Rise of the Duck Face: The Evolution of Plastic Surgery in Egypt
Is it time we finally drop the toxic ego about a nip and a tuck?
With the growing influence of social media and globilisation doing what it does best, Egyptians have gradually begun to break free from standards and notions that were held onto stubbornly for years, even long past their expiration. Egypt is witnessing its younger generations let go of taboos that were deeply embedded within our society with the rise of tattoos, face piercings, mini-skirts and booty shorts colouring the sandy beaches of Sahel. Similarly, the shame surrounding plastic surgery is being thrown out the window, as we see an increase of both women and men going in for their regular tummy tucks or a quick rhinoplasty procedure on their way to work.
Back in the Day
Doctor Ibrahim Naguib, who’s been a plastic surgeon in Egypt since 1993, and the medical director of the DHI clinic, attributes this change in attitude Egypt's exposure to international media, as well as a heightened level of professionalism in terms of the country’s cosmetic services.
“Back in the day, people were too shy to say they’d gotten something done. In the mid 90's, I had this regular patient who handn't told her husband about her cosmetic procedures. He’d drop her off and pick her from the clinic under the pretense that she was at the dentist. One day, he goes into the building to ask the doorman which floor the dentist's on, only to be told that there’s no dentist, but a plastic surgery clinic,” says Naguib in between fits of laughter. “So I come out of my office to this yelling; the husband was confronting his wife. He had no clue that she’d been going to a plastic surgeon this whole time.”There was a time when plastic surgery in Egypt was confined to a certain class, and was surrounded by taboo which saw patients go to great lengths to hide the work they'd have done. However, over the years, both men and women have started loosening their tight grip and outlook on plastic surgery. The change is not only confined to women, as we see an increase in the number of men getting procedures done, or asking their wives to get something done.
Now it’s men who are bringing in their wives and vice versa. Sometimes they’ll even trying to convince each other and bring over their spouse so that I can convince them that plastic surgery is fine,” says Naguib. “Plastic surgery has become more acceptable because people are getting used to it, and they aren’t as embarrassed as before to tell their friends when they’ve gotten something done. Quite the opposite actually, they’ll say it with pride.
Many of today’s surgeons were those sent in the 90's for training abroad, and as such, have brought back a higher calibre of service to Egypt, which in turn may have lead to the surge in plastic surgery within the country. It’s become more accessible, and is no longer reserved for certain social classes, as was once the case.
“Most surgeons coming up in the 90's had their training abroad. I got mine in Harvard, for example,” says Naguib. “The surge of digital satellites and the accessibility to channels from all over the world has exposed Egypt to international beauty standards, and Egyptian society has started to realise the length to which these people take care of themselves.”
I work out a lot and I'm really into fitness, but then when I see people like Kim Kardashian on my feed, and they have perfect proportions which the gym won't fix, it makes people want to do more.
While Lebanon is still the Middle Eastern spot known most for its seemingly ageless women, hourglass figures, perky bosoms and cute little button noses, Egypt is close to joining its ranks in an industry that is fast-growing within the country. It’s surprising though, that it took this long; Egypt has always had an affinity to plastic surgery. The first mention of plastic surgery dates back to an Ancient Egyptian text which detailed procedures to fix a broken nose. So when did it become taboo? When did all the stigma surrounding it surface?
“There’s this deeply rooted belief in our society that plastic surgery is haram. I was hosted on a religious channel in the mid 90's where I had a debate with one of the Azhar sheikhs about whether or not plastic surgery is halal or haram,” says Naguib. “It was a very pleasant and respectful debate where I was talking science and he was talking religion. The conclusion was that it's not haram so long as the aim or the intention of getting something done isn’t haram. So, for example if you’re doing it to get a job or do something that is haram, then no. However, if you’re doing it for yourself, your self-image or for your husband because it’s something that’s affecting your married life, then it’s fine.”
Everyone was under the impression that I’d look plastic and fake. They had this misinterpretation that if you do anything cosmetic, it automatically means you’re going to look fake.
25-year-old Maha*, who got her lips done as well as fillers under her eyes, attributes her decision to a certain extent to the influences of social media.
“Social media definitely played a role in my decision because it alters the way we view beauty. You kind of think to yourself, I want to look like that, and it starts bringing out your insecurities,” explains Maha*, “That being said though, I don’t think people should aim to completely alter their appearance. I think cosmetic surgery should be used to enhance your features, not completely change them. It's kind of like makeup; when I put make-up on, I don’t use contouring for example, because it kind of reshapes your face. That being said , of course I think of doing more stuff. I work out a lot and I'm really into fitness, but then when I see people like Kim Kardashian on my feed and they have perfect proportions which the gym won't fix, it makes people want to do more."
In Egypt, the procedure in high demand is liposuction, and recently, Brazilian butts, which is a procedure that involves taking a patient's fat and placing it somewhere else. As we continue to look for our inspiration in the Kardashian family, trends are affected mostly by what we’re subjected to through social media. Dr.Mariam Ismail, who's been in the industry for 14 years years, and is the co-founder of Ismail Clinic, went into it initially because of her father, who was the first plastic surgeon to get into micro-surgery. Ismail affirms the tie between social media and the demand on certain cosmetic procedures.
“All over social media now, the focus is on the Brazilian butt, before that it was all about being skinny, and before that it was boobs. I think each person needs to be different as each one of us has something that is beautiful. So look into the trend, if it matches you and if you’re convinced with it, then make your decision based on that conviction rather than following whatever trend comes up,” says Ismail. The plastic surgery epidemic is not just restricted to women though, as a significant number of men resort to liposuction as well as rhinoplasty. Men, however, might not always be as open about it.
“The most prevalent procedure among men is liposuction, but there are other procedures. Usually, the patient will come in with a lot of explanations, like he’s gotten into a fight so he wants to fix something or whatever,” says Ismail. “ But I think it’s just to show character, especially when you’re a female surgeon. That being said, I am happy that men have become more open minded where plastic surgery is concerned."
As society overall starts shifting gears where cosmetic surgery is concerned, the field sees women and men of all classes coming in for their nip/tucks and hospitals encouraging it.
“It used to be limited to a certain class, but now it’s a little bit of everyone. Qasr El Einy does boob jobs and liposuction. All the patient needs to pay for is the implants, but the operation is free,” explains Ismail. “Social media and this global exposure has made idols of these international celebrities. Back then, you had mainly breast reductions, which were usually due to back pains for example, so they were mainly out of necessity. Now, someone’s getting it just because they want it.”
we’ve been socialised into thinking that beauty is puffed lips for example
It's Not About Religion Anymore
While Maha* got some negative feedback when she decided to go through with her cosmetic procedures, it had more to do with a general misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the procedures she wanted to get done, as opposed to being against the idea itself, for religious or social reasons.
“Everyone was under the impression that I’d look plastic and fake. They had this misinterpretation that if you do anything cosmetic, it automatically means you’re going to look fake,” explains Maha*. “But that’s dependent on the patient. Those who have huge lips wanted them like that. I wanted something minimal. I only tweaked, and I’m open about it. Besides, now you even have veiled women and religious people having work done. It's not about religion anymore”
Having Haifa Wahby, Nancy Ajram, Kim Kardashian and Nikki Minaj among others as idols for our youths begs the question: is this healthy? Are these stereotypes we’re allowing younger generations to grow up with as role models a realistic ideal? Might this recent liberalism feed into a negative body image and a regressing form of self-consciousness?
Ismail cites three main things: first and foremost, that keep anyone looking good and young, "a healthy diet, drinking a lot of water and sports. And since our culture hasn't always necessarily integrated that into their daily routines, they age earlier,” says Ismail. “However now with sexy music videos, featuring typically 'hot' singers playing everywhere, in cafes, in clubs, we’ve been socialised into thinking that beauty is puffed lips for example. That’s the concept of beauty now. Beauty, in my opinion, is all about being natural. It’s in finding a middle ground where you still look natural even if you’ve had work done. Lebanese women are beautiful sure, but it’s not natural beauty, and you can tell.”
The age range of women getting plastic surgery is getting younger as well, with both clinics seeing women in their 20's and their 30's coming in for cosmetic procedures. Some patients tend to go overboard, which we’ve seen abroad with the likes of Donatella Versace and lil' Kim for example. And apparently, they’ve got a name for it in the plastic surgery world.“Plastic surgery cripples are those who’ve started doing one thing and then just haven’t stopped, couldn’t stop. They’ve kept doing it even when it was not indicated for them. It’s the role of the surgeon though, not the patient, to make sure that doesn’t happen,” says Naguib. “Unfortunately, some won’t always advise their patients accordingly because of the financial benefits.”
Becoming addicted to the knife is without a doubt a serious concern shared by those in the plastic surgery field. Though you won't always hear about it as a touted condition, there are people who, for one reason or another, will never see an end to their imperfections, and with surgery becoming more and more available, and with capitalism being what it is, it's a seemingly permanent, albeit sparse phenomenon.
The Brazilian Bottom Line
Whether it spreads between social classes, different creeds, gets cheaper or more expensive, the acceptance of plastic surgery is, for all intents and purposes, on the rise. So maybe next time you consider getting your nose done or your ears stapled, remember that there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to accept your own body. Especially if it's something readily available.
*Name has been changed upon interviewee's request to protect their privacy.
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