Letter from Dubai: The attitude to beauty in the United Arab Emirates

Dr Luiz Toledo discusses the aspirations and attitudes of Arab nations to cosmetic surgery, beauty and censorship.

"One of the most interesting things that happened in my career as a plastic surgeon, when I moved from Brazil to Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was to be exposed to a completely new (to me) scope of problems referred by patients."

View Dr Toledo's website.

Preparing for cosmetic surgery

"It is well know that operating is the easiest part of our work. When I prepare myself for a surgery I examine the patient, discuss the details, write down the patients expectations, take before (and after) pictures, measure and weight the patient and then plan the surgery. Most of the times the planning is obvious, based on my experience and on the frequency that I perform the procedure. Other times, however, I have to do some research, either to find out the best approach, the best technique, or to refresh my memory with a procedure that I have not been doing for some time.

"Once I have a clear picture in my mind of what I am going to do, the rest is easy, automatic almost. I just follow the steps of the technique. But the preparation for this stage might sometimes take a long time. Some patients, I am glad in rare occasions, will make me lose my sleep until I come to a conclusion on what to do. And only after I write down my surgical plan I can sleep normally. I usually take this plan to the operating room, stick it to the wall and follow it, so I don't forget any detail.


"But even with all our planning there are always patients who will surprise us.There was an interesting case recently of an Emirati man who had nose surgery in the US. The surgeon had put a cartilage graft in the columella, a strut graft, to elevate the tip of the nose. The result was good and the nose looked normal, but even one year after the operation he complained his nose became very sensitive. This would not be a problem for most men, who only need their noses to breathe and smell, but it is a problem for Emirati men because they greet by rubbing each other’s noses, which became a very painful experience for him every time he met someone.  The problem was solved with a minor procedure to trim the excess of the cartilage graft and thicken the nose skin with a bit of fat grafting.

Buttock implants

"Another patient, a beautiful Russian girl, had buttock implants while living in Moscow. Now she moved to Dubai and got married. She became the third wife of a local Arab businessman and her husband thinks her buttocks are too big. By examining the patient I came to the conclusion that if we remove the implants her buttocks will be sagging and she will need a buttock lift, a procedure that involves a lengthy recovery period and leaves a long scar in the buttocks and waist. I explained all this to the couple and they accepted it. We have scheduled her operation for two months ahead. This will give them a little more time to think about it. If they decide to go ahead with it, we will be removing the implants and performing a buttock lift.

Body aesthetics in the Arab world

"The Arab World has its own values and concepts of Beauty. Magazines and TV channels bring to light their preferences for clothes, houses, furniture, cars and life style. This includes plastic surgery and the concept of Beauty. Most of the TV channels come from Lebanon and the Lebanese actresses and singers are famous and revered for their skills as well as their looks. These women have tendency to opt for big lips, small noses and high cheekbones, what is now considered in the Arab World as the ‘Lebanese singer’ look. Patients often come for consultation bringing pictures from gossip magazines with photos of their idols, especially Haifa Wehbe and Nancy Ajran. These two singers underwent several plastic surgery procedures and are becoming very similar in their looks. As plastic surgeons we can accept patients bringing pictures for reference, to show us what they like or dislike, but we have to be careful with the patient who wants to be someone else. This may be the source of dissatisfaction with the result, when they realized that, their lives have not changed, although the result of the surgery is perfect.

Censorship in Dubai

"Dubai is one of the seven Emirates of the UAE, an Islamic country. In some points it is a very liberal, society but in others they have very traditional views. Films here are censored and the ‘love’ scenes are edited and cut. Sometimes to a point when you sort of loose the plot, when watching a film. The state telephone company controls the internet and everything the locals are allowed to see. Whenever someone makes a complaint they will block the website and when you try to open it you will see a message saying ‘this website is blocked because it falls under the Prohibited Content Categories of the Emirates policy’.

"I have had my website since 1996. It is a very informative site and patients usually get all the information before and after surgery from it. It also had some examples of before and after procedures, which most of the patients ask to see when they come for consultation. Last June someone wrote to the controlling agency complaining they had seen pictures of breasts on my website and suddenly it was blocked. This caused great problems for me and my patients. For me because my website is one of the only ways patients can find me, since I do not advertise; and for the patients because they lost all the information the needed, especially for post-operative care. It took me two months to be able to put the site back on the air and could only do it with the help of a local newspaper and after removing all the ‘offensive nudity’ photos.  Well, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. We are here and we have to adapt to their life style, even if sometimes it is difficult and we wish they could be more modern in the way they see the World."

Profile of the author

Dr Luiz Toledo is well known and widely respected in the cosmetic surgery field and has pioneered new surgical techniques for facial rejuvenation and body contouring that improve the results of body surgery. He is one of the key developers of superficial liposculpture and the inventor of the widely used liposuction cannula the ‘Toledo V-tip’.

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