Before her first chemical peel, Theresa Mansour, a 40 year-old orthopedic nurse from Dearborn, didn’t like what she saw when she looked in the mirror.
After being a nurse for eight years and raising two kids, she decided she wanted a smooth, wrinkle-free face and fuller breasts.
“I’m getting older,” she said in a waiting a room at a Dearborn plastic surgeon’s office. “You can see a lot of changes.”
Mansour is among many women to turn to surgery to enhance their beauty, a growing trend in the Arab American community.
Over the past five years, the number of Arab American patients at the Masri Clinic for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery has quadrupled, according to Dr. Haitham Masri, who started the clinic in Dearborn 20 years ago.
“It is very noticeable. First I noticed it in the Lebanese and Chaldean communities,” he said. “And recently I saw a very big interest growing in the Iraqi community. And just recently the Yemeni community.”
|Dr. Haitham Masri
“The skin is the largest organ of the body, and the eye will be noticing the skin more than anything else,” he said. “The most commonly done procedures at the clinic are generally to improve the skin.”
After one of her treatments, Mansour said she was happy with the way she looked and felt.
“It gives me self confidence,” she said. “With my work, if I look sad, it reflects on the patients. But when I feel good and confident in myself, it makes them feel better.”
Mansour said she won’t stop at skin procedures. She has plans for a tummy tuck and a breast augmentation in the future.
Those who work at the Masri Clinic, constantly surrounded by the pursuit of flawlessness, often can’t help but start noticing their own imperfections.
“I always said I would never, ever do anything to my face,” said Sawsan Sabra, 25, a medical assistant and cosmetic coordinator at the clinic.
But wanting youthful-looking skin becomes contagious.
“I liked the work done on patients. I said why not? What’s wrong with it? So I decided to do it,” she said.
Like most of Masri’s staff, Sabra has had chemical peels, laser skin resurfacing, and facial enhancements in which fat was taken out of her thighs and abdomen and injected into her cheeks and upper lip.
Some are troubled by the growing interest in plastic surgery.
“Women do it because of low self-esteem or poor body image perception,” said Monica Porter, director of the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
“There’s a large number of women reconstructing their body images.”
She said women should figure out what drives them to get cosmetic procedures done before they talk to a plastic surgeon.
“I hope that women who do go for cosmetic work, that they pair it with counseling, so that they explore the reasons why they are doing the cosmetic surgery,” she said.
Masri asks his patients to bring in a picture of their favorite actress to help him produce the exact look they desire.
“The pictures help me understand what they want,” he said.
He said many Arab women and his non-Arab employees pursue a look popularized by famous Lebanese celebrities.
“Most people desire the lips and cheeks of Nancy Ajram and Haifa Wehbe,” he said.
“My non-Arabic speaking staff know who Haifa and Nancy are. They have their songs programmed as ringers on their cell phones.”
Ajram and Wehbe are very popular Lebanese singers known for their puffy lips and blown up cheeks.
Porter, who supports only reconstructive plastic surgery, believes the media has a huge impact on how people perceive what beauty is.
“I think the media does an excellent job making us feel ‘less than.’ It forces and challenges people to look at themselves and measure up,” she said.
“They believe only beautiful people are able to obtain or actually achieve.”
After attaining bright, flawless skin, Sabra is planning to enhance the appearance of what Masri says is the second most noticeable part of the face: the nose.
He said he does as many as five rhinoplasties (nose jobs) a day.
“Next to the skin will be the nose. The amazing thing about the nose — people don’t look at the nose unless it’s imperfect,” the doctor said.
“The nose hides the beauty of the eyes.”
Some women come to the clinic with the belief that cosmetic procedures will save their marriages.
“A lady came into the office with no appointment, crying for an emergency consultation,” Masri said.
“She was told by her Iraqi husband that he would divorce her… and go to Iraq to marry a younger girl. The patient had very dark blotches all over her face. We were able to make her husband wait on her… until her spots were gone. And as far as I know, they stayed together,” he said.
Masri came to the U.S. from Syria in 1979. He completed his residency in New York and Toronto, specializing in general surgery before moving to ear, nose, and throat, which led him to facial plastics.
He said he found plastic surgery to be the “cleanest” medical specialty, and was fascinated by the art of doing facial surgery without scarring.
“The beauty of plastic surgery—it’s a clean field. You’re looking always at the bright aspect of life rather than doing cancer surgery or general surgery,” he said.
But he feels his work does help people with their overall health.
“When I see my patient after surgery, cracking jokes and happy and smiling and feeling sure of herself, I believe I did help her well-being. Not necessarily preventing a heart attack, but made her live her life better.”
Porter, on the other hand, said that a person’s psychological well-being leading up to surgery has to be considered.
“The thing I’m always striving for is being healthy with the perception of inner beauty,” she said.
“The problem is not the way they look but more their perception of the way they look… That’s the thing that needs to be addressed first before talking about cosmetic surgery.”
Some women go to great lengths to pay for the enhancements, hoping the money will serve as an investment that will bring them happier lives.
Masri said some women form groups in which they pool their money to fund procedures for each other.
“The women gather and they pay, each of them some amount, and they give it to one to do her treatment and then next time will be the turn of the other one,” Masri said.
Others use credit.
Fatima Mousaid, a 37 year-old auto factory worker originally from Morocco, underwent multiple skin treatments to remedy a discoloration on her face, neck and chest that appeared after using a skin cream and laying out in the sun.
She charged $1,200 to her credit card for 10 chemical peels and other skin rejuvenation sessions.
Mansour, who paid half of her $2,500 skin procedure fees in cash, and charged the other half, anticipates more debt.
“By the time I’m done with all my procedures, it will have cost me around $12,000.”
The Masri clinic has two entrances. One leads to the general waiting room, and the other is a hidden entrance where the patient enters through a door to a different waiting room that is locked. Some patients want their work to be private.
The money and the effort that go into having the surgeries aren’t always put forth for the purpose of changing a person’s features, Masri said, but enhancing them.
“We will continue to look ourselves,” he said. “But better.”