Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Plastic Surgery in Saudi Arabia


I slam is more than just a religion - it is a way of life. For just about any situation you might find yourself in, Islam has answers on how to handle it. Let's take, for example, plastic surgery. One might assume that plastic surgery might be "haram" (forbidden) because it alters the physical appearance of how God made us. After all, Muslim women are not even allowed to pluck their eyebrows because it changes the look of what God gave them. You might recall that I wrote an earlier post about women's beauty in Arabia, in which I talked about how women who pluck their eyebrows are cursed in Islam. I still don't pretend to understand the reasoning for why plucking is haram while dying the eyebrows a lighter color is permitted. To me both of these options are temporary fixes which don't permanently alter a woman's appearance.


That's why it surprised me recently when I read that three years ago religious leaders and plastic surgeons in Saudi Arabia arrived at an Islamic ruling which says that plastic surgery is permitted. Of course there are guidelines that must be followed, and choosing to have plastic surgery performed merely for one's vanity is not supposed to be acceptable. So what exactly makes plastic surgery acceptable? If someone has been disfigured in an accident, plastic surgery is allowable. If someone has a feature, like a huge bent nose, which causes the person distress or embarrassment, she can have that feature fixed to her liking. And if a woman has uncommonly tiny breasts, it would be allowed for her to go under the knife to have implants put in to make them larger.

But with the numbers of plastic surgeries skyrocketing in Saudi Arabia, I cannot help but wonder how many plastic surgeries are being done that fall under the realm of vanity. Just a few short years ago, the number of plastic surgery centers could probably be counted on one hand. Today the competition is fierce in the country. The most popular procedures performed on women in the kingdom are nose jobs, liposuction, and breast augmentations. Men go in to get nose jobs and hair implants. From the sounds of it, the rise in plastic surgeries seems to have more to do with vanity than anything else. I read about one woman who is thinking about having more than twenty different procedures done to her, from her breasts to her lips, from her bottom to her nose. She wants parts of her body to look like certain personalities she has seen on television or in the movies. It sounded as though she is striving for unattainable perfection.


I personally am all for people feeling good about themselves. But in a society where vanity and obsessing about one's looks is frowned upon stemming from religious reasons, it just becomes another one of those blurry contradictory areas that I find so difficult to understand here. Women here in KSA seem to be feeding into the idea that they believe about Western women - that women are merely sex objects. Can the women in Saudi Arabia really believe that about themselves, despite all the measures in place to supposedly prevent that image? Like the severe segregation of men and women, the shrouding of the female form, and the covering of the hair. I thought all those things were supposed to prevent a woman here from feeling like a sexual object ... so wouldn't getting plastic surgery directly contradict the religion and make it seem somewhat hypocritical?

For more information about this topic, click HERE.

40 comments:

  1. If people knew how painful it was to have your face operated on they might think twice. Ouch!

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  2. so wouldn't getting plastic surgery directly contradict the religion and make it seem somewhat hypocritical?

    No one ever said that all of us Muslims are perfect :-)
    Rules are made to be followed or to be broken like in any other religion
    Just as you said, Islam covers every aspect of our life so it is apparently harder to follow it
    Plastic surgery is allowed in case of health reasons based on an episode when the Prophet allowed a similar operation on a man who had his nose broken in a battle

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  3. So what exactly makes plastic surgery acceptable? If someone has been disfigured in an accident, plastic surgery is allowable. If someone has a feature, like a huge bent nose, which causes the person distress or embarrassment, she can have that feature fixed to her liking. And if a woman has uncommonly tiny breasts, it would be allowed for her to go under the knife to have implants put in to make them larger

    Huh?!?!? Who said that the last two conditions are allowed?! The first may be but to change a nose or get bigger boobs just to "look good" is not okay.

    I'd like to see who with authority said that :-O

    Plastic surgery is scary to me... The idea of getting breast implants is sickening.

    In an answer to your final question -- in our religion we are supposed to look -- BUT WITH WHAT GOD GAVE US. As long as we take care of ourselves and bodies, there is nothing wrong with that. In Islam we are ordered to have moderation. For example, don't dress like a slob but don't be so consumed with outwards appearances that it takes over your life.

    Balance & moderation is the key!!

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  4. Whew - I sure was glad to open up your blog and find you! I'd hate to see you become one of the many great voices here that simply stops speaking!

    Crazy topic, isn't it? I read the article and wondered...mmm...so by uncommonly small breast do they mean too small to lactate? Because if it's all about function and not vanity, then seriously, does size matter? And since when have hair implants been anything BUT vanity? Oye!

    Anyway again - glad you're back!

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  5. yes, it is contradictory.

    interesting post susie.
    hope you're having a great vacation.

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  6. Insightful post, Susie.

    The severe segregation, the shrouding and the covering of the hair would make me feel very unsexy. Do you feel really attractive when you bundle up to got out? I don't think I would.

    Religion aside, women in the KSA are still human and want to feel sexy, I would think.

    It's the hypocrisy I don't care for.

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  7. I don't see it as hypocritical at all... but I do see it as a problem. A serious problem with how us women view ourselves and our bodies. What this does show is that women in other cultures are not immune.

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  8. I'm an American Muslimah living in Egypt. As a woman who sometimes has doubts and insecurities about her body, I have days when I would love to follow the "Hollywood crowd" and have the lipo on the tummy and have the breasts hoisted back up onto my chest where they belong, removing all evidence of having 5 kids. But I then think about my belief in Allah and how HIS ideas of perfection are superfluous to man's twisted ideas of perfection and I just go back to improving my diet, exercising and tightening my bra straps. I think that you are right that most of the cosmetic surgeries in KSA are for vanity reasons and contradict the religion. However, I think at some point one has to look at the individuals making the choices and not so much at religion or the government. Weakness is present in all people of all religions. And many of the Muslim women here in Egypt have made remarks to me about Nancy Ajram (Lebanese singer) who has had multiple surgeries to enhance her cheeks, nose, lips, eyes, breasts and waist and how it is the fault of western influences on television. I'm quick to point out that western influences, geography and religion aside, all tv sets come with off buttons. And ultimately insecurity knows no boundaries of race, religion, geography or government policies.

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  9. I understand some plastic surgery. A relative of mine (male) had horrible acne scars and had those diminished through some plastic surgery. Otherwise, it is just vanity that I assumed was discouraged.

    Given what one reads about Saudi women and fitness, wouldn't it make more sense to get these women to start exercising at home? It is a lot cheaper and the benefits last longer.

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  10. This is so lucrative that the government and the religious officials have no other options than to turn a blind eye. Every justification in the book will be offered to keep this going. Give it a couple of more years and everyone will be coming to Saudi Arabia to have plastic surgery.

    Are you still on vacation? I miss you! Glad you posted.

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  11. Hello Susie,

    very good topic. Actually what these people are doing is clearly for vanity reasons. Very sad. Most people would be happier and have a healthier body image if they excersized and ate properly (but how many ppl are willing to bother with that? plus in Islam taking care of your body-being healthy and excersizing are encouraged. unfortunatly these days women don't have much access to that/or it is not encouraged in Arab countries. A friend of mine from Saudi was telling me the all womens' gyms are very expensive out there. I think a better alternative would be to have personal trainers come and help these women, or at least some sort of nutrition class at school, like I had growing up in Canada.

    Plus have you heard Lebanon is famous for its plastic surgery LOL
    ...ppl are never happy with what they have, its a weakness of faith :(

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    1. in Lebanon about half the population is christian.

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  12. What a fun topic you have raised! :-)
    As you know, some people have a very literalist understanding/practice of religion. They consider eyebrow plucking to be forbidden because there is a hadith (narration of Prophet Mohammed) that explictly states that believing women should not pluck their brows so they don't look like prostitutes (something specific to that time/place). Therefore "NO EYEBROW PLUCKING"

    However there is no hadith that forbids plastic surgery so modern day scholars actually had to think about it. Not surprisingly the majority ruling is that some/most forms are fine (with caveats & disclaimers).

    The discontinuity shows up because both "rulings" are considered valid and people don't bother trying to reconcile intent/context/content. So a woman cannot shape her eyebrows but can shape her nose/breasts/stomach etc! :-D

    I'm waiting for people to wake up and realize they're in the 21st century.

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  13. ahhhhhhhh...vanity...

    a worldwide behaviour, however you want to call it or dress it, it's what it is.

    In fact, althoug camouflaged behind hypocrite reasons, I see it as a step forward in this case.

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  14. Hello Susie, Plucking of the eyebrows is not forbidden in all sects... but good topic. I have cousins both male and female who are doctors in the medical field, and they wished they had gone into plastic surgery instead of what they are now because the money is crazy $$$$$$$... Hollywood and the airbrushed pictures in magazines really affect how people feel about themselves... and that transcends cultures and religions like nothing did before.

    Of course what you don’t hear about are the horror stories of plastic surgery in Saudi… and they are more that a few

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  15. Plastic surgery everywhere has 2 main modalities:
    1) corrective-- of congenital or acquired deformities
    2) cosmetic--changes to appearance for personal vanity reasons

    The line is blurred increasingly, partly with recognition of psychological well-being as an important reason for corrective surgery. In general insurance companies and government insurance plans make the decision and pay for corrective but not cosmetic surgeries.

    Body dysmorphic disorder (major unhappiness of psychiatric proportions with a normal body part)--formerly rare, and now seemingly one of the diagnoses du jour--is an exclusionary criterion for plastic surgery or should be. Plastic surgeons are trained to recognize it and aren't supposed to operate if it is present. Money clouds the diagnostic judgment of some though.

    Balquis, Khanserai,and Precognitive-- very enlightening though different comments. Thanks.

    Puca--si, claro!

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  16. Good lord, eyebrow plucking=bad, and plastic surgery=good (if it's not vain...). I will never ever be able to wrap my head around that one. You also showed with your examples (breast augmentation b/c of tiny breasts, etc.) that there is a huge grey area there as well. To each his/her own, I guess, but eyebrows will grow back in a few days or so.

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  17. Hello Susie,

    I hope it is all going well as you navigate your way back to KSA.

    Interesting topic regarding plastic surgery. Apparently nose re-alignments are common in Iran too.

    Botox is another procedure that goes hand in hand with plastic surgery. I am shocked at the number of people I know here in Australia (in their mid thirties and not very wrinkled) who would seriously consider 'getting some work done' - at least a bit of botox, if a little extra money come their way. This is the case, despite the real medical risks associated with such procedures.

    If plastic surgery is as common in KSA as your blog suggests, it clearly demonstrates that vanity is a global phenonemum, despite any restrictions placed on dress.

    Kristina

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  18. I think there are also many women who are very insecure and live in fear their husbands will suprise them with a new wife- and so they spend alot of time effort and money lookiing as good as they can. Whatever it takes.

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  19. Yes it is hypocritical but, more and more, I have come to expect hypocrisy from Muslims anyway.

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  20. god gave me hands, and gave someone in history the intelligence to make tweezers. Thats enough permission for me. if things were supposed to be exactly as they are, we would never have cut toenails, we would eat with our hands, heck, we wouldnt cook things we would just eat it raw. but we don't because we were given the will and the choice to make things better... even ourselves when the option is agreeable to our life balance. taking it to extremes- no augmentation and too much, is just ridiculous, thats not religious its just common sense.

    So glad to have another post!

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  21. god gave me hands, and gave someone in history the intelligence to make tweezers. Thats enough permission for me. if things were supposed to be exactly as they are, we would never have cut toenails, we would eat with our hands, heck, we wouldnt cook things we would just eat it raw. but we don't because we were given the will and the choice to make things better... even ourselves when the option is agreeable to our life balance. taking it to extremes- no augmentation and too much, is just ridiculous, thats not religious its just common sense.

    So glad to have another post!

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  22. What an interesting topic. I am loving the comments from around the world. It just goes to proof that plastic surgery is a factor every where and all of us have an opinion. Hope you are still traveling and having a great time.

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  23. I don't believe that there is a culture or a religion on the planet that is free of hypocrisy.

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  24. Susie, this is a great blog!!! I live in Oman, but come from the northern europe - and it is so interesting following your experiences in Saudi.
    I follow you in questioning the doublemoral in the society - and that also goes for this subject...

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  25. Great post susie,
    I just want to explain thing that might have been misunderstood in the post.
    pluck eyebrows isn't forbidden for women in Islam. In fact,women are encouraged to pluck their eyebrows to look better in front of their spouses and family

    However, some muslim group in saudi think that it is forbidden. They the same ones who think that it is forbidden for women to drive, talks with strangers and so on.

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  26. I think all the covering is indeed making women sex objects! Covered and hidden women are more 'sex objects' than uncovered or nearly naked westerners IMHO. Why do you think breast augmentation is allowed?

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  27. As we have recently learned about Michael Jackson -- he seems to have felt that many of his nose surgeries were necessary for the improvement of the projection of his voice -- or something along those lines. What is "necessary" is quite subjective. Cosmetic surgery is a big business which fulfills a human need to be attractive to ourselves & others. Seems to me, too, that Saudi men get what Saudi men want. That's the rationale.

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  28. Michael Jackson most likely suffered from Body Dysmorphic Disorder about the nose his father repeatedly ridiculed + disreputable cosmetic surgeon syndrome.

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  29. Hello Susie,found your blog accidentally and enjoyed immensely reading your posts.

    Learned a lot of interesting things about Saudi Arabia. Actually i just thought about a question, i remember reading somewhere that man colleagues of hug & kiss each other once they meet again after vacation, is this also the case between man and woman if they are relatives?

    many thanks and looking forward for new posts.

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  30. Kathryn (previously of KSA)Aug 9, 2009, 12:22:00 PM

    I guess this goes together with a lot of other things you see in Saudi Arabia. Just like living in a 'Christian' country doesn't make you a committed, practicing Christian, being accidentally born in KSA doesn't make you a true believer in Islam either, much as the government would like to give the impression that all Saudis are deeply faithful muslims. In amongst Saudi society must be athiests, agnostics and a whole range of other varieties of belief and unbelief. Hence the ease with which people engage in what can be seen as un-Islamic practices. They are probably just not practicing Muslims.....just as they should be allowed not to be.

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  31. Pretty funny! Islam is just like any other religion in the sense that it's "rules" and "beliefs" are frequently altered for a variety of reasons...mostly self-serving.

    Sorry I've just not been able to keep up with all the comments of late...too darn busy!

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  32. I totally agree. As I was reading this, all I could think about was, "Why bother when you're covered from head to toe anyway?" I'm vain, but I don't even put on make-up or make my hair nice if I'm going nowhere or even if I'm only going to school for the day. Who sees it?

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  33. I have not that much idea Saudi Arabia but i think now some women are doing plastic surgery and breast enhancement.

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  34. Katherine: You have literally hit the proverbial nail on the head! Many people are indeed quick to the blame the deen of Islam for the seemingly contradicting practices of those who identify themselves as Muslims. However, it is true that people are going to do what they "think" is right regardless of the laws(shariah). An excuse can always be found to justify one's actions. Yet, one must be reminded that the majority of Muslims in the world today are not of Arab descent. There are approximately 10% of the world population of Muslims that are Arabs. The other 90% of the population are in non-Arab countries with Indonesia having the greatest percentage. This undoubtedly proves that Prophet Muhammad sallalahu alahi wa Salaam came to all of mankind and not just to Arabs. And certainly you will find lots of Muslims who simply lack knowledge of deen and integrate tribal/cultural mores into Islamic culture so that they can feel more comfortable with their illiteracy. Allahu Alim

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  35. So enhance them up before covering them up again. Makes no sense to me, but then not much makes sense in the realm of how women are treated in Saudi.

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  36. Interesting post. In my opinion, it is pretty normal to go under the knife if your source of income is your beauty. I think of it as an investment if that is the case. Otherwise, I think it is just cosmetic.

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  37. Hi there,

    I read your post with great interest, having lived in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, and than started my own Cosmetics clinic, offering Plastic Surgery as well in London...

    However, I think its wrong to assume that Plastic Surgery is merely for other people. We have many clients that come to us because they have always been concerned about their appearance, causing them to be shy, or introvert, affecting their quality of life in a very large way.

    The before and after of these people who have surgeries isnt just physical, alot of it is psychological. They tend to find a new sense of confidence and feel more extrovert.

    There are a minor few who come for just the visual changes, and thoes that are never satisfied, but they shouldnt undermine the real advantage of surgeries... in most cases, its a solution to a problem.

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  38. "so wouldn't getting plastic surgery directly contradict the religion and make it seem somewhat hypocritical?"

    It is not a contradiction if you understand the difference between public modesty and the private bedroom. The breasts (with implants or not) are not exposed and on display in Saudi Arabia. A woman is required to cover in public. However, in the privacy of her home in front of her husband, she can wear lingerie and be bare breasted, which is really what this is all for, the bed room.

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