It’s a sunny Monday morning in September when I arrive at Dr. Matlock’s cosmetic surgery clinic in Beverly Hills, LA. The waiting room high above Sunset Strip is a world away from the throng of activity and blaring traffic down below. Here it is cool, calm and most of all, quiet. I let the receptionist with the perfect smile know I am here and sit patiently on the couch. Framed article after framed article line the walls of the waiting room, each one discussing the pros and cons of different procedures. Not surprising really, as the clinic has a reputation for being at the forefront of the latest surgery breakthroughs. But while 10 years ago, most of the people coming in and out of the clinic would be seeking boob jobs, the past couple of years has seen clients arriving in droves for a more intimate procedure. So much so, that plastic surgeon, Dr. Matlock, has now decided to focus entirely on these procedures and is now a pioneer in the business.
Some say it’s essential progress within the surgery world, others argue it’s vanity run amok. Whatever it is due to, there’s a growing number of women who are now going under the knife in a bid to look younger and prettier not only on the outside, but gynaecologically as well. Indeed, in the past two years, Dr. Matlock has seen a 50 per cent increase in women visiting him for laser vagina rejuvenation (LVR), which ‘tightens’ and designer laser vaginoplasty (DLV), which ‘beautifies’. “I see women of all ages, from 20 to 50, and they all come to me because they don’t feel ‘normal’,” he says.
That these procedures are on the rise in the US, particularly in LA – home to the movie industry - is not that surprising. But Dr. Matlock notes that he’s seen a marked increase in these procedures at his clinic in Dubai as well. “I’ve definitely seen an increase in women asking for either the LVR or the DLV there. About 60 per cent of my clients in the UAE coming in for these procedures are expats, but the rest are from Middle Eastern regions, including Kuwait and Lebanon.”
He continues, “The Dubai clinic has been open for two years. Our surgeon group consists of cast members who are from the US reality TV show Dr. 90210. Each of us has a substantial number of patients thanks to our international notoriety and as a result, we thought it would be a natural fit to have a practice in Dubai.”
Life changing experience
The procedures that the team perform are the same as those in the Beverly Hills clinic, namely Brazilian Butt Augmentation, total body liposculpturing, DLV, LVR and VASER Hi Def Liposculpturing. As one might expect, these sort of procedures aren’t covered by medical insurance, so women have to cough up anything between Dhs18,000 to Dhs30,000 for the LVR or DLV package, but as Dr. Matlock claims, 93 per cent of his patients who undergo LVR or DLV are happy with the results and think the price is worth it.
So if price isn’t a factor, what is making women so unhappy with how they look that they’ll come from all over the Middle East to Dubai to undergo what some might deem is a radical option? “The women that I see coming to me in Dubai come to me for pretty much the same reasons as anywhere else. They’ve normally had two to three children and are keen to tighten things up again.”
Thirty-seven-year-old Fiona Gregory* had LVR six years ago after giving birth to her third child. “After my third baby, I lost all my muscle control,” she says. “I became incontinent and I suffered from embarrassing leaks of urine whenever I laughed or ran.”
Fiona tried to talk to her gynaecologist about it and was advised to do kegels - a pelvic-squeezing exercise recommended to re-establish tone after childbirth - but no matter how many she did, nothing worked. She felt there was no-one she could talk to and no solution, so she became very private and it got so bad that Fiona’s husband was ready to leave her. That was when she knew something had to be done. “I began doing a lot of research on the subject and I found out about Dr. Matlock’s surgery,” says Fiona. “I spoke to my husband about the procedure and we decided it was worth the cost. Six years later and I’m sure it’s still the best money we’ve ever spent. It’s really been a life-changing experience.”
But for every Fiona, there is a Diana Tenaerys*, 40, who had DLV because she just wasn’t happy with the way she looked. “I would often look at magazines and worry about not looking the same,” she says. “Because I felt out of proportion, none of my relationships ever lasted as I didn’t feel comfortable. It was very debilitating.”
Dr. Matlock agrees that magazines and the media in general has had a lot of influence over how women view themselves. “Women come in with pictures all the time explaining that this is what they’d like to look like,” he says. “We’ll then look at the picture and look at them and will determine if it’s possible or not. We’ll also tell them that every woman is different.”
While each woman may come in with a different image, what Dr. Matlock points out is that they all bring examples of a younger model. “As with all cosmetic surgery, the one thing everyone is looking to achieve is youth and this is no different,” he says. “Most women want to be 16 again,” he adds.
Sharon Mitchell, executive director of the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation, agrees saying that the adult film industry’s emphasis on youth, as well as its growing audience among beauty-conscious women, is almost certainly driving the upsurge in these procedures.
Worth the risk?
As the procedures have grown in exposure and popularity, a few mainstream gynaecologists have started to sound the alarm. “You’re taking a risk for no or very little benefit with most of these surgeries,” says Dr. Thomas G Stovall, immediate past president of the Society of Gynecological Surgeons. Stovall warns that with many of these procedures patients run the risk of developing infection and scar tissue, which can decrease sensation - or worse, cause pain - in the areas where incisions have been made.
Feminists have also begun to speak out against these types of surgery, saying that women are taking unnecessary risks with their bodies just to adhere to standards of beauty that are fleeting and unnatural. “Women are dealing with external pressures on a daily basis that they are then internalising,” says Judy Norsigian, co-founder and author of the feminist health book Our Bodies, Ourselves (Touchstone Paperback/Simon & Schuster, Dhs95, amazon.com).
But some women aren’t buying this - proven by the increasing figures. Those that have undergone these procedures claim that rather than undermining a woman’s sexuality it actually empowers them as they become more confident in themselves and in their bodies. “I consider myself a feminist, and I feel this is so empowering,” says 36-year-old Lara Tyler*. Tyler had three children and never thought she’d end up in a plastic surgeon’s office. But in the two years after the birth of her third child, Lara says she consulted three doctors for symptoms that had grown more dramatic with each childbirth. She felt a “bottomingout” feeling when she ran or lifted the baby and the downward pressure of her reproductive organs and urinary bladder.
However, whether a woman chooses to undergo plastic surgery out of physical discomfort or aesthetic, it seems that all have tried other options before turning to plastic surgery.
Lara, like Fiona, was recommended to do kegels by her gynaecologist, but like so many before her, they didn’t work. In the end, after numerous suggestions by doctors including a hysterectomy, Lara felt her only option was genital cosmetic surgery and she opted for the LVR package. “It felt like the gentler choice and I’m so glad I went ahead with it. I feel rejuvenated and better than ever,” she says.
Separating fact from fiction
For some women, genital cosmetic surgery seems like a natural decision – one that wasn’t made easily, but one that was right. Other women, like Norsigian, argue that women aren’t being told the full story when they choose to go down this route. “The information available to us is still not clear on the risks involved as well as any real advantages for the woman in question,” she says. “For every woman who had a great experience, there are others who will regret it. There is no reliable data and women aren’t being told this. This is the main problem,” she adds.
American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), remains non-committal towards genital cosmetic surgery. In a statement to VIVA, it mentioned that the safety and effectiveness of these procedures have not been documented and that women should be informed about the lack of data supporting the efficacy of these procedures and their potential complications. It ends by stating that it’s deceptive to give the impression that vaginal rejuvenation, designer vaginoplasty or any such procedures are normal or routine.
And perhaps this is where the true danger lies. A recent study** carried out in the UK revealed that many of the women seeking genital surgery had normal genitalia that was not so different from other women’s not seeking surgery. The study had girls as young as 11 seeking surgery as they felt they weren’t normal and, without strict guidelines or sufficient data, how do we know what is normal and what isn’t?
Dr. Matlock insists that he always makes sure a possible new client’s request is deemed reasonable, rather than a symptom of an unhealthy body image, but to do so requires an understanding of what is normal and what is beautiful. Until that happens, or until a new cosmetic trend takes force, it looks like this is one procedure within the surgery world that will continue to keep on rising.
INFO: For more information on Dr. Matlock, visit drmatlock.com. For consultation enquiries, contact the American British Surgical & Medical Centre on (04) 297 5544.