“The English tend to be a lot more conservative about the selections of their procedures. They will come for one procedure or two procedures. The American's naturally, I would say, tend to come with their shopping lists."

Lorraine Melvill

Carte Blanche


Scalpel Safaris

Date : 18 January 2004
Producer : Peta Krost
Presenter : Zaa Nkweta
Genre : Medical and Health

This is Kim van Aswegen, a 30-year-old businesswoman who has left her family behind in the United States to come on special holiday. She is not quite your average American tourist - she's here to change her body...again!

Most tourists who come to South Africa come for a simple holiday, but a new kind of visitor is hitting our shores. They come here for plastic surgery and are slowly turning South Africa into the new silicone valley.

Otoplasty procedure under wayKim is one of a growing number of foreigners who come out here for scalpel safaris. She is met by Lorraine Melvill, who facilitates surgery, accommodation and a game adventure for international clients.

Zaa Nkweta (Carte Blanche presenter): 'Why plastic surgery? Why did you think that you needed to have plastic surgery?'

Kim: 'Well I had had two children and after having children my body didn't look the way it looked before I had them. Those minor adjustments happen... gravity takes place. So I wanted to look young again... and at 30 I felt I didn't look 30.'

On her first visit, just six months earlier, Kim looked like this.

Back in South Africa, Kim is convinced cosmetic surgery is the answer.

Kim: 'Having a tummy tuck, liposuction and a breast lift made me feel like I was 30 again.'

This time she is back with her doctor, Rick van der Poel, for a Botox procedure.

Rick van der Poel (Surgeon): 'You've definitely got a line across there and one more on the right hand side... a little bit there... I would suggest we give you some there, there and across your forehead there.'

He's giving her Botulinum toxin injections, which will temporarily rid Kim of some of her wrinkles. Rick, one of over 100 plastic surgeons in South Africa, only does cosmetic procedures.

But before Kim goes home, she decides that a little more cosmetic work was needed. So she arranged another liposuction operation.

Zaa: 'Why not just go to gym and do 1000 sit ups a day?'

Kim: 'It doesn't happen overnight. Coming to surgeons and safaris, it happens overnight. Makes it a lot easier.'

Zaa: 'Isn't that being a bit...'

Kim: 'Lazy...? Yes.'

Kim: 'People are getting it done all over the world. I mean the States are booming with people having plastic surgery and boob enhancements and face-lifts. This is it. This is life right now. '

Despite Kim's acceptance that repeated cosmetic surgery is the norm, psychologist Tana Slomowitz says it goes a lot deeper than that.

Tana Slomowitz (psychologist): 'I think that it is intricately tied to one's self esteem. People have difficult lives. We are told however; in magazines and in media, that happiness is tied to beauty. So sometimes people will split off that difficult part of their lives and try and attain happiness by looking more beautiful.'

And society today focuses on the quick fix. We are into fast food answers and want the bottom line. We want instant beauty. So, to fix your perceived physical imperfections, you lie down in a theatre and have your body surgically invaded by the new guru.

Tana: 'The new religion is about beauty. The new high priest is the plastic surgeon because he can give you that and you don't really have to do too much hard work yourself. Instantly attainable and you can find redemption at the end of a knife. '

It's all about the quest for the perfect body, to stay young and gorgeous. We all want to look like the international super models because this is what women, and men, believe is attractive. Or do they?

All women are beautiful in their own way, but do South African men want their women nipped, tucked and perfectly designed?

Steve Hofmeyer (Singer/Actor): 'I must say, I have met twice 85 year old women that I have found extremely sexy. But then I have had a kissing scene with Joan Collins on Egoli and she has had it all. And she is looking wonderful.'

Darrel Bristol-Bovey (Journalist): 'There is nothing more attractive and becoming than women who grow older and grow into themselves. And certainly it is far more attractive than these tragically ageing women with the skin and the lips ... should there be more ?'

Joost van der Westhuizen (Rugby player): 'For me it doesn't matter how big or large a woman is. It doesn't matter how small or thin, as long as she looks after herself - nice hair... It takes nothing to look after your hair or to look after your body. It takes nothing to look dress ? nicely.'

Steve: 'I must admit that the girls I've met and the artificial breasts I have touched - all felt pretty good to me.'

Darrel: 'The thing about the pneumatic breasts, the Pamela Anderson breasts, is that they are eye catching in the way that a cartoon is eye catching. And you will stare at it and you will look at it, but it's not that you respect it. You wouldn't necessarily want to spend a lifetime with a cartoon.'

No matter what people say, we still cling to that unattainable desire to be eye-catchingly beautiful. But Tana explains this isn't healthy.

Tana: 'We are shorter, fatter, squatter; imperfect. That's what human beings are. And we somehow feel if we fail - and if we don't get the thighs from heaven or bosom from heaven - that we are at fault.'

Kim: 'Whatever starts to fail on my body, will get fixed. I have found a cure in surgeons and safaris.'

Kim is back at the clinic for her liposuction operation. This is just one of a smorgasbord of cosmetic procedures done in South Africa. For between sixteen and twenty thousand rand you can have a breast enhancement, liposuction, a nose job or a tummy tuck. A face-lift can set you back up to R36 000. Some doctors will do a combination of up to three of these at one time.

We asked Dr Rick why some people feel the need to take this route.

Dr Rick: 'Most of my patients want to actually take what they've got and make it better - like a face lift. They don't like the fact that they age or that they have bags around their eyes.'

No problem ... and then if it starts to bag or sag again, you can have some more.

Dr Rick: 'I do have a couple of patients that have had up to 16 procedures and I say enough is enough.'

Zaa: 'How much is too much?'

Dr Rick: 'Michael Jackson is too much.'

Zaa: 'No, but how much is too much?'

Dr Rick: 'As long as you are doing surgery that is still within the realms of the patient looking natural, and I mean natural, then it is fine.'

Since starting her scalpel safari business three years ago, Lorraine Mellville has encountered the gamut of foreign clients.

Lorraine Melvill (Surgery and Safari): 'The English tend to be a lot more conservative about the selections of their procedures. They will come for one procedure or two procedures. The American's naturally, I would say, tend to come with their shopping lists.'

Zaa: 'Isn't there a tendency for people - once they get a taste of this - to want more and more?'

Lorraine: 'Every month we have at least one client who is coming as a repeat client. So yes, there is that tendency to say, 'Yes I have had a taste. I liked the taste, so let me have more.' We try not to fuel that. We try rather to go on the side of caution, rather than feeding an addiction.'

It's not only the rich and famous like Cher, a pop star in her sixties, and actress Demi Moore who have done it. Also, the ordinary rich folk have had many a snip and tuck. For some, it has answered their prayers, but for others, they were disappointed they didn't attain the perfect body.

Tana: 'I think plastic surgeons are looked upon as the sellers of happiness and perfection. 'Let me do this for you and you will feel wonderful. You will be beautiful and you will look like Naomi Campbell.' It's not possible.'

Dr Rick: 'I don't create a dream for them. I tell them I can get rid of a wrinkle or enlarge your breasts, but I am not going to make you happy. I am going to change your body and if that's what makes you happy, that's fine. But it's not going to change your life.'

As for Kim, she too had pre-surgery expectations.

Kim: 'I am going to South Africa and I am going to come home looking like a different person. Not that drastic, I'm getting facial stuff done, but I was going to come home being, feeling like a different person.'

But the aspiration to fulfil the beauty myth affects every one of us.

Tana: 'We are part of a culture. I know all of this. I wish I could be above it. I wish I could say, 'I will eat what I like and be damned with it!'... but I don't.'

And as for Kim, this is not the end of the road.

Kim: 'I'll keep doing what I need to do to look the way I want and if I have to come back, I'll come back. By then I'll need something done with my face, I am sure. My body will be fine. I will have fixed my body and then I will have to work on something else.'



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