedure on advice from an orthopaedic expert – and she went down to a size 38C. Although she didn’t have the procedure just to look good, she did appreciate looking slimmer.

“I don’t think women have a problem with plastic surgery, but my ex-boyfriend asked me why I did it,” Tshiloz says. “The men I know think it was wrong, but the women supported me.”

Dr Braun has noticed different attitudes from men and women.

While women want the “Western” look – more defined noses, slimmer body contours – “husbands admit that they admire and are attracted to the Western look, but prefer the more traditional look for their wives”.

Snijman notes body fashions are not static. “Most patients are not requesting a European look, but?.?.?.?a less ‘African look’.”

Kumalo-Valentine thinks women are simply “improving” on the fuller figure.

“I do think there has been a slight shift towards the Western ideal but the majority of black women still appreciate a fuller figure,” she says. “We love Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé’s bodies as ideals – tight and curvy.”

Judith Smith, director of the Southern African Media and Gender Institute, thinks the increasing pressure on black women to emulate a more “Western” body image is to fit narrow definitions of beauty and is “sad”. “This is becoming a global standard of what a woman should look like.”

Whatever their reasons, women are prepared to pay to change.

“Most procedures cost between R30?000 and R40?000,” says Sive.

Black women applying to First Health Finance are on average 36 years old and earn between R10?000 and R65?000 a month.

Both Tshiloz and Mandisa shrug off criticism that suggests that women are being pressured to conform.

“Any woman has a right to do whatever they want to with their bodies,” says Mandisa.

“If they feel a leaner body will make them feel good, they should go for it. It was expensive (R35?000), but worth every cent. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

* Name changed

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