17.09.2003

Tourists dream of bigger breasts

By Jalil Hamid

PENANG, Malaysia (Reuters) - Nice tan -- the young woman in the pink bikini smiled knowingly as she soaked up the rays by the poolside of a luxury hotel on the Malaysian resort island of Penang.
Corina van Leeuwen, a bubbly 25-year-old, would be taking more than just a glowing complexion back to the Netherlands by the end of her holiday.
"It's gone from a small B to a big C, it has grown one and a half in cup size," she said, surveying her breasts with pride. "I am very happy with it, with them."
Corina is just one of a growing number of Westerners who have booked a holiday in Malaysia packaged with a visit to a plastic surgeon.
A Penang-based company called Beautiful Holidays is offering sun and sea along with nips, tucks and implants.
Most customers want larger breasts, but there is also demand for facelifts, nose jobs, botox injections and liposuction.
"They get to combine a holiday and the surgery together which would mean a faster recovery, they don't have to cook their own food, clean their own house," said Marloes Giezenaar, the Dutch owner of Beautiful Holidays.
"We have 45 clients so far. About 60 percent of them went for breast enlargement," said the 25-year-old businesswoman.
Other clients were shy about giving their names but Corina, who runs her own communications company, was up front about why she came to Malaysia.
"It's much cheaper," she said stirring the ice in a glass of tropical fruit juice.
"I paid around $4,000 (2,500 pounds). If I have breast enlargement in Holland, it would cost me 4,000 euro (2,800 pounds) -- only for the enlargement. Now I have a two-week holiday with it."
Giezenaar said ordinary women sought breast implants to boost their self-confidence and "feel and look good".
Larger dimensions were for show biz types, she said.
"I think people don't want breasts like Dolly Parton, Pamela Anderson."
Breast enlargement is a big business worldwide. In the United States, more than 300,000 women had breast implants last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
The most common types of implants are saline- or silicone-filled.
But the U.S. banned silicone implants for most women in 1992 amid controversy whether they caused chronic diseases.
In the early 1990s, many women alleged that implants filled with silicone gel led to serious health problems.
But a 1999 U.S. Institute of Medicine study found silicone implants did not cause cancer, lupus or other chronic disorders, although they can rupture and present other problems.
Since 1992, silicone implants have been available in the United States only through clinical trials.
Saline-filled implants remained on the market, but plastic surgeons say many women prefer the look and feel of silicone.
In Malaysia, surgeons offer a choice.
In Southeast Asia, Malaysia lags behind Thailand in tapping the fast-expanding market for cosmetic surgery.
Faridah Stephens, publisher and editor of Cosmetic Surgery and Beauty, Malaysia's first magazine devoted to the issue, said more Asians were now willing to spend money to look better.
"There are a lot of choices out there. And getting beautiful is getting easier and easier," she said.
Dr Mary Quah, of Loh Guan Lye Specialists Centre in downtown Penang, said foreigners, most of them from neighbouring Indonesia, account for 20 percent of her patients and the number is growing.
One London doctor told Reuters there had been cases of Britons who had suffered after going for cut-rate breast surgery in Spain and in some Asian countries.
"Many have been seduced by cheap deals," said the doctor, who declined to be identified.
Giezenaar listed reasons for setting up shop in Penang.
"The medical facilities are great, the infrastructure is OK," she said. "And English is widely spoken here."
But she believed Malaysia should come up with do's and don'ts to help ensure a proper growth of medical tourism.
"The first case that goes wrong would be the end for medical tourism for Malaysia."