Plastic Surgery As A Way To Look Less "Ethnic" - And Get Ahead?

More and more immigrants think having "Western" features is a secret to success.

The pressure of uniformity leads more and more people to "westernize" their body
The pressure of uniformity leads more and more people to "westernize" their body
Rosalba Miceli

MILAN - Some plastic surgery procedures requests must be treated and analyzed with particular attention and sensitivity. Over the last two decades, plastic surgery has been increasing all over the world, often responding to people's desires to look younger

But more and more, cosmetic surgery is performed on those who want to change the distinctive characteristics of their ethnic origins.

The results, usually inspired by Western models, are not just requested by those in higher social classes – but by all kinds of people, especially those who want to emigrate. Can lighter skin and more Western features really hide that they’re from a developing country and help lead to a better job, higher salary, or more prestigious social circle?

The most requested procedures of “ethnic” plastic surgery for Asians – both women and men – are canthoplasties (to reshape eyes, making them rounder), and rhinoplasties (nose jobs to reduce the size of the base of the nose, defining the bridge). Africans, now and then, undergo cheiloplasties (reduction of lip size), as well as liposuction to re-shape the body.

“It’s a phenomenon like no other that marginalizes people and has complex psycho-social implications that cannot be underestimated by doctors,” explains Professor Mario Dini, Director of the School of Plastic and Aesthetic Surgery at the University of Florence. “In reality, many of these practices are carried out on people with low income, who are looking for cheap, and often dangerous solutions. People trust in facilities in their own countries, but often security and hygiene guidelines aren’t strictly applied. Not to mention the huge "do-it-yourself" underworld, or the use of often banned products."

Changing one’s body to change one’s life

So, from an expert’s viewpoint, should changing or minimizing the traces of someone’s origins be completely avoided? “No, or at least not completely,” Dini says. “Here’s an example: a Middle Eastern nose is objectively large and can weigh down the delicate face of a woman or hinder good looks. Rhinoplasty, therefore, can improve the face and enhance good looks.”

He adds: “There are many requests for skin lightening. If a surgeon indulged all the requests he got, the results would be dissatisfaction and disappointment. The media has emphasized that light skin is associated with being successful, but this is the fruit of the marketing strategies of companies who sell skin-whitening products and sunscreens.”

Professor Dini says people often have unrealistic ideas and believe that a change on their bodies will really change their lives too.

“It’s logical to think that a woman with small breasts will be more confident after an augmentation, in a way that her interior image corresponds to the physical one, but when a patient tries to change their ethnicity, the matter is much more profound and delicate," he concludes. "A foreign patient who wants to westernize their face, which is universally considered ‘successful’, hopes that the scalpel will change their culture too – but this isn’t possible.”

This view is shared by Dr. Genevieve Makaping, anthropologist, journalist and writer from Cameroon. “The risk of unconditionally accepting to operate on patients and respond ‘yes’ to all of their requests is to leave them in a cultural limbo," says Makaping. "The people who want to erase, or minimize, their physical origins usually aren’t completely assimilated with Westerners, and are turned away from their own social groups who criticize and stigmatize this choice because they feel their faces are being discriminated against.”

Makaping says this pressure of uniformity was born in part due to the lack of support and social mediation from the originating countries, as well as in those they want to move to. "Very often the emigrants are left to themselves, with a small capacity of developing their talents, and crushed by a stigma that is part of themselves,” she says.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!