Free Botox and laser hair removal, free chemical peels and anti-cellulite treatments may at first seem shockingly frivolous in a country like Brazil – which, despite phenomenal economic growth in recent years that has lifted millions out of extreme poverty, still battles with diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue.
But the philosophy behind the more than 220 clinics across Brazil that treat people like Penha and thousands of maids, receptionists, waitresses and others is simple: Beauty is a right, and the poor deserve to be ravishing, too.
The Brazilian Society of Aesthetic Medicine’s Rio clinic has performed free procedures on more than 14,000 patients since its founding in 1997, said Dr. Nelson Rosas, who heads the Rio branch.
Good looks, doctors argue, are more than skin deep, and by treating what patients view as physical flaws doctors are often also healing their psyches.
“What’s a wrinkle? Something minor, right? Something with precious little importance,” Rosas said. “But when we treat the wrinkle, that unimportant little thing, we’re actually treating something very important: The patient’s self-esteem.”
The notion that beauty treatments can act in much the same way as psychoanalysis, helping free patients from crippling neuroses, was pioneered over thelpast decades by celebrated Brazilian plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy.
Nicknamed the “philosopher of plastic surgery” for his intellectual and psychoanalytical take on the vocation, 85-year-old Pitanguy is largely responsible for Brazil’s reputation as a world leader in the field and a top destination for cosmetic surgery tourism.
With more than 11.5 million operations a year, Brazil is the world’s second biggest consumer of plastic surgery after the United States, but here there’s none of the kind of stigma that still clings to the practice in the U.S.
Local celebrities appear on the cover of glossy magazines with titles like “Plastica e Beleza,” or “Plastic (Surgery) and Beauty,” and wax poetic about their latest face-lift, breast implant or round of Botox. Actors on the prime time soap operas that captivate the public here regularly get surgical makeovers, as do the characters they play as part of the soaps’ high-drama story lines.
Silicone, on prominent display at the beach here year-round, takes center stage during Carnival, when samba queens wearing only a sprinkling of sequins and feathers flaunt their pumped-up bustlines and gravity-defying rear ends at Rio’s extravagant Sambadrome parade. (Breast and buttock implants are among the most popular plastic surgeries here, along with liposuction, facelifts and procedures to flatten prominent ears).
The senate is currently debating whether the government’s national health service should fully cover breast reconstruction for cancer patients. The state-funded health service already pays for gastroplasties for the morbidly obese and some surgeries to repair serious deformities or injuries, including correcting cleft palates in children.
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