Views are changing on engineered perfection in the age of affordable cosmetic surgery.

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“Have you had work done?” The question, often thought but not asked, hangs in the air more frequently now that cosmetic procedures have dramatically advanced in effectiveness, safety and affordability. Once exclusive to the rich and famous, the power to create one’s desired image is now attainable for the everyday person. With modern innovation, one can counter the effects of aging or change their appearance in their quest to feel their best.

Pursuing one’s ideal body through medical means, however, is still cloaked in social stigma among the Caribbean diaspora community, as many suffer body shaming and judgment for undergoing cosmetic enhancement procedures. This has led many to keep hushed about work they’ve had done. But a growing body-beautiful movement is proving that cosmetic body enhancement is nothing to be ashamed of. 

“Usually in the Caribbean, we don’t want anybody to know that we do enhancements to our bodies, but I want it to be known that it is okay,” says Dr. Sandra Swaby, a Jamaican cosmetic surgeon and founder of Harmony Health Clinic and Medical Spa. With this goal in mind, Dr. Swaby has opened up her practice through social media. There she shares the possibilities of her treatments while educating her followers about their risks and limits, all in an atmosphere of pride and empowerment. “This is a journey towards openness and transparency in cosmetic surgery,” she explains. “This is a choice about holistically looking at what we would like to do for ourselves.”

Cosmetic Surgery in the Caribbean - Dr. Sandra Swaby
Dr. Sandra Swaby.
Photo courtesy of DASH Productions

To Cut or Not to Cut

For those choosing to redefine their beauty on their own terms, people now enjoy a host of new options to consider. There are an increasing number of non-invasive treatments, which require no incisions into the skin. Skin rejuvenating chemical peels, dermabrasion and face lifting options such as Polydioxanone (PDO) Thread Lift fall into this category. For folks unfazed by needles, Botox injections can help soften facial fine lines and wrinkles. Fillers reshape the face, volumizing drooping skin and plumping facial features like lips and cheeks. Laser applications have become another popular option, used for permanent body hair removal, scar revision, vein reduction, tattoo removal, and laser liposuction. 

For those willing to go under the knife, more invasive surgical procedures can offer longer lasting and more dramatic change. Face lifts and nose reshaping can alter the face. Breast augmentation and breast implants can reform the figure while adding or removing volume. Liposuction can move body fat, whether to snatch a midsection with a tummy tuck (abdominoplasty), or sculpt a curvy derriere with the popular Brazilian Butt Lift (BBL) procedure. BBLs are a double whammy, giving patients the removal of unwanted fat and repurposing it by strategically injecting it into the buttocks, augmenting the area without the need for implants. 

Hidden Costs

Exploring body enhancement without shame, however, doesn’t mean not being realistic about potential drawbacks and side effects. Non-invasive methods may pose fewer risks, but they often require pricey touch-ups every few weeks, months or years. In contrast, the results of invasive surgeries are permanent but the healing process can be extensive, marked by swelling, pain, bruising and scarring. 

Honduran beauty Clelia Alcantara discovered this herself last year when she decided to get a 360 liposuction and BBL done. Feeling top heavy, but small everywhere else, “I wanted to change the shape of my body,” she explained. “I wanted to have hips. I wanted to have more of an hourglass shape. But I really wanted my buttocks to match my breasts, I wanted everything to be more proportioned.”

The surgery went well, but two days into her recovery, her niece had a similar procedure done, and Alcantara, through all the post-op pain, wound up caring for both of them at the same time. When a friend called and said she was coming to Miami to have some cosmetic surgery done, she realized the need for an after-surgery recovery facility. She now helps others as a certified post-op care specialist with Couture Body Culture, an assisted living facility that offers post-op care for patients who need a place to recuperate after invasive procedures. 

Her advice to those considering body augmentation procedures is to “do your research, so that you are well prepared for the post-op expenses,” she notes. “Because there are a lot of them that we are not told about going into surgery.” 

Choosing a Provider

Another factor you must carefully consider for cosmetic surgery is where to have your procedure done, considering cost, recovery time and the skill and credentials of your medical provider. Miami is one of the plastic surgery hubs of America. Any medical care in the United States, however, attracts a hefty price tag. So many also travel to countries like Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic, which often offer more affordable prices but increase risk because they follow fewer regulations. In the United States for example, doctors can only extract four liters of fat during a single liposuction procedure as a safety precaution. Other countries allow more. Some also allow multiple simultaneous surgeries, which can prove very dangerous.

“Even though my research revealed that it was probably cheaper to go to a South American country, the health risk and factors, in my opinion, were not going to be worth it,” shares Dee, a Barbadian mother of two living in Fort Lauderdale. After nursing her second child for two and a half years, Dee opted to have breast enhancement surgery. “And I knew you do need follow-up care. The hassle of flying back to that country to get follow-up care and the possibility of complications just was not worth it.” 

Cosmetic Surgery in the Caribbean - A breast implant consultation.

No matter where in the world you choose, Dr. Swaby advises patients to consider the following when choosing their physician:

  • Do your research. Be clear on exactly what is needed before and after the procedure.
  • Make sure that you have a good consultation with your operating surgeon.
  • Evaluate the customer services, such as the availability of front desk staff and nurses. Ensure that your surgeon is available to you, should you need them.
  • Assess the questions that are being asked of you and how your questions are being received. Do you feel comfortable, or are you being treated like a bother? 
  • If opting to travel, make sure that you can stay for the time that has been recommended for your procedure, aftercare and follow up

Mental Readiness

Cosmetic Surgery in the Caribbean -Cosmetologist making beauty injection in lips with syringe.

Before pursuing any body enhancement, you should first address your overall physical health including consistent exercise, a well-rounded diet, adequate rest and a positive mindset. This solid foundation will only amplify your glow-up, as holistic wellness is essential for optimal results. Ethical doctors often require these health standards be met before undertaking any invasive surgical procedures “because cosmetic surgery is not a walk in the park,” cautions Dr. Swaby. “It is not magic. It’s not about you living a life of smoking, drinking, and then at 40 years old, you want to change that. Know that the enhancement is the icing on the cake, not a miracle.”

In addition to physical preparation, one should also be mentally prepared as well. Cosmetic surgery can serve as a powerful tool to bolster your self-confidence, but it should never be the foundation of your self-worth. “Women do come to me from a place of insecurity and I say to them, ‘Listen, that’s not where we are going to start,’” says Dr. Swaby. “You have to love the body you’re in first, and then allow me to work on it. Because whatever comes after you have already loved your body is the icing on the cake.”


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