The Unending Search for Body Enhancement
THE maddening desire for beauty amongst people is a never ending one and both sexes are striving to modify, adjust or change how they look, all in a bid to get that elusive ‘perfect look.’ That look that the Internet, television and several media tell us is the perfect look, is probably what most people are striving to attain and most Nigerians are now ready to go hungry, or worse still, starve, in order to achieve this phantom picture.
Tolulope Fajobi (not real name) told The Guardian that she would do anything to be ‘beautiful’ at all costs. She had been led to believe that she had to be light-skinned in order to be considered attractive and over time, spared no costs to achieve the perfect light skin. However, things have gotten out of hand now and she is desperately seeking for a remedy to her chemical-damaged skin.
After years of massaging her skin with hydroquinone and mercury laced creams and other strange beauty products, her skin is not only damaged, but peels off at the slightest touch. She is spending her life savings looking for a solution, which doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Worse still, she recently lost her job and this has thrown her into even more difficulty. She regrets her decision now, but the regret is probably coming too late.
But bleaching creams and skin bleaching are really nothing new and have always been with us for a long time. The numbers of ‘skin experts’ and cream mixologists have increased at an alarming rate with many more joining the fray daily. Almost every street corner can now boast of a ‘skin expert’. Saying that 95 per cent of these so-called experts are quacks and charlatans would be stating the obvious.
However, the beauty fads that are fast gaining ground include tummy flattening or blasting, different body parts enlargements and/or reduction, pink lips, tattoos, body piercings and ‘body cleansing’, which is just another way of saying skin bleaching, changing eye colour, amongst a host of others.
The Guardian visited Ikeja, which has become somewhat synonymous with most of these nefarious beauty procedures. As soon as you approach the roundabout leading to Computer Village, men and women immediately ‘harass’ you. This harassment is worse if you are female as you are immediately besieged by all sorts of women asking, ‘Aunty, do you want to do your hair,’ ‘Aunty, I will do it very well for you o!’ It doesn’t matter even if you just finished braiding your hair right beside them; they are hoping you might just want to loosen it and do another.
While you might still be contemplating how to disengage yourself from their grip, a young man slides up beside you, immediately asking you, “What do you want to do?” Your answer will determine if he will reel out his curriculum vitae to you. If your answer is favourable, you would be told to come and make your lips pink, enlarge or reduce different body parts, get a tattoo or a piercing or brighten your skin or even change your eye colour. In fact, anything you need is possible, they tell you.
Posing as prospective customers, we requested for a pink lip procedure. Immediately, three other men surrounded us, saying they could do a better job. After several minutes of negotiation, the sum of N5,000 to do both lips was agreed upon. Initially, he asked for this sum for each lip, making both lips N10,000 but after threatening to walk out, he agreed to slash it by half. He promptly informed these reporters that we needed to reduce our tummies and asked us to do a tummy tuck. These young men who gave their names as Terry and AK, said they would do it for the small sum of N35, 000. Protesting of the outrageous amount, they promptly informed that the procedure was a delicate one and we would get some pills and cream after the procedure to hasten the process.
The cream is supposedly a herbal mixture, but when we requested to see it, they said we could only get it after undergoing procedure. After trying to convince the pair of us with no luck, they said they would give us a bonus: hip and buttock enlargement for the give away price of N40, 000, inclusive of course, the pills and the cream. As before, we protested the amount but we were informed that these were give away prices as we had come recommended from a friend.
Still reeling out their skills and their prices, we were told we could enlarge our breasts for N 40, 000 or reduce them for the cheap sum of N25, 000). We met a girl there, who told us she got green contacts for her eyes from them and that we should try it out. She had never taken out the contacts for any reason and was thinking of making the eye colour permanent. Expressing horror at leaving contacts in the eyeballs for a long period of time, she laughed away our fears, saying we were afraid for nothing.
We expressed our fear and worry to Terry and AK concerning the pink lips and tummy tuck, but they promised us that we would be fine and they had 100 per cent success rate. In fact, AK promised that the pink lips would last less than 30 minutes and we would be back at work in no time. As for the tummy tuck, it would be done on Friday and by Monday, we would be able to go to work.
According to doctors, the average fastest recovery time for this kind of procedure is four to six weeks. After telling them this, we were told that they were going to do a non-invasive procedure. Even before we were able to ask what a non-invasive procedure entailed, they quickly informed us that they would explain everything when we were ready. In other words, when we paid money up front. We kept on hearing about some ‘machines’ that were imported from China and the United States and which would be used for us. As usual, we requested to see the machines and we received the standard reply, ‘When you are ready, aunty.’
To support their claim, we were shown several pictures of clients they had ‘worked’ upon. When we asked for the ‘Before’ pictures to compare and contrast with the ‘After’ pictures, we were not surprised to learn that there were none. According to them, there wasn’t any need as their works spoke for themselves.
Their claim wasn’t true, however, as the mutual friend that steered us their way was a one-time client of the duo. She underwent a pink lip procedure as well as a hip and buttock enlargement and she landed in the hospital few days later. Apart from the procedures being a total failure, she suffered an allergic reaction to the pills she was given and almost lost her life in the process.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, she told The Guardian that several efforts to get in touch with Terry and AK proved abortive and after initially disconnecting the line each time on hearing her voice, they eventually changed their phone numbers. After recovering, she went to look for them at their ‘shop’ in Ikeja but both were nowhere to be found. After several unfruitful visits, she decided to forget about the whole experience and regretfully chalk it up as one of those things and move on with her life.
That was several months ago and the duo are back again at their hustling spot, looking for more victims to scam. The shop they use is actually a hairdressing salon, which they use as a front. After negotiating and reaching a price agreement, you are then taken into a back room to proceed with the process of whatever it is you paid for.
You are not told the inherent dangers associated with the obviously illegal and medically unskilled process you are about to undergo, never mind that several people might have lost their lives that way. They claim that the pills and cream that is given are herbal products and have no side effects, which is not totally true either, as several people who spoke with us said they suffered different reactions.
In truth, it is surprising that anybody would go to any of these young men for any procedure of any kind. They were badly dressed, sporting dreads and several tattoos. They wore sagging trousers with their dirty boxer shorts exposed for all to see and spotted several piercings as well. Perhaps all the tattoos and piercings were advertisements for their stock in trade, but how does one explain the smell of alcohol and weed that oozed from every pore of their bodies? On every visit we made to them in the course of writing this story, they stank of weed, gin and alcohol, sometimes, as early as 10am in the morning.
When we requested for ‘skin cleansing’, Terry and AK referred us to Mummy T, another of their partners. She showed us several pictures of varying degrees of whiteness and asked us to pick the one we liked. After deciding on two, she quoted her prices. For the skin washing, we were to pay N15, 000, then N25, 000 for the cream. We were also to buy some injections and pills to go along with the soap and cream we would be given. She promised that we would begin to see results in less than a week. After expressing automatic shock at the amount, she assured us that return visits and referrals would fetch us discounts and we wouldn’t experience any side effects as long as we stuck with her.
Mummy T told us that people that got skin burns and reactions were the ones that changed ‘hands’ frequently, especially when they were broke and went for a lesser-priced cream when they couldn’t afford hers. She continually assured us that we wouldn’t experience any side effects with her, as long as we used all her products correctly. We promised to return another day, as we hadn’t budgeted that amount of money.
Mr. Sola Oseni, who works with one of the body enhancement centres in Abuja, told The Guardian that the main reason a lot of women patronise these roadside quacks to undergo butt and breast implants was to enhance their body structure. He feels that societal pressure to have bigger breasts, slimmer waists and bigger butts amongst women, is driving a lot of them towards the doorsteps of these quacks instead of experts like himself. He added that these centres are now commonplace even in the city of Abuja and they usually charge between N40, 000 to N100, 000 for these procedures. The patient usually has to go for regular checkup to ensure everything is still in place and this doesn’t come cheap either.
Mr. Adewale Adigun, a student of one of the foremost universities in Nigeria told us that one of his course mates died in February this year, apparently from complications arising from a botched breast augmentation she underwent in January. She had it done somewhere in Ikeja and she suffered a clot and died before help could get to her.
Just last year, Nigerians were inundated with the story of a young woman that died after she suffered complications from a butt implant that exploded in her. Her family said that she had always suffered from body image issues but they never knew she would undergo a cosmetic surgery. Sadly, it proved fatal for her.
Many Nigerians are being swayed daily by images of celebrities both home and abroad and they want to look like them, not knowing what these celebrities in question might have done to look the way they did. Because most people do not have enough funds to travel out of the country to get it done, they resort to quacks and backyard cosmetic surgeons to achieve this. Many times, they come to regret this decision but they are too ashamed to come out and say this.
Several doctors have warned against tampering with the body anatomy, especially from unqualified persons but these calls have gone unanswered. In fact, these quacks are thriving as demands for their services seem to be growing daily. It is very doubtful if they will come to an end soon as we all know that when there is a demand, there would always be supply.