Ethnicity and Plastic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery is global and the attraction of self-improvement would appear to be universal across races and cultures. However plastic surgeons report that different cultural groups and ethnicities are more interested in specific types of surgery.

This phenomenon is perfectly summed up by the experience of plastic surgeons in New York, perhaps a microcosm of the world in terms of an ethnic melting pot, where different groups have different preferences in terms of cosmetic surgery.  For example Chinese patients want their noses to point downwards, Russian women want their breasts enlarged, and Koreans in Chinatown are having their jaw lines slimmed. Some other interesting preferences include Egyptians choosing face lifts, Italians reshaping their knees and Iranians having nose jobs.

As the demand for surgical enhancement explodes around the world, New York has developed a host of niche markets that allow the city’s many immigrants to get tucks and tweaks that are carefully tailored to their cultural preferences and ideals of beauty.

“When a patient comes in from a certain ethnic background and of a certain age, we know what they’re going to be looking for,” said Dr. Kaveh Alizadeh, the president of Long Island Plastic Surgical Group, “We are sort of amateur sociologists.”

There is something of a boom in plastic surgery among ethnic populations in the US with about 750,000 Asians in the United States having cosmetic procedures.  To meet this growing demand new clinics have opened in immigrant enclaves, and existing practices have expanded to keep up.

It seems that the notion of immigrants having cosmetic surgery is not new and may even be viewed as something of a tradition. A century ago, in the early days of cosmetic surgery, European Jews underwent nose jobs and Irish immigrants had their ears pinned back in attempts to look “more American,” said Victoria Pitts-Taylor, a professor of sociology at Queens College who has written about popular attitudes toward plastic surgery.

Today however the motivations have changed and are rather more complex. Rather than striving to fit in to their new country, many immigrants reshape themselves to their home culture’s trends and tastes.

“My patients are proud of looking Hispanic,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Yager, “I don’t get the patients who want to obscure their ethnicity.”

Likewise Italia Vigniero, 27, a Dominican patient of Dr. Yager’s, received breast implants in 2008 and is considering a buttocks lift to attain, as she called it, “the silhouette of a woman.” “We Latinas define ourselves with our bodies,” she said. “We always have curves.”

Perhaps the most sought-after procedure among Asians is “double-eyelid surgery,” which creates a crease in the eyelid that can make the eye look rounder.

“One of the traits of beauty is to have large eyes,” Dr. Lee said, “and to get that effect you have to have the double eyelids.”

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