Why More Blacks Are Choosing Plastic Surgery

Article excerpt

WITH the popularity of TV shows such as ABC's Extreme Makeover and Fox's The Swan, plastic surgery has become the thing to do for many Americans--Blacks included--who get nipped, tucked, injected, peeled, plumped and plucked in an effort to preserve their youth, turn back the clock or change the face and body that time, gravity and genetics have seemingly abandoned.

In 2002, there were 375,025 Black cosmetic surgery patients, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the largest plastic surgery organization in the world. Last year, that number jumped to 487,887--an increase of about 30 percent. They were among the more than 8.7 million Americans who reportedly had cosmetic procedures last year.

African-American plastic surgeons attribute that increase to a TV-and-Internet-fueled awareness, improved technology that can make some procedures safer, less invasive and cause minimal scarring, and increased competition, which has driven down the cost of some procedures. And while the majority of patients are female, Black men are also getting into the mix.

"The fastest-growing increase is among men," says Extreme Makeover's Dr. Anthony Griffin, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. "They are becoming more concerned about their image."

Many experts say that plastic surgery is no longer a taboo topic among Black families and friends. In the past, many African-Americans didn't want to go into the operating room for fear of coming out with features that were "too White" or "too European." Some said that having plastic surgery meant you were turning your back on being Black. And while some African-Americans still choose to feel that way, more people are choosing plastic surgery--to the delight of those profiting from the $8.4 billion industry.

"Number 1, our patients want what other people want, a refreshed look of vitality and vigor," says Dr. Emily Pollard, a plastic surgeon in Bala Cynwyd, Pa., outside Philadelphia. "I think it's also a myth that plastic surgery robs you of your ethnicity. I don't know what's ethnic about bags [under your eyes]."

With record numbers of Americans undergoing plastic surgery and Black America helping to spur that growth, it seems that it's all about looking good--whether that means getting your nose reshaped, breasts enlarged or reduced, eyelids lifted, fat removed or added, and butt lifted.

And increasingly, African-American plastic surgeons are ready to help--providing what some say is a much-needed emphasis on plastic surgery from a multiethnic perspective. While the number of Black plastic surgeons is growing slowly, some African-American plastic surgeons are experiencing unprecedented success and are among the top in their field. Dr. Gregory Antoine, for example, is chairman of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Boston Medical Center, Dr. Pollard is a spokeswoman for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and Dr. Julius W. Few is an assistant professor at Northwestern University Medical School.

Several Black plastic surgeons have been among the leaders in creating or popularizing new procedures. Dr. Griffin helped make the butt lift a household phrase. The procedure, in which women and men, Blacks and Whites, have their own fat cells injected into different layers of the buttocks to provide more shape, experienced the highest growth percentage, according to statistics.

"This is truly a boom," says Dr. Monte O. Harris, a plastic surgeon and co-founder of Cultura spa in Washington, D.C. "There's no better time in the history of aesthetic surgery to be a plastic surgeon of color."

But is there a cost--a loss of Blackness? Has society's view of attractiveness changed the way Black America sees beauty? It depends on whom you ask.

"There are ways to make changes that preserve ethnic identity," says Dr. Few, a plastic surgeon at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "People of color are realizing that they can pursue plastic surgery and not feel ashamed. …