An inside look into men's plastic surgery in the UAE
Dear men, are you happy with your physical appearance?
If you’re buffed within an inch of your life and spend your weekends strutting around Barasti wearing nothing but a pair of shorts, then the answer is likely to be in the affirmative. For the rest of us, though, especially if we’re desk-bound eight hours a day, five days a week and are over the age of 40, our physiques are likely to be far from what we perceive as ideal. And for a growing number of men in the UAE, plastic surgery is a viable answer to those nagging doubts about their appearance. Chest-and stomach-fat removal, facelifts, hair transplants, nose jobs, buttock, calf, bicep and jaw implants – the list of available procedures is extensive, and men are forming an orderly queue to sort out what they deem to be unacceptable physical flaws.
Number of men seeking surgery has jumped over the past 10 years
Dr Frank Conroy, plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic surgeon at Dubai’s American Hospital, says there has always been a small number of men seeking and inquiring about cosmetic surgery.
“But over the past 10 years,” he says, “there seems to have been a huge increase. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were 1.3 million cosmetic procedures performed on men in 2017. The most common trend [in this region] revolves around body contouring, namely abdominoplasty, male breast reduction surgery and liposuction. The most common non-surgical procedures are botulinum toxin injections, or ‘Brotox’, and facial fillers.”
Incurable vanity is not the only driver when it comes to men seeking out cosmetic surgery; there are practical considerations, too.
“The most extreme surgery I have undertaken was on a patient who had undergone bariatric surgery and lost a huge amount of weight, resulting in swaths of skin hanging from his abdomen, thighs and arms,” recalls Conroy.
“While there was a cosmetic element to the surgeries, they were carried out more for functional reasons. We performed a brachioplasty [arm lift], thigh lift, and face and neck lift. The surgeries were staged over a two-year period to ensure optimal patient safety, healing and recovery.”
Dr Mario Russo, specialist plastic reconstructive surgeon and director of medical affairs at Dubai’s Aesthetica Clinic, says that chin reconstruction is a popular procedure at his clinic.
“Lots of men have beards in this country,” he says, “and they tend to highlight perceived flaws. But with injections of fat in the area, it’s a quick and effective treatment. Some patients are in and out within a very short time, and can often go back to work the same day.”
Why, though, has there been an upsurge in the numbers of men wanting to go under the knife? It’s a valid question because, as each of the surgeons we have spoken to is keen to remind us, we’re talking about often-invasive medical operations, some of which present very real risks.
Dr Jaffer Khan has been practising in Dubai for two decades and is the founder of Aesthetics International and Nova Clinic. “Over the years, men have become increasingly interested in improving their appearance, and the taboo around male plastic surgery is definitely fading,” he says. “This is largely influenced by social media, and also as [some] employers seek out younger candidates.”
Could selfies be to blame?
It’s becoming obvious to many mental health experts that the relentless posting of selfies (known in the profession as “selfitis”) on social media can be a sign of issues such as low self-esteem and even narcissism, so surely there must be cases where surgeons should be referring clients to psychologists before agreeing to perform any sort of cosmetic enhancement?
“Only last week,” says Russo, “I saw a patient who was obviously suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. There’s a journey involved with cosmetic surgery, from start to finish, and mental balance is a vital part of that – a good surgeon will quickly identify if there are psychological issues. Obviously some people, including many celebrities, don’t know where to stop, but it’s our duty to be honest with patients.”
Conroy adds: “If I need to, I will refer patients to a clinical psychologist. The reasons for this are varied, but you do develop a sixth sense for patients who may require input from a psychologist. I find it abhorrent that some so-called plastic surgeons operate on patients multiple times, take vast sums of money from them and potentially put them at risk, when all along they required psychological help and not cosmetic surgery.”
The initial consultation session, then, is of paramount importance for both doctor and patient. Conroy says his consultation process takes place over a minimum of two appointments and that it’s always carried out by him.
“I want to identify their exact problem,” he explains. “For a patient to say ‘I don’t like my face, can you fix it, doctor?’ isn’t good enough. I want to know exactly what they do not like about their face. Is it too wrinkled, too saggy? I can only begin to formulate a surgical plan when I know exactly what the issue is.”
In terms of procedures, there’s not much that can’t be legally done in the UAE. Medical tourism is recognised as being an important contributor to economic growth, with patients coming here from all over the GCC and Europe.
But it remains vital for anyone considering surgery to carry out due diligence and verify the credentials of any surgeon or clinic. As with any profession, there are plenty of scruple-free charlatans out there working illegally, so tread carefully – a botched surgery can be irreversible.
“I see more and more patients,” says Conroy, “coming to see me with problems following surgery performed in various ‘clinics’ in this region, which need putting right. So I’m always happy to help educate people.”
There’s much more to cosmetic surgery, of course, than fixing a hooked or crooked nose, or artificially creating a six-pack or pert posterior. Victims of traffic accidents, burns and other events that cause physical trauma, as well as those born with defects such as cleft palates, have their lives immeasurably improved by skilled plastic surgeons.
Being happy with appearance can be a cornerstone of mental well-being
And before we dismiss those seeking help for overactive sweat glands, protruding ears or that stubborn spare tyre around the midriff as being vainglorious attention-seekers, consider that being happy with one’s appearance is a cornerstone of mental well-being for many of us.
However, taking stock of your reasons and mental state at the time of taking the decision to change your looks is imperative. As Dr Maher Alahdab, a leading double-board-certified plastic surgeon practising in Dubai and Riyadh, says: “If a patient came to me asking for a procedure following a significant life event, such as a divorce or losing their job, I would counsel them to wait. I would typically request they take a couple of months to consider the procedure, and then return only once they’ve thought through all aspects.”