Cosmetic surgeries were once considered taboo in Saudi Arabia, thought of as indulgences of the Western world. In a country where lifestyle is largely dictated by religion, Saudi Arabia has seen a growing interest in cosmetic procedures and clerics contend with new questions regarding the intersection of notions of beauty and faith.
Cosmetic procedures are often in conflict with Islamic law. Only procedures intended to reverse damage or disfigurement from an accident, or procedures that enhance or fix features that cause grief, are deemed acceptable. Procedures or surgeries that would change for beautification purposes are generally considered distasteful.
Perhaps that is why the most significant increase that took place in the last year in Saudi Arabia has been in the number of requests for minimally invasive procedures.
Last year, Saudis spent about $213 million (SR826m) on plastic surgery, Makkah Daily reported, and there’s been about a seven percent increase in the number of operations in the last year compared to 2012. According to the Health Ministry, there are 316 plastic surgeons in the Kingdom who conducted approximately 144,000 plastic surgeries in five years, 59,158 operations (41 percent) of which were carried out in government hospitals. Operations conducted under complete anesthesia had cost about SR225 million in total while partial anesthesia operations were worth about SR100 million and laser operations and Botox injections cost nearly SR500 million. The combined cost is about SR825 million.
According to the report, Saudi Arabia is second only to Egypt in regards to expenditure on operations across the Middle East and North Africa.
According to another study conducted by the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ISAPS), Saudi Arabia ranks 28th among the top 30 countries with the highest rates of cosmetic procedures in the world. Still plastic surgeries conducted in the Kingdom are not comparable to European, Asian and American countries.
The same study revealed that Saudi Arabia is one of just two, however, the only Muslim countries with a total number of 46,962 surgical procedures performed in 2011—(Turkey performed 104,767 procedures in 2011).
The inflated accrued costs of procedures are perhaps because the average price tag on a new nose or breast augmentation costs around SR15000, excluding the costs of the anesthesia itself and recovery medications. Also, medical insurance only covers procedures necessary for victims of accidents.
While women far outweigh men in plastic surgery, statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) have been showing a consistent year-on-year increase in men seeking procedures and plastic surgeries. The same has been found true for Middle Eastern men. Such procedures have become commonplace in many parts of the Middle Eastern region, with the trend now increasingly including men looking to defy the aging process.
In 2012, a total of 1.3 million men sought out cosmetic enhancement surgeries, which was a five percent increase from 2011, according to a report by Arabian Business. While male clients accounted for nine percent of cosmetic procedures carried out in 2012, the number of men seeking enhancements in the Middle East is more than double the international rate; men represent almost a third of all the surgeries carried out.
The top surgical procedures for men in the Middle East at present include rhinoplasty and revision rhinoplasty, neck lifts, chin or submental liposuction, blepharoplasty or eyelid surgery for fatty bags and facelifts. Chin and jawline implants, fat grafting and laser resurfacing for acne scars are also gaining parity with top procedures among male patients.
The increase in plastic surgeries in Saudi Arabia, particularly, have greatly reduced the need for both male and female Saudis to travel abroad for procedures, but has increased the need for both male and female Saudis to explore the dichotomy between notions of beauty and Islamic law in their own country.