Lifting the spirits

17:00, Jul 14 2012

It's out with the tired and wrinkled and in with the fresh and taut, as stressed Cantabrians slowly resume the search for their perfect selves.

Despite an economic recession and the crippling effects of the Canterbury earthquakes, Christchurch surgeons are reporting that cosmetic procedures are once again on the rise.

Dr Ken MacDonald noticed a fall in clients following the earthquakes, but says it was expected. Now, people are finding time to look at themselves in the mirror. "When the buildings were shaking, people had other priorities," he said.

MacDonald says "need-led" rather than "dream-led" procedures ticked over following the earthquakes, but cosmetic clients had slowly come back.

"I think events like this affect people in so many ways, you can't generalise. Some people adopted the `life's short' attitude and went for surgery, others said `life's more important than cosmetic surgery'."

Nonetheless, he sees the earthquakes as having an indirect effect on people wanting surgery.


"I think people have their concerns. Stress might heighten certain concerns, and if you've been focusing on an aesthetic issue and you don't like how you look, it could well be that if you're under stress you respond more readily to that."

As they recover financially, Cantabrians are visiting the doctor's office for "fresh, happy" appearances, cosmetic medical physician Dr Phil Frost says.

"People are trying to get on and there has been that huge down-time. They just want to get back to their normal patterns. And as they get back to their hair and buy some new clothes, they start looking in the mirror more and noticing things."

Frost says southerners tend to be discreet about having procedures, and while surgery was mainstream, it was still "slightly behind closed doors".

"Christchurch people are conservative, they don't want people to know they've had something done, unlike in Europe where it's almost like a badge of honour to have had these things done."

Frost's clinic, which deals solely with appearance medicine, such as botox and dermal filling rather than surgery, had also seen a recent trend towards more natural procedures.

He noted in particular that there had been a shift away from wrinkle filling, and for the "big, trouty lips" that had once been in high demand.

"The trend is for less .. They'll still leave their forehead, they'll leave their smile lines, because they're positive expressions."

And for many women, surgery and appearance medicine has become just another tool in their maintenance regimes.

In fact, compared to looking after your hair, Frost says getting a round of botox is actually more affordable.

"Some women spend about $2000 a year on haircuts and colours and not many spend $2000 a year on botox."

These days women generally spend $350 on average every four or five months on botox injections, he says.

MacDonald agrees with Frost's opinion that people now want a much more natural look.

However, the reasons behind plastic surgery are still the same as they have always been, MacDonald says.

"I think [people] become aware that something can be done and that they have a problem that can be fixed. I think it's as simple as that."

Cosmetic surgeon Dr Howard Klein agrees.

"I think that people always want to look as good as they can. And I think people come to realise over time that there are some things that you cannot diet or exercise away."

While he says there have been few changes in the cosmetic surgery industry of late, he has noticed an air of "comfort" in his patients seeking cosmetic surgery.

People are now also more open to maintaining procedures as a regime.

"A lot of people who, when they start getting these things, they really like this idea of maintenance," he says. "And if you have one good experience, you're open to another."

Having practised in California prior to coming to New Zealand, Klein has seen the more extreme world of cosmetic surgery.

He says New Zealand "has more balance", and he moved here for that very reason.

Agreeing with Frost, Klein says while cosmetic surgery is considered mainstream here, it will never experience the prominence it has in other parts of the world.

"Well, we're certainly never going to be Brazil where it's a rite of passage," he says.

Cosmetic surgeon Dr Jesse Kenton-Smith says New Zealanders, as a rule, "don't want to look operated on".

"I've seen some great facelifts done overseas but they wouldn't be accepted here because those women looked like they've had surgery."

Since the quakes, more people have been coming in for facelifts and botox, Kenton-Smith says.

"It surprised me because I didn't think that would be the case," he says. "I think, overall, people are thinking, `Why wait to sort things out? Let's have something nice happen to me.' With people in their 50s and 60s, they're thinking, `I don't know what's next, but whatever happens, I'll still look my best."'

Another surgeon, Dr Rob Beulink, says his business suffered with the economic downturn, and was hit further by the quakes.

"It's disposable income and right now cosmetics is being overshadowed. People are more worried about their jobs and houses."

However, he also recently noticed an upswing.

Liposuction and eye tucks are still the most popular procedures at his clinic.

The oldest patient Kenton-Smith had seen was a 91-year-old woman who had originally come in for treatment for her varicose veins in the 1990s.

"She asked me what I could do for her, and when I asked why, she said, `Because I still feel the same inside.'

"Most of the time people come back to the fact that they still feel the same inside but the wrappings are perhaps not as fresh."

While people who have procedures done are usually over 30, Beulink says in recent years, younger people in their late 20s were opting for surgery.

"Some people start coming in for fills and botox in their 20s," he says. "That was virtually never done a decade ago. There's a broadening age spectrum."

Kenton-Smith says women who underwent breast augmentations were usually over the age of 30 because they were more likely to be able to afford it.

"Facelifts are generally for people in their 50s to 60s, and eye tucks begin in the 40s," he says.


A Christchurch woman spoke to the Sunday Star Times about her decision to undergo cosmetic surgery two years ago.

She does not want to be identified because she does not want others to know she has had work done.

The woman, now 48, says she underwent a facelift because she felt she no longer resembled herself.

"I was getting heavy jowls and I was getting depressed looking at myself, because I didn't look like me any more," she said.

"I felt really good afterwards. I never regretted it for one minute. I didn't look drastically different; I just looked more like how I should have looked. I looked the way I felt.

"No-one noticed that I had had anything done. They just thought I was happier and prettier, which was what I wanted. When my sister saw me, she asked: `Did you get new foundation?' My skin looked really good.

"People don't really look at your flaws the way you do yourself. I definitely did it for me."

Another woman, who also did not want to be identified, said she began Botox treatments 10 years ago.

She says that while she was working in the appearance medicine industry staff were allowed to try the products and she became hooked.

However, she says she did it for herself rather than to boost her career.

Now 52, the woman says she can easily pass for a 40-year-old.

Sunday Star Times