Sliced and Diced: Colombia Makes the Cut in Plastic Surgery

plastic surgery
A patient undergoes a liposuction procedure.

Living in a foreign country, a person makes many observations.  Some occur immediately while others may take a while.  One I’ve had arriving in Colombia hit me as I was flying home to see my family and much to my surprise, as I was walking to sit in at my gate to await my flight, I walked into a swarm of middle-to-golden-aged-women, obviously not Colombian.  I wondered to myself, “What are all of these old, white women doing in Barranquilla?”, as Barranquilla isn’t particularly known for its tourism and it wasn’t Carnaval season. Then, I made the connection.  All of these women were unusually beautiful. They also reeked of something peculiar that I couldn’t quite my finger on. Then, DING, the light turned on. They were all waiting to return home after having received plastic surgery.  Nothing else could explain their incredibly smooth faces, perfect hourglass figures, and flabby arms.  The arms “no valen la pena”?

If you have eyes then you too have probably noticed the abundance of beauty in Colombia.  From its white beaches and crystal blue water to the plethora of birds and wildlife, and of course, the people!  The tourism in Colombia is ever increasing now that personal safety is becoming less and less of an issue and every day, people are flocking to enjoy everything this beautiful country has to offer; including plastic surgery. Over the past few years, the plastic surgery industry in Colombia has flourished and is now ranked 5th in the world.

Colombia’s plastic surgery boom began, like many other things here, with Pablo Escobar and his cronies. With limitless amounts of money and power, they plucked women from around the country and re-designed their bodies to suit the men’s personal likings. These “Narco Novias” soon became status symbols for the rest of the country and Pablo’s idea of beauty became a national norm.  This had so much of an impact that books, TV series, and movies have all been adapted to depict this social dynamic.  (See: Sin Tetas No Hay Paraiso)  Colombian society is so comfortable with plastic surgery, that teenage girls are changing their bodies oftentimes without approval from their parents. Girls all over the world deal with low self-esteem and false body image. Combined with a societal need for perfection, Colombian girls in their preteen to teen years are undergoing various types of surgeries to obtain their “ideal image”, not taking into account that their bodies aren’t done growing.  Who knows what the future may hold?

The trend from beyond the Caribbean border began years after as Colombians who lived abroad returned to get cosmetic surgeries completed at not just a very low price but also in some of the greatest, most state of the art facilities in the world. Compared to the United States, the price of liposuction is about 43% less ($3,800 compared to $6,700).  Breast augmentation is on average, 40% less ($4,000 in Colombia, $6,800 in the USA). The third most popular cosmetic procedure in Colombia is buttock augmentation and it is about 32% cheaper ($3,400 here, $5,000 there). For more cost comparisons, click here.  Naturally, the word of mouth phenomenon ignited and eventually the plastic surgery movement of Colombia was in full swing. Over 357,000 procedures were performed in Colombia in the year 2014 and it is believed that presently, over 500,000 surgeries occur annually.  That’s 2.4% of cosmetic surgeries performed worldwide.

A major factor to the exponential growth of plastic surgery in Colombia, of course, is the internet. One can go to Google and type in what part of the body they want to augment, reduce, snip, or tuck and locate any kind of doctor they want. But let’s remember that doctors’ offices can pay for ratings and just because they are at the top of your search engine’s list DOES NOT MEAN that they are in fact, the best. If you are in search of newer, different you, please do your research and don’t be hasty. In an attempt to deflect botched surgeries and protect innocent people, companies such as Pura Belleza have been founded.  Pura Belleza is a Colombian company where people can go online to talk about their personal experiences, get recommendations from actual clients, and find surgeons in Colombia; and although it is not the only syndicate in Colombia offering this service, it is the only search database in the country committed solely to plastic surgery and aesthetic procedures.

I’m not going to say whether or not I agree or disagree with cosmetic surgery. Keep in mind that even cosmetic surgery involves great risks to your health – physically, mentally, and emotionally. “Does plastic surgery make patients feel better? Studies have shown that people report increased satisfaction with the body part they had surgery on, but results are mixed on whether plastic surgery boosts their self-esteem, quality of life, self-confidence and interpersonal relationships in the long term.”


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Stacy Johnson is a humanitarian and a culture junky. She has lived all over the United States and has wandered to various parts of the world but has fallen completely in love with Barranquilla. She teaches English daily, but is also involved in various volunteer projects around the city and is passionate about sharing with others what this asphalt jungle has to offer.