“I can now wear my favourite fitted clothes, be it a sari or designer dress, without fretting about unsightly bulges,” beams 49-year-old Rashmi Shah*, a Mumbai homemaker who underwent an abdominoplasty.
This operation, where a cosmetic surgeon removes excess skin and fat from the abdomen, can cost between `60,000 and 125,000. After surgery, tubes are placed for as many as four days beneath the operated area to drain accumulating fluid. Sutures, unless they’re the self-absorbing kind, are removed after 10 to 12 days. It takes nearly six weeks to resume normal activity. The surgical scars take at least four months to fade. Those undergoing an abdominoplasty endure all that and the accompanying pain. Still the “fix” often rebuilds confidence. “Despite all my exercise and care, the one thing I couldn’t fight was aging, and I hated my love handles,” says Rashmi, who wore a corset for six months following the operation. “I’m happy now.”
Rashmi’s cosmetic surgeon says he had turned down her earlier requests for the operation because she had been working out regularly to shed the fat, which, he suggested, was a better solution than any invasive procedure. “But I’d had enough of doing sit-ups,” Rashmi explains ruefully. “It is frustrating when you try so hard to stay in shape and one part of your body does not respond.”
Any elective surgery might seem like an extreme way to manage midlife, but an ever-increasing number of people—especially women between ages 35 and 50—are choosing cosmetic procedures. The surgery comes with its own risks—right from the subsequent need for corrective surgeries, in many cases, to the body’s own difficulty in accepting artificial enhancement or reduction. Patients with medical histories, like cardiac problems or diabetes, often invite trouble when they opt for cosmetic procedures. And, above all, the need for such surgery may often be a psychological one, arising from an innate sense of inadequacy or a traumatic past that remains unaddressed.
“Health in general has improved and people are living longer,” observes Dr Anil Tibrewala, a Mumbai-based consultant plastic surgeon who has been in practice since 1989. “They might think, ‘I may live another 20 years. Do I have to look like this?’ Years ago, had my sister told our father that she wanted a breast augmentation done, he’d have been bewildered. Today, things are different. The number of patients I have has increased three-fold since I started out.”
Not surprising, because cosmetic surgery no longer raises eyebrows. Nor is it restricted to those in show business or the wealthy. “One day a paan-stall owner came to me asking that I fix his nose,” Dr Tibrewala recalls. “He thought his nose was a bit too broad.”
Surgical techniques have advanced too. “Infection following surgery is a rare occurrence now and administration of anesthetics is well-monitored,” reassures Dr Tibrewala.
Cosmetic surgery has a long history in India. Sushruta, an Ayurvedic surgeon who lived in the 6th century BC, described procedures like rhinoplasty—reconstruction of the nose—and various forms of skin grafts. Plastic surgeons have always needed to do skilled repairs
*Name changed on request.
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