It’s A Specific ‘BBW’ We Like Now

Many African states are being heralded as emerging economies. One consequence of this is a growing middle-class and certain industries that have been heavily dominated by the West are spreading on the continent. The plastic surgery industry is flourishing and if you can afford it, you too can build your dream body.

The notion that cosmetic surgery isn’t African can be disputed thanks to our ancestors in Ancient Egypt. The first documented case exists in the Edwin Smith papyrus where something similar to a rhinoplasty was described. They used honey, linen, wooden splints among other tools to perform the surgeries.[mfn] The focus was on reconstructing features versus altering them. However, what was happening in Egypt 5000 years ago and what is happening now isn’t the same and its not just the tools.

The traditional way of viewing bodies in Africa, particularly those of black women, echoes Drake’s sentiments of  “…I like my girls BBW”. Bigger was for the most part better but the internet has changed that. A more Kardashian-esque body type has definitely been adopted on the continent- thick thighs, a ‘fat ass’ and a toned flat tummy. On the bright side, those opting for surgery seem to be content with their facial features.[mfn] Nose jobs, lip fillers and eye lifts for the sake of correcting ethnic features is not where the money is at. We’ll look into that after a few years though…

It’s not like people in Africa never got work done, they just opted to fly abroad. After seeing this, surgeons on the continent opted to get their training abroad and then came back to open up their practices. South Africa is leading the charge and according to Cutica Health “… it’s estimated that over 50% of the plastic surgeries they do are for cosmetic reasons.” They also claim the most requested procedures seem to be in line with global trends, further showing that Western standards of beauty have a lot of sway on the continent. It’s important to note that while cosmetic surgery is growing, it is still an infantile industry. 

The recent pandemic saw a rapid rise in people opting to go under the knife especially right here in Kenya.[mfn] South Africa takes it a step further by offering what they call plastic surgery safari’s where you get some work done and then go on safari as package deals. A lot of clients tend to be from abroad but more seem to be pouring in from sub-Saharan Africa.[mfn] Nigeria is also known for having a rapidly rising cosmetic surgery industry that attracts clients from all over West Africa.

The more immediate need, however, seems to be for reconstructive surgery. Burn victims, civilians mutilated in conflicts and those born with craniofacial anomalies, like cleft palettes are in dire need of medical intervention. In some cases, their physical appearance is seen as a bad omen which often leaves families to abandon children or abuse them.[mfn] While education is a long-term solution to fighting misconceptions, these conditions often impede day to day functioning.

Africa accounts for 25% of the world’s disease but less than 2% of the world’s health workforce.[mfn] Many practitioners go abroad to receive their education but there exists little to no incentive for them to come back. It’s a problem that’s imperative for African governments to address. One solution is to raise salaries and provide benefits that would encourage African doctors to return and provide services here.

Regardless of your opinion on the matter, cosmetic surgery is here to stay and I for one am glad that these opportunities are now being offered by those that understand our bodies and society. As proficiency and opportunities grow on the continent so too the chances of improving the lives of our people.

Footnote

  1. Iain S. Whitaker et al., “The Birth of Plastic Surgery: The Story of Nasal Reconstruction from the Edwin Smith Papyrus to the Twenty-First Century,” Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 120, no. 1 (July 2007): 327–36, https://doi.org/10.1097/01.prs.0000264445.76315.6d.
  2. Cutica Health, “Has Cosmetic Surgery Come of Age in Africa?,” Cutica Health, June 15, 2019, https://cuticahealth.com/health-trends/2019/06/has-cosmetic-surgery-come-of-age-in-africa/.
  3. Purity Wanjohi, “Wealthy Kenyans Rush for Cosmetic Surgery during Covid-19 Lockdown,” Business Daily, January 29, 2021, https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/bd/lifestyle/health-fitness/wealthy-kenyans-rush-for-cosmetic-surgery-as-covid-19–3272458.
  4. Nkepile Mabuse and Victoria Eastwood, “Plastic Surgery Safari: Getting the ‘Jennifer Lopez Butt’ in South Africa,” CNN, January 1, 2013, https://edition.cnn.com/2013/01/01/world/africa/plastic-surgery-safari/index.html.
  5. Martyn Webster, “Reconstructive Surgery in Post Colonial Africa,” The PMFA Journal, accessed September 16, 2021, https://www.thepmfajournal.com/features/post/reconstructive-surgery-in-post-colonial-africa.
  6.  (Health 2019)