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The Other News Round-Up: Plastic Fantastic

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Each week, Daily Maverick brings you some of the weird and not-so-wonderful happenings from South Africa and further afield. This week: everything you never thought a scalpel could do for you.

It’s the greatest gift of modern mankind. When you think your world can’t get any crazier, just go online. It’s guaranteed to deliver a solid dose of reassurance that a substantial chunk of the population is a great deal worse off than you.

That being said, let nobody claim it hasn’t been a sobering week down here in SA. When your president’s “heh-heh” morphs into a “mwhahah”, and the minister who’s second-in-command of shaping the nation’s young minds is at the centre of a gender-based violence scandal during women’s month, it might be time to reach for a whisky.

Dammit. I said sobering, didn’t I. My bad.

On 9 August Hendrick Makaneta of the Higher Education Transformation Network came out in defence of Deputy Minister of Higher Education Mduduzi Manana, calling him a “man of integrity” and saying, among other things, that “South Africans have a negative tendency of turning against their own overnight”. The media, he added, “is the culprit in this case, [making] things worse by instigating the spirit of hatred against those they declare traitors”.


This head-scratcher, nogals issued on Women’s Day for a little extra kick, was in defence of the “very warm-hearted person” who goes to “great lengths” for education, apparently. Is one of these lengths perhaps to educate young men that klapping a woman who asks if you’re gay will immediately assure all around you that there’s no question of your heterosexuality? Asking for a friend.

Anyway, we were talking about women’s month – kind of. Or rather, its spectacularly beside-the-point annual failure. Despite the fact that my inbox is overrun with special offers for beauty treatments every August – because we all know that that’s what feminism was fighting for all these years – I ended up pondering that instead of women moving away from all of this garbage, it seems the rest of the population is just moving towards it. In some bizarre parody of equality, instead of doing away with all the unnecessary hogwash wasting women’s time for centuries, we are simply extending the offer to men, children, heck, even our pets.

I’m telling you. One of these days Movember is going to end up evolving into a bizarre Hallmark-driven commercialism-fest where men are encouraged all bloody month to cash in on facials, manbags and barber shop specials. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The anxiety of a world full of primped, pressed and perfect mannequins confronted me afresh when I was looking up something serious and sensible (I promise) and stumbled instead across this little nugget about a man who spent over $32,000 to turn himself into an elf. (Clickbait is my kryptonite.)

With extraordinary chutzpah, this chap set up a fund-raising site to collect the money to have multiple invasive surgeries since his teenage years, in addition to spending some $5,000 per month on cosmetics to keep his skin an unnatural shade of elfish white. (Never having seen an elf myself, I can’t comment on the accuracy of the shade.) More curiously still, there are people funding this.

I don’t want to be too hard on the dude, mind. There are days – Tuesday being one of them – that I myself feel the need to take a flying leap into Middle Earth. And this is coming from someone who, despite 12 years of concerted effort, couldn’t get past the first 150 pages of The Two Towers.

As it happens, our elfin friend is not alone. Plastic surgery is evolving at lightning speed, and I confess I don’t know whether to be amazed or alarmed. A bit of both, I think. And men and women are lining up in their droves to spend eye-watering amounts on elective surgeries.

Some of these developments include the construction of dimples, which are apparently indistinguishable from the real thing when the patient smiles. There are beard transplants, which work in much the same way as ordinary hair transplants. (Buzzfeed asks: “What happened to the good old Sharpie pen?”) There are eye implants to change the colour of your iris, eliminating the need for contact lenses; eyelash implants that never stop growing. (I cannot for the life of me see the purpose of the latter – it is enough bother having to trim and manage the hair on my head.) Liposuction has evolved to lipoconstruction, where one can not only have the fat suctioned out of your belly, you can actually have a six-pack sculpted there. (Sounds more painful than just doing a couple of sit-ups, in my opinion.)

Most intriguing is a new trend in Japan, where patients have new palm lines imprinted, which are said to actually change one’s fate and future. (Does it work for the past too?) Then there’s “pokertox” – Botox injections specifically targeted at professional poker players, to help them control their facial expressions. That is, if by “control” you mean “paralysis”. Last, but most certainly not least, there’s a growing trend for prosthetic testicles. Not for humans – for their pets. That’s right. If you’ve had Rover’s batteries flattened, you can soothe your conscience by having a pair of aesthetic testicles implanted. No comment.

In recent years, celebrity plastic surgeon Dr Anthony Youn released a tell-all book – presumably every patient’s nightmare – giving details of some of the strangest procedures and requests he had encountered. Titled In Stitches, it told the gory details of everything from the proper use of leeches on nipples to death threats he had received from angry patients. (What exactly did he do to them? Maybe it was the leeches…)

Encouragingly, Youn says he’s most proud of the work he’s done getting hundreds of patients off cigarettes by giving them an ultimatum: stop smoking or no surgery. But there were peculiarities aplenty. Youn told Reddit members he knew a surgeon who claimed – most likely untruthfully – that he was trying to make biofuel from patients’ suctioned fat. Strange requests from patients included wanting to look like Kim Kardashian, wanting wings, and wanting to be an X-men character.

According to Youn, some of the most upsetting requests were from parents wanting to change the appearance of their children – some of whom were as young as seven years old.

All of which gave me pause during this month where we are meant to be making our world a little better, accepting each other a little more. Yet “gay” is still an insult and our nod towards gender equality is offering women 10% off a facial. A young man feels so unaccepted he wants to turn into an elf, for crying out loud. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure we humans are in a position to tell each other what is beautiful. Maybe we should just take a deep breath and do some thinking until we have that figured out. DM


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