Cosmetic surgery in Kenya

I’m slightly disturbed after reading an article about the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery among Nairobi’s upper middle class. The article was full of horror stories of procedures gone awry which was bad enough, but one quote gave me pause. “And the most common procedure among Kenyan men was lip reduction— making lips thinner.” Whaaat? Before I jump to conclusions, how does this compare the most popular surgeries elsewhere? 

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2010, the top 5 cosmetic surgeries for women were breast augmentation, nose reshaping, liposuction, eyelid surgery and tummy tucks. This lines up with the top Kenyan procedures according to the article – liposuction and breast reduction. For men in America, the top 5 procedures in 2010 were nose reshaping, eyelid surgery, liposuction, breast reduction in men and hair transplantation. So the popularity of lip reduction seems to be higher here than in other cosmetic surgery markets.

Is this a case of trying to erase ethnic markers? There are a number of plastic surgery procedures that seem to be most popularly chosen for the distinct purpose of removing or reducing features that are characteristic of a particular race or ethnicity. For example, “Ethnic Rhinoplasty” (they actually call it that) for reshaping broad Black noses and long Jewish ones, turning them into narrow idealized European noses. Eyelid surgery is also common for Asians looking to create a “double-eyelid” from the naturally occurring crease-less eyelid or epicanthic fold.

Is it ever okay to change physical appearance markers that are signifiers of your race? What does such a change signify – does it necessarily mean that these people would shed all racial characteristics if they could? Most plastic surgery info websites that discuss lip reduction surgery claim that full lips can hinder talking, eating and even dental hygiene. Can any big-lipped brethren testify? Do you believe that these are legitimate reasons for the popularity of this procedure in Kenya?


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