EASY MAGAZINE: A better looking you
“That’s how the Lord made you – why don’t you leave it the way it is!?” “If the Lord wanted you with bigger breasts, that’s how he would have made you!”
In Barbados of a past era such responses would have been common to anyone who was bold [or foolish] enough to hint to another that he or she was considering plastic surgery.
And to the individual who actually went all the way, very often it was a “secret” they took to the grave. In fact, not so long ago even the thought of a tummy tuck for a woman whose midsection has been severely misshaped by multiple pregnancies was something that would never have been spoken of outside the household.
Fortunately, the society is changing – perhaps maturing would be a better description – and cosmetic surgery is increasingly being considered, particular among women, and colour/complexion, social status or age are not necessarily inhibitors, although cost still would be for many.
The list of procedures is growing: from botox injections to tummy tucks and everything between, including ear correction, eyelid surgery, facelifts, female genital adjustments, liposuction, nose job, fat transfer and tattoo removal.
When all is said and done though, does it amount to anything more than simple human vanity? Not at all, says American plastic surgeon Dr Robert J Paresi, one of the principals of NaturalLook Barbados, the island’s latest cosmetic and reconstructive surgery clinic, which operates from the ultra modern Sparman Clinic complex at 6th Avenue, Belleville.
Paresi journeys from his base in Chicago every few months to undertake a range of procedures here, and the business is growing after just one year. In a recent interview he explained that for some individuals the correction of some physical appearance defects could have as profound an impact on that person’s quality of life as some other accepted medical procedure.
“Someone presents that they have an issue that is bothering them, it’s affecting their personal self-esteem, how they feel about themselves, and they want to address that issue. I consider that to be the improvements you get from plastic surgery and its as much psychological as it is medical,” he said.
“In a sense we’re treating more than just the actual looks. We’re treating the mind-set as well.
“And there’s plenty of patients like that: a mother that has a couple kids, it doesn’t feel the same after they’ve had their children.They don’t have the same level of self-esteem. Who’s to say that that person, that individual wouldn’t develop more confidence and be able to perform their duties better, … be able to function better in society than they could before. . . . Obviously there are all different reasons why people pursue it.
“The other thing I would say is that it’s become much more socially accepted; it’s more common place. If someone has a concern or has something that bothers them and we have the ability to fix it, who are we to say whether or not that’s wild, or whether or not it’s acceptable to be able to do that.
“If that individual wants to do that and wants to put their resources towards that I don’t think we should stand in their way. It would be no difference than buying a nicer car. It’s a service that we are providing. It may not be absolutely necessary in every instance, but it’s not absolutely necessary to buy a nicer car either. There’s a functional aspect to it and then the . . . desire aspect to it as well.”
Paresi explained: “Actually, I first came to find out about Barbados and Dr Sparman and providing services here through a recruiter. The recruiter called me and asked me if I would be interested in providing services in the Caribbean. I didn’t even know exactly where [Barbados] was but I said sure.
“I’ve a practice based in Chicago and I said, ‘Sure, let me check it out and see what it’s all about’. So I actually had the opportunity to speak to Dr Sparman on the phone and it sounded like a great opportunity. I was interested in the services they were going to offer. It seemed like a good fit to what I offered, and based on what was currently being offered on the island, it seemed like it would be a good fit for the people here as well.”
He added: “Sure! It’s been great. This is my third trip where I’ve actually done surgeries. . . . I think the first time I came was about a year ago. Obviously there was a lot of groundwork that needed to be done first in regards to licensing here and insurance and all the background preparation. So all that was done and it has been great. I’ve . . . done about 50 surgeries and it’s been a great experience.”
While the American physician has done a limited number of reconstructive procedures, he has high hopes of offering a lot more help to Barbadians in this area, especially to women who lose their breasts as a result of cancer.
“I’ve done mostly cosmetic operations, although I’ve done some other kinds of reconstructive surgeries – some minor procedures. . . . I just gave a lecture at a cancer meeting this past weekend and I’m very interested in also providing reconstructive breast surgery for patients after breast cancer.
“It’s for persons who have to get a mastectomy because of breast cancer so they end up without a breast. What they require in most cases is implant-based breast reconstruction; so we’re talking about using breast implants to reconstruct the breast and that can be done at the time of the original surgery, or it can be done at a later time.
“I also had a meeting with a few dermatologists on the island. I’ve taken care of a lot of patients with skin cancer in the past, and I’d be happy to provide those services as well. It’s just a matter of establishing the office and effectively offering these services and getting patients with those needs to come in.”
Paresi’s work can also have an impact on one of the health challenges with which local authorities have been grappling for the past two decades in particular – lifestyle diseases such as obesity. Just as in the United States, he said, the approach to tackling the problem has to be multifaceted.
“Weight-loss programmes are critical,” he noted. “I see many patients who need to be on weight loss programmes … As a matter of fact, I just saw a patient today who was 370 pounds. I can’t really help that person at this point but I can encourage them to seek other options that they may not have thought of before, in terms of both medical weight loss and surgical weight loss options.
“I recommended that she see a bariatric surgeon, who would be able to perform some sort of surgical weight loss procedure on her to help her start to get towards normal weight loss. Because in my opinion, that’s an extremely life threatening condition to be that heavy – to have that much weight that you need to lose.
“The interesting thing is that she was not even really truly aware that that was an option for her. And I just happened to meet a surgeon on the island who has a lot of experience doing bariatric surgery and yet doesn’t offer it here. He said it’s not a big part of his practice, although he wishes it was. It’s a question of awareness.”
He added: “I can’t help her now but if she losses a couple of pounds then I would be involved and we can give her a better answer. I think a lot of it is awareness about what the options are if you reach that stage. We all know of diet and exercise, but obviously there are a lot of new answers too in terms of how exactly you are going to get there.”
While Paresi and other plastic surgeons are on a mission to make Barbadians look and feel better, and therefore perform at a higher level, the island could also receive another benefit – financial.
“We’ve seen people from other islands. I do video consultations when I’m not here. We utilise Skype and do quite a few consultations at least one or two days a week. We do a few hours with patients who are interested. So we get patients from all over the Caribbean: Trinidad, St Lucia, Grenada, we’ve done consultations with patients from all over the region.
“This time around all the patients we’ve done were Barbadians, but they were a few patients from other islands that we did the last time. They came in, spent the night and then went home the following day. That is potentially a significant revenue stream for the country.” (RRM)