Last year, Suman*, 23, asked her mother to stop looking for a marriage partner for her daughter. One potential match, a “handsome man” had rejected her just because her face had a scar.
“I did not even want to meet him because I knew I would be rejected,” Suman says. “A good-looking man would obviously want to marry a beautiful woman.” Suman, a primary school teacher in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, has the scar, a deep one running from her nose to her upper lip, since she was five. “I was playing in the fields and came too close to a rice thresher,’ she recalls. “I have had this scar ever since. It is very prominent. People turn back to look at me and pass comments wherever I go.”
Suman decided to have her scar surgically removed after she failed to find a good match for more than a year. The trigger was when one man, whom she really liked, rejected her. “No one looked beyond the scar. I did not want to feel insulted every time someone rejected me. So, I told my mother that I wanted surgery, no matter what the cost,” says the daughter of a sweet-shop owner. “I told them to spend less on the wedding, if need be,” she said. Suman had her first operation this July, which set her back by Rs 1.5 lakh. A follow-up surgery is scheduled in April 2017.
Makeovers before marriage have gone beyond facials. An increasing number of brides- and grooms-to-be are now turning to the scalpel to smooth out or erase what society deems a flaw in their looks.
Scar revisions top the list, with some doctors seeing more and more young men and women looking to fix inner-wrist scars from attempted suicides before they head to the mandap. Dr Manoj Johar, director and head of department of plastic surgery at Max Super-speciality Hospital, Patparganj, receives one or two cases like this every month. His patients are typically between the ages of 16 or 17 and their early 30s. “The scars are a cry for help,” Dr Johar says. “Quite a few of the patients who came to me had tried to cut themselves two or three times. This means they do not have stress-management skills and need counselling. However, they aren’t interested in it and want to just get rid of the scars.”
Eliminating scars completely is not possible, so doctors now modify them to make them look less obvious. Dr Johar relies on lesion suturing (sewing skin together with tiny stitches), laser treatments, local flap surgery, fillers, liposuction or chemical peels, depending on the depth and size of the scar. Surgeries can cost up to Rs 2.5 lakhs, determined by how much work is involved.
Many prospective brides and grooms also seek help removing birth marks and scars from accidents to avoid facing repeated rejections when looking for a partner. “Sometimes, they also want to correct scars that are not visible to the public,” Dr Johar says. “I got a patient who wanted a scar on her breast removed as she didn’t want her fiancé to see it.”
Dr Aamod Rao, a cosmetic surgeon at Get Enhanced Clinic, Santa Cruz, Mumbai, says that liposuction and breast implants are amongst the most common surgeries performed in the months leading up to the November-December wedding season.
These range from simpler, less invasive treatments like skin lightening, correction of nose deformities and lip fillers, to complicated procedures like the Brazilian Butt-Lift. Women opt for the latter to make their behinds look fuller, rounder and firmer. “We extract fat from other areas of the body (generally the abdomen) and create a graft which is then induced in the buttocks to give a fuller look,” says Dr Rao.
Rao himself performs roughly three surgeries a month on brides-to-be. “I advise patients to get operated at least three months before the wedding day because it may leave scars,” he says.
Hymen repair is a less common procedure, but Dr Rashmi Taneja, senior consultant of plastic and cosmetic surgery at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, Delhi, receives 4 or 5 such requests in a year, with the women hailing mostly from outside Delhi. “There are girls who come in to the city and have relationships with boys from a different community. When there is pressure from the parents for an arranged marriage, the women get a repair procedure so that they do not face problems after marriage,” said Dr Taneja.
Sometimes, the effects of a previous relationship are far more visible. Doctors find that tattoo removal, too, is quite common among brides and grooms-to-be. Many come in specifically to remove or disguise tattoos that feature the names of their exes. “I get 2 to 3 cases in a month of people wanting to remove the names of their exes,” says Dr Johar. Removing a tattoo is many times more expensive than getting one. Depending on the size and the colour, a person may require one or multiple sittings, and a laser treatment can cost anywhere from Rs 20,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Procedure for breast reduction, enhancement and correction of asymmetry are also common among those planning their wedding. “Women are conscious about their breasts before marriage. Those with smaller breasts want to get it enlarged, the ones who have asymmetrical breasts want to get it corrected,” says Dr Taneja.
At Breach Candy Hospital, Mumbai, one in five patients under senior cosmetic surgeon Dr Mohan Thomas is male, young and all set to wed. The men typically look to treat untimely hair-loss and augment enlarged breasts to fit the flat, muscular shape considered socially acceptable.
Twenty-two-year-old Raj’s* breasts began to swell after he attained puberty. “It was not evident if I was wearing a shirt, but if I went swimming or wore a vest you could tell something was off,” he says. “I became so conscious that I quit swimming in class 9.” In college, he tried burning off that excess fat at the gym. “I did several push ups. When I did not see any results after eight to ten months, I had to go to the doctor,” he says.
Raj recently joined a technology firm after completing his BTech. He used the two-month gap between college and his job for a surgical procedure to remove fat from his chest. It cost him Rs 1 lakh.
Dr Thomas also cites cross-cultural alliances as one of the reasons for pre-wedding cosmetic corrections. “When people feel they embody a certain ethnic stereotype, they worry that they might not be accepted by their in-laws” He sees many patients from the North-East, marrying outside of their region, and choosing to adapt their features to assimilate better.
At Fortis hospital, Mumbai, cosmetic surgeon Dr Vinod Vij, has a different taken on the issue. “It is a common perception that women get enhancement procedures to please their husbands. But it’s mainly for personal fulfilment. Marriage is just a good opportunity to do it.”
Snehal Bisht, 27-year-old corporate administrator from Navi Mumbai had everything she needed to take her fiancé’s travel business to the next level. One thing was holding her back: her face. Bisht developed prominent pore-related scars at puberty. She wanted them gone.
Six months before her wedding in November 2015, Bisht did what more and more young brides today are considering. She booked herself in for a one-day laser scar-removal treatment at a local clinic. “I was sceptical of such an extreme solution, as society considers it tampering with your natural features,” Bisht says. “However, my fiancé and my family encouraged me to try it. It changed my life.” Bisht has now taken over marketing and operations in her husband’s company.
Interestingly, cosmetic surgeries still comprise only about 5% to 10% of the total number of surgeries in the country. “Just about 5% of my surgeries are for cosmetic purposes,” says Dr Shahin Nooreyezdan, plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Apollo Delhi.
(* Names changed on request)