The obsession with cosmetic surgery has touched Pakistan and it’s not restricted to celebrities.
Women bring their young, unmarried daughters for nose jobs, ear tucks and most commonly, skin lightening. Visual perfection adds value when being considered for a marriage proposal and a crooked nose, protruding ears and most of all, dark skin is not considered ‘socially desirable’ in this part of the world. These are the values we live by. Men bring their wives for breast augmentation, tummy tucks and facial fillers. They themselves come for hair transplants, the most common cosmetic procedure for men in Pakistan. The list is endless; the bottom line: cosmetic surgery is no longer limited to the glamorous world of fashion and film. It isn’t just the celebrities who are running to the plastic surgeon for some sort of retooling of the face and body.
According to Dr Mabroor Bhatty, who is a pioneer in cosmetic surgery and divides his time between busy practices in Karachi and London, the ratio of housewives and celebrities opting to go under the knife to improve the way they look is an over whelming 1:1.
“Self esteem and self confidence is a bigger issue for women at home, for housewives,” Dr Bhatty elaborates, while sharing some facts with Instep. “Some of the most popular procedures are tummy tucks and liposuction, face and neck lifts, eyelid surgery and nose jobs.
“And the ratio between celebrities and housewives who come to me is 1:1,” he confirms. “So many women have started coming from interior Sindh, as far as Hyderabad and its outskirts. Rural Punjab is more aware though; elective surgery is now extremely popular amongst the zamindars’ wives.”
It seems the proverbial Chinioti woman (who has extremely deep pockets, is well travelled and eager to look her best) is now making trips to Karachi for self-improvement. It certainly is a task that requires a hefty bank balance for support. Celebrities opt for both surgical and non-invasive procedures – that may include Botox injections or fillers – simply as it stretches their shelf life and keeps their assets bankable, for longer. They recover the cost. For regular women, an approximate 200K to 350K rupees (for a surgical procedure) goes into self-esteem, an obsession with looking better and in some cases, continuing to be a wealthy and influential man’s trophy wife. One session for a facial filler can cost up to 20,000 rupees and it’s a series of injections that delivers the results.
What exactly is a filler?
“Asian skin tends to sag rather than wrinkle,” Dr Bhatty explains. “And to give it back its elasticity and fullness, fat is injected in problem areas like the cheeks and laugh lines.” There are many kinds of fillers, all addressing specific issues. As Dr Bhatty says, cosmetic surgery is not an over-the-counter solution. It has to be customized according to the patient’s requirements. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and it’s important to understand that the need for cosmetic surgery is a personal choice.
“If you see the problem and it bothers you, fix it,” he says. “Age is no barrier.”
Age may be no barrier but how much plastic surgery is enough? Ironically the term ‘ageing gracefully’ has become a euphemism for ‘good plastic surgery’.
The issue is amplified in the glamorous world of show-biz, that borrows its façade of visual perfection from plastic. How often do we see actresses transform and change altogether, often for the worse? Renee Zellweger was most recently in the line of fire; she turned up at the Elle Women in Hollywood Awards looking like someone else. Her face was totally unrecognizable. Zellweger insisted, on record, that the change in appearance was due to weight loss but experts strongly hinted at several cosmetic procedures: ‘Zellweger, they say, is now a beguiling concoction of blepharoplasty, Botox, and fillers around her nasolabial folds,’ sources suggested in slate.com. ‘One plastic surgeon told the Mirror that the procedures had “opened up her eyes and face dramatically.” including the opening of the eyelids to make her eyes look larger.’
The issue, in Hollywood, has risen like a double-edged sword. Actresses undergo procedures to retain their youthful looks and attain physical perfection but all too often in the quest, they overdo things and end up looking plain ugly.
Celebrities and cosmetic surgery go hand in hand, even in Pakistan. The pressure to look good, age gracefully or not at all and stay well-toned and youthful is immense and rising trends in cosmetic procedures are abundant. It’s difficult to resist the temptation and young models are the most vulnerable. Angelina Jolie has inspired ‘trout pouts’, those artificially plumped up lips that models love to acquire and pass off as ‘bee-stung’ lips. Liposuction becomes mandatory when skinny becomes the order of the day. Cheek implants deliver a taught face and body sculpting guarantees a matching anatomy.
While Dr Bhatty is meticulously careful not to give away any confidential information or names, even though his list of ‘celebrity’ clients is very long, fashion designer Maheen Khan – approaching her 70th birthday next year – is a self confessed poster child for his work. (Read her speak candidly in the Instep interview.)
Maheen may have exceptional restraint and knows when and where to stop but unfortunately that’s not the case with most celebrities who opt for their first surgery and tend to slip overboard. Things tend to stay balanced for regular women who go under the knife, as they are limited by financial restraints. But the million dollar question, in this case, would be: how much plastic is fantastic and how much becomes a disaster?
Dr Bhatty wraps it up very simply: “Don’t go for extremes. When the face changes then you know you’ve done too much,” he concludes. “If you can see the work, it means I haven’t done my job.”
A candid conversation with Maheen Khan…
When and what was your your first cosmetic procedure?
“I was around 50 and Nabila had just given me a life changing haircut and had stripped all my dye. So there I was; from brown, glossy shoulder length locks I had gone to white uber-short hair. Nabila introduced me to the young Dr. Mabroor Bhatty, who talked about this magic potion called Botox. I was all ears! Nabila went off for another hair cut, leaving us with a cup of coffee each. I remember then saying to the Doc, “Do you have the Botox with you?” He looked me with surprise and said, “yes in my car.”
By the time Nabila came back – which was fifteen minutes later – we were on our second coffees and YES! I’d had the injections right there in her reception area. I’ve never looked back !”
Since then what are the procedures you have undergone?
“Right at the start Dr. Bhatty said I should listen to his advice and not even start the cosmetic enhancement journey if I was going to stop and start on impulse. So yes, Botox every three months for a few years till I hit sixty, then my eyelids (that was the best thing for me as my makeup kept smudging with drooping lids).
Fillers followed soon after but I had very little administered at a time. I did not and never want to look like a puffed up, silicon filled pouty doll who can barely smile. About five years ago I had a necklift .Three years ago I said to Mabroor, I hated my sagging chin so voila! I had a half face lift.
Five days ago, just in time for my 70th, I was persuaded by Dr. Bhatty to have another little lift. He promised no bruising and no bruising there is!
Why are you an advocate of cosmetic surgery/procedures and what do you say to women who prefer to age naturally?
“Life is wonderfully full of choices. Who says I am not aging gracefully? The only difference is I am enjoying growing old gracefully MY way. I don’t want to dye my hair an unnatural brown and have that hard over-dyed look, nor do I want to camouflage my self in layers of make up and jewellery. I don’t want to compete! I just want to be me. I feel free like I never have before. I don’t need to put on any make up and I certainly don’t need to watch out for my grey roots!
Cosmetic enhancement is not something you indulge in guiltily, like a one-off delectable cream puff. It’s a lifestyle change. Trusting your cosmetic surgeon is key. The thing most women don’t realize is that each one of us reacts differently to procedures because we all ARE different. If you’re not going to enjoy it, don’t do it!”
This article was published in Instep, November 16 2014