Botched Butts and Illegal Eye Surgeries

The unfortunate reality of some of the more dramatic beauty trends is that not everyone can afford them. In developing countries where most people cannot afford some procedures, regulations may not always be as strongly enforced as they ought to be.


In the Philippines, while there is the FDA to regulate and approve ‘safe’ items, there is also a fair amount of products available that are extremely unsafe and causing controversy. A great example of this is skin whitening products, there are a lot of skin whitening products that have high levels of mercury in them. According to Dr. Bessie Antonio, president of the Philippine Society of Clinical and Occupational Toxicology (PSCOT), “Skin contact with mercury-added cosmetics can cause serious dermal problems, including discoloration, inflammation, itchiness and tiny bumps … can eventually damage the brain and the kidneys.’’



While many products have been recalled or made illegal it still remains that those products will be available and appeal to both extremists and some poorer persons, thus there are serious cases of skin disfigurement.


Many countries have had issues with with counterfeit botox and illegal surgeries, for example in Thailand there is an abundance of illegal practitioners that have little to no training and are cheap and therefore targeted towards the lower classes. In 2012 Thai actress Athitiya Eiamyai, 33, died due to a botched filler injection in the buttocks by an unlicensed practitioner.


Hang Mioku


While a lot of the more extreme beauty trends may be treated as normal and trivial procedures in some cultures it is pretty shocking to see what desperate persons will do to be beautiful. A South Korean lady named Hang Mioku became obsessed with silicone injections. After using regular silicone she started using black market silicone injections, and then eventually switched to cooking oil which ultimately left her face dramatically enlarged and permanently disfigured.


The ugly side of cultures with high levels of cosmetic alteration is unfortunately disfigurement and sometimes death.



Medical Tourism in the Philippines

So this time I watched another television show, but this time it was from the Philippines and it has a cosmetic surgery focus. The show is called Belo Beauty 101 and it was created by and for the Belo Medical Group – a large cosmetic surgery and beauty product company in the Phillipines that was founded by Vicky Belo. The show explains the basics of cosmetic surgery procedures and always has various guests that are both everyday people and celebrities, in each episode these guests have various procedures done. While the show is hosted by Vicky’s daughter, Cristalle, the celebrity guests talk with Vicky about their experiences and what they recommend. Belo Beauty 101 has been running since 2007 and is in both Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines) and English. If you want to watch the show and you only speak one of those languages (I assume English) be prepared to be occasionally confused by the constant switching back and forth between them.



I watched a few random episodes from season 7 which is the most recent season. When I originally saw the description for the show I expected it to be a bit more graphic as it had mentioned that it showed the actual procedures being done. While it does show some graphic footage it is sped up and the editing cuts from one scene to another very quickly in the procedure scenes. Additionally, the show seems to have more of an emphasis on the stories of persons undergoing procedures and the results achieved rather than the actual procedures.


I was also surprised to learn about a lot of smaller basic procedures that exist. In one episode a male celebrity wanted to get rid of his love handles so he consulted Belo, they decided a good procedure would be to freeze his cellulite in that area to kill the fat cells. I didn’t know that was a thing until now… Honestly I couldn’t stop yelling ‘JUST EXERCISE!’ at my laptop screen but I had to remember that this was a cosmetic surgery show, they aim for slender but they like to get there the easy way as depicted by Belo Medical’s Instagram.



Celebrities are really open about their plastic surgeries and Belo Medical has various celebrity ambassadors and sponsors. This ties back to the episode of Get it Beauty that I watched where celebrities were heavily featured throughout the episodes, there isn’t as much of a stigma around plastic surgery so some celebrities don’t seem to feel the need to hide it that much.


When you look into their services and products it becomes much more apparent that they provide more than just traditional cosmetic surgery, I mean they have various skin care product lines and weight management programs that don’t necessarily have anything to do with liposuction. So would I call them a hybrid or just acknowledge the fact that in more advanced cosmetic surgery countries there are just way more options?


For the Philippines there seems to be insufficient statistics regarding how commonplace cosmetic surgery is and what the most popular procedures are, however I was able to find statics regarding the Philippines’s major medical tourism industry. This means that their surgeries are so cheap that it attracts hundreds of thousands of foreigners who otherwise could not afford it. Additionally the Philippines is already a bit of a tourist destination, thus many patients have recovery vacations thereafter their procedures. Now the sponsor from the first few episodes of Belo Beauty 101 season 7 makes sense, the sponsor company was a resort at Boracay island. In 2006 the Philippines earned an estimated $200 million from medical tourism which put it up in the same league as established medical tourism areas like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.


Whilst I did know this was a thing in Singapore, I didn’t know it was a thing in my mother’s homeland… oh wait! Yes I did, my family and I used to go to the Philippines to get dentistry work done because we couldn’t afford to do everyone at once in Australia. Good job Mary! Really putting two and two together there…



Fair isn’t fair

So this post will be a little bit different to my others ones simple because of I will be discussing something I am already somewhat familiar with thanks to growing up with a Filipino mother. My first introduction to skin whitening lotions occurred when I was 9 years old and standing in a lotion aisle at a supermarket in Manila. I was dumbfounded… It was one entire aisle dedicated to lotion, most of which had skin whitening properties. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how this was such a popular and commonplace product. After wandering around shopping malls and getting stared at ad complemented by almost everyone because I had fair skin for a Filipino, and then watching television and realizing that half of the celebrities were also half Filipino and half white like me, it became apparent that being white and pale had been fetishized within the Philippines.



While exploring these Nivea commercials on YouTube it seems clear that this is not just some fad in the Philippines but a cultural aspect across numerous Asian countries including India, South Korea and Pakistan. And it’s not just lotion either, the continent of Asia apparently spends a collective $18 billion a year on skin whitening products including lotions, pills, lasers, creams and surgeries for both men and women. Apparently nearly 40 percent of women in Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines used skin whitening and lightening products. It’s safe to say that these commercials are extremely commonplace in Asian media.


My first impression of these skin whitening lotion commercials is that Filipinos and Indians are clearly more comfortable with trying to alter their appearances and secondly I think that it is a little bit racist and unsafe. Additionally I get the impression that there are a lot of fair famous people like the celebrities featured in the commercials. However, looking further into the cultural contexts of these commercials it appears that it is more about class than anything else. If you are fair then people assume you are rich and stay inside all day, but if you are darker (regardless of genetics) it is assumed that you are poor and work in fields all day.

It is argued to have historical origins during the Han period where it was ideal for high class women to be almost stark white. Some historians also attribute this trend to Western influence especially after World War II as some may have seen Americans as the ‘winners’ and you know… everyone wants to be a winner. Some countries like China take it a whole step further, women go swimming in full clothing, and walk everywhere with umbrellas or giants hats to protect them from the sun.


I find it extremely intriguing how some of these Nivea commercials accurately represent these standards and how in depth they are in various Asian cultures such as that of the Philippines or India. Below is a independent documentary about skin whitening in India and how the ideals are strong enough for grounds of discrimination.