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If looks could kill

Is our crusading Health Minister aware that corrective surgeries could go horribly wrong? Lalita Panicker examines.
Hindustan Times | By Lalita Panicker
UPDATED ON APR 14, 2008 09:49 PM IST

A giga-gorgeous celebrity who gets paid serious money just to look good will tell us that beauty comes from within. Sorry, we didn’t hear that. We were so busy looking at the glossy hair, the flawless skin, the hourglass figure, the impossible eyelashes, the pert nose and wondering how much it would cost to get bits of our superstructure rearranged. Show us a woman, or man for that matter, who says they are happy looking like an unkempt heap, and we’ll show you a congenital liar.

Today, there is no embarrassment about admitting that your suddenly perfect figure is the result of a bit of nip and tuck. In fact, those in the business proudly advertise their wares to which people are flocking in droves. On any given day, various magazines and papers carry ads from service providers of laser surgery, dental management, hair regeneration and skin resurfacing to name but a few. It is quite in vogue now to gift your loved one or friends such services. Some ads promise that you can pop in during lunch hour and come away with fuller lips and no wrinkles. All gain, and no pain.

Laser surgery, which is advertised as your path to smooth and hairless skin nirvana or even your ticket to perfect vision could have several adverse side-effects if administered by those who are not qualified to do so. There have been several instances of clients sustaining laser burns, or in the best-case scenario, undergoing laser treatment which has not produced the desired results. Consider this. Laser beams applied to the skin are of such great heat as to burn up hair follicles. In the unfortunate event that the laser is not calibrated accurately, you can imagine the horrific fallout.

It is no one’s case that people should not use technology to enhance their looks. A person with imperfections, perceived or otherwise, in an increasingly surgically perfect world suffers enormous mental trauma. So, if there are services that can make a person look and feel good, all the better. But there seems to be a distinct confusion over beauty treatments and procedures that are medical in nature. A laser intervention is not your common and garden hair colouring procedure or manicure. It can only be administered by skilled medical personnel. It is not the sort of thing that you nip around for on your day off to your friendly neighbourhood beauty saloon.

As with most services in India, the client is hardly ever told about all the things that can go wrong. Similarly, given the adage that you can never be too rich or too thin, many of us with Kate Moss-ian ambitions will stop at nothing to whittle off a few inches come what may. Enter the slimming clinic which promises that a new toned up, slimmed down version of you will emerge without diets and exercise. Fat burning pills are one option, diet shakes and machines that will do your exercise for you are others. Of course, if all else fails, you will go in for liposuction and vacuum away all those unwanted inches. All these have dangerous downsides. But do we care in whose hands we are literally putting our lives into? It would seem not. The idea is you win some, you lose some.

The other wheeze that many people fall for is the herbal option. So you have clinics that claim that by using herbal potions, your flaws will be organically erased. And massage clinics which promise that a good pummel or two will break down the fat in your body that will then be expelled the natural way. Of course, if wishes were horses, we would all look like George Clooney or Angelina Jolie.

Likewise, the crazed pursuit of glassless vision. Perhaps, we’ve had too much of Dorothy Parker who said that men never make passes at girls with glasses. So, despite many doctors advising that stringent tests be undergone before opting for laser vision correction, it has now become a procedure where the patient demands and the clinic delivers.

Like a medication which is by law expected to list its side-effects on the container, advertisements for beauty enhancing techniques should be made to publicly state where exactly things can go wrong and what health profile is required of a prospective client. A well-known dental surgeon once told me that though teeth whitening denuded the much-needed enamel, patients demanded such services despite the doctor’s cautionary warning.

The intrepid Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, whose concern for the nation’s health is second to none given his aggressive anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns might like to take a look at this. Clinics offering laser surgery for pigmentation, scar removal and skin whitening have sprung up at every nook and corner. Do we really know the qualifications of the people who operate these sophisticated and potentially dangerous machines? No, we are unable to tell where beauty treatments end and medical procedures begin.

It has been a constant complaint from doctors that they are consulted only after the damage has been done. Even ordinary beauty procedures conducted by ill-trained persons can end up causing grave damage, triggering allergies and skin disorders. Though we are careful with the medicines that we take internally, we are most cavalier about what we slap onto our skin in clinics. The recent case of a young girl who was prescribed a strong drug by a beauty clinic for acne should be an eye-opener. Unable to bear the imperfections which come with growing up, she took the drug that has left her temporarily blind. Much like the idiot box and play stations that we are addicted to, anything that is an eyesore is to be zapped away.

A while ago, a popular beauty clinic would advertise its slimming services quoting its prices per kilo lost. This would suggest that the clinic would actually tell the client to lose more kilos than required to make more of a profit. The sad part about all this ‘get pretty quick’ syndrome is that most of us who go in for these offers are well aware that they are either temporary or dodgy. But it’s addictive. Oprah Winfrey, the talk show host whose waxing and waning girth makes as much news as the dips in the Federal Reserve interest rates, once had a young woman on her show who after 24 plastic surgeries said that she would go in for procedures all her life as she was in quest for the Holy Grail of perfect looks. Still others said that they were suffering from the trauma of looking like someone else after going in for surgery.

By all means, people should go in for corrective surgery if it helps. But this must be done by trained professionals who should evaluate whether or not a person requires surgical or laser intervention and also tell her or him the possible adverse impacts. But as we all know, a sucker is born every minute. So we will suspend judgment when an ad tells us that there is way to stop hair falling in one hour, that you can actually go in for permanent weight reduction, that your skin will be fairer in a week failing which you’ll get your money back and that the parts of you which are sagging will miraculously regain their youthful bounce. Don’t people read the fine print, you may ask. No, because there is none. And what’s more, we don’t really want to know as long as we end as walking advertisements of the fact that beauty really is only skin deep.

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