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Boobs, Botox and the Babes of Beirut

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For a largely Arab country it's a bizarre thing that in Lebanon (Beirut specifically), women care more about their appearance than men. Males lead a rather sullied existence, priming their closely cut mini-beards and, from my own observations, eating rather a lot. The formula in Lebanon's capital for women is fashion-forward, from their choice of cloth to the decisions they make surgically.

Fashion and religion, they've never led a happy existence. Muslim, Christian and Druze women in Beirut dress surprisingly skimpy. There are vests and silks and bikinis and cashmere and come-hither off-the-shoulder numbers. Then there are the fashionable alterations to the body: lifts, tucks, laser etc. which is evident everywhere. The female body is the greatest canvas, the sculptor's workable clay to which they can add/remove, inject/suck-out. Beirut is glitz and glamour through money and surgery. The exploration for eternal youth.

Beirut has now overtaken both LA and Miami as the plastic surgery capital of the world. Yes, Beirut. On the cusp of the Mediterranean, in the Arabian hinterland, where women's fashion largely consists of this black burka or that black burka. Yet thousands of women are now visiting their doctors and clinics for some very personal alterations.

Indeed, such is the demand (and therefore business), that the banks are offering loans to those considering going under-the-knife. First National Bank offer "Plastic Surgery Loans" of between $500-$5000, as long as candidates are employed and under 64 years of age. Maher Mezher of First National Bank believes beauty is a necessity in Lebanon, hence the popularity in cosmetics and plastic surgery, he said: "You cannot find a job in Lebanon if you are not good-looking. People will reject you socially." Marketing manager, George Nasr added: "There are people who see this loan as their life raft."

I visited a nightclub one evening to witness the dolls and their dates myself. In Taïga Sky, a rooftop nightclub in Batroun (30 miles from Beirut) everyone is smoking, bouncing on the spot and eyeing each other up, not in a complimentary way but diamond gazes of fierce competitorship. The top trump card here is a tan and a good set of pins, and in that respect it's no different from the techno cattle clubs in the UK, however in Lebanon the women look like Cleopatra, with a dark natural beauty beyond anything Max Factor can supply and into the billion dollar industry of plastic surgery. Their partners are a mixture of bodybuilders in Lycra t-shirts or fat, pony-tailed Arabic mafiosi. It's as captivating as it is frightening.

My eyes roam the dance floor in consternation, then the DJ loses his placing and there's an electrical fault. The entire music and lighting system crashes plunging the top deck of trance zombies into darkness and a state of mild hysteria. No one can see anyone, and this is the greatest tragedy of all. The plug has been pulled on the premier catwalk show of Saturday night and those dressed to be seen are left swaying in the purple evening sky, out of sight and forgotten.

Wires are wiggled and electronics examined; music is found. The lights slowly raise and the permafixed smiles return. The waxed, toned limbs of party women begin to pop and gyrate again. They're back on show, electrified so their surgical enhancements, botoxed-brows and designer names can bounce off my eyes, competing in a variety of silk-cut blouses, Louboutin heels and over-night handbags.

Perhaps the popularity of tucks, lifts, firming, lipo, implants, grafting, tightening, otoplasty, mammoplasty, rhinoplasty and many other physical manipulations is due to the cost. To have plastic surgery in Lebanon is relativity cheap compared to other surgical capitals. Plastic surgeon Edouard Abdelnour explains: "We are cheap, with a rhinoplasty costing around $2000 and breast augmentation around $4000. We've seen an increase in 'combined surgery' too in which I'll perform a breast enlargement, a tummy-tuck and a nose-job at the same time."

Back in Beirut, in the VIP corner of Le Capitole, another five-star rooftop bar, I see the wives and girlfriends of artists. They must be the better-halves of surgeons as surely no one can afford to spend that much of their own cash on reconstructive surgery and blow-me-up operations. There are benefits to marrying/dating/having sex with a plastic surgeon, as these well-ironed and unwrinkled faces suggest to me that they don't reach the age limit of nightclub entry, such is their youthful appearance, bronzed with potions and powders.

Some faces are so impressive that I need to take a closer look. To gawp in awe at the craftsmanship. Some look as if a drunken Picasso has drawn a face on to a balloon. One corner mistress, laughing and toasting with her girlfriends and two obese businessmen ("wealthy skirt chasers"), had a face like a rotten pumpkin but a body as tight and slippery as a blow-up doll.

It's a boundless and inexhaustible love (addiction?). Plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancements is a capital phenomenon. A national treasure. In Europe women smoke, lunch and get pregnant in their teens, in North America they eat donuts and watch late-afternoon trash television, in Russia they get sloshed on vodka and in Lebanon they have things injected, lifted and sucked-out. But if they can't afford that, they can always take out a loan.

www.davidjconstable.com

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