Nip and Tuck: Jordan’s Plastic Surgery Boom

Whether they’re carrying out nose jobs on women wanting to look like film stars, or liposuction on men hurtling towards middle age, Jordan’s plastic surgeons say they’ve never been busier.

By Elisa Oddone

As we become more and more accustomed to images of surgery-enhanced celebrities, an increasing number of Jordanians are booking themselves into the country’s cosmetic surgery clinics seeking features resembling their favorite stars.

Women swarm to Jordan clinics asking for noses like Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, best-selling recording artist Elissa’s breasts, or Meryam Fares’ voluptuous curves.

Men also want to sport noses or six-pack abs like American actor Taylor Lautner and wrestler Dwayne Johnson.

No official figure is available, but the Jordanian surgeons Venture contacted said they have witnessed a 100 percent rise in demand over the last decade for procedures ranging from eye-lid lifts and rhinoplasty, to liposuction and breast implants. The average patient age is between 25 and 45 for women, and between 40 and 50 for men.

Top-Notch Services

Dr. Walid KarhchuleDespite the conservatism of Jordanian society, the stigma attached to cosmetic surgery appears to be waning as the Kingdom becomes ever more inextricably linked to the world around it. “The impact of the open media and globalization has had a huge influence on people’s demand for aesthetic treatments,” Jordanian consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Walid Karhchule said.

On the morning Venture visited Dr Karhchule’s clinic, around 10 men and women were waiting in the reception area. Some had suffered injuries that required reconstructive surgery, while the remainder were likely seeking Dr. Karhchule’s expertise in carrying out cosmetic procedures, including botox, liposuction, and breast augmentation. “Plastic and reconstructive surgeries are considered to be an essential issue in many people’s lives today, since it improves their mental and psychological status,” he said. “Both women and men are pleased if they look better or younger and feel more confident when people approach them in a very positive way.”

While in the 1960s patients were interested in reconstruction and correcting deformities caused by accidents, burns, or congenital anomalies, the early 1990s saw more patients looking for enhancements. As the market has widened throughout the years, aesthetic surgery has also lost much of its exclusivity. Surgeries that were initially reserved for the yacht-owning wealthiest echelons have been made available to the masses.

Today, Jordan is the leading destination for medical tourism in the region, with plastic surgery high in demand. “This is due to the increasing number of advanced hospitals equipped with cutting-edge tools, the country’s reasonable surgery prices, and the large number of highly qualified doctors,” he said.

Dr.Ghaith ShubailatBut Jordan’s journey to reach this primacy began some 50 years ago with a surgeon who has done more than any other to launch the Kingdom to the vanguard of plastic surgery: Dr. Ghaith Shubailat.

Trained in the UK and the United States, Shubailat was the first plastic surgeon certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery in the Middle East. He said he has performed 500 operations annually for the past 30 years.

“There was only one plastic surgeon in Jordan in the 1960s, he was my teacher and got me hooked to this profession. Following my studies, I started the plastic reconstructive surgery section at the King Hussein Medical Center,” Shubailat told Venture at his practice in an upscale neighborhood of Amman.

Dr. Shubailat trained dozens of plastic surgeons and invited others for short-term courses and visits until he left the army in 1984. Many of his alumni have gone on to found their own practices, and the training program he helped start still operates to this day.

The surgeon first honed his skills treating patients who were burned or disfigured in the 1967 Middle East war, when the deployment of napalm bombs—now internationally prohibited—left civilians with horrific scars.

Today, the surgeon who reached the rank of major general, only performs cosmetic treatments. “The majority of my patients are women while men make around 15 percent of my clients,” he said. “Arabs often have crooked noses, so almost half of my work are nose jobs. Until 2003, I used to do about seven breast implants a year. Suddenly, the number has soared following the latest fashion trends. Now it is a very common request, and I do a hundred a year.”

The surgeon said women in their 30s come to him for breast lifting operations after deliveries, while many foreigners opt for liposuction treatments, especially patients from the Gulf countries, where obesity is a huge problem.

Costs at Dr. Shubailat’ s practice start from JD3,000 for a nose job, JD3,500 for breast implants, and between JD3,000 and JD6,000 for liposuction, depending on the person’s size.

A Medical Hub

Dr. Kusai ElmusaJordan has grown in reputation as a center for plastic surgery excellence down the years, luring more and more patients from abroad.

Dr. Kusai Elmusa, a prominent plastic surgeon and secretary general of the Jordanian Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, estimates that 20 percent of his patients come from the Gulf, and a further 10 percent from other countries like the United States. He said they opt to come to Jordan because of the “quality of the practices and especially for the lower prices.”

Cosmetic surgery is among the must-dos for many tourists, according to Elmusa.

Patients tend to undergo surgeries during their holidays, as operations are not invasive anymore, and can be done almost entirely under local anesthetic. Free of bleeding or bruising, patients can usually walk out of the operating room and go home the same day.

Despite the vast majority of patients still being women, a growing number of men are resorting to surgical and non-surgical aesthetic interventions in Jordan in adherence to international trends. “Men go for solutions that highlight their masculinity, like more projection to their chins, a more manly nose, six-pack abs, liposuction, and tightening,” Elmusa said.

But while demand for plastic surgery appears to be growing in Jordan, leading surgeons always try to encourage patients to go for natural looks during surgeries. “We want our patients to ask for natural results, since it is impossible to go under the knife every day to change looks,” Elmusa said. “Patients will also be happier in the long-term, sporting bodies and features detached from temporary standards of beauty dictated by the latest fashion.”