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Beauty on the Installment Plan

By: Dédé Oetomo

Would you like to have a more pointed nose like an Indian, Arab or white person? Higher cheek bones, perhaps? More sensuous lips or a fuller forehead? How about a more defined chin, preferably with a cleft? Do you lack self-confidence in the shape of your breasts, nipples or buttocks because they are not sufficiently voluptuous? Is your penis not thick enough to impress, or do you want small humps on its head? Could it be that your vagina is lacking in tightness?

Become beautiful first, pay later
In many parts of Indonesia, such desires for physical enhancement can now be satisfied at affordable prices through subdermal injections of liquid silicon. The salon where you have your hair done may offer such services. You might even be able to get someone to come to your home, your local neighborhood association meeting or your workplace. Or you may be approached with an irresistible “friendship price” or even an easy incremental credit scheme: become beautiful first, pay later.

In recent years, silicon injections have become widespread in Indonesia. The practice is carried out mostly by waria (male-to-female transgenders) and gay men, as well as by a few women, usually operating from a hairdressing salon base. The cost of an injection of 10cc of silicon ranges from Rp50,000 (US$5) to Rp100,000 (US$10), depending on how well you know the person doing the injecting and how good you are at bargaining it down. There is no standard as to how much silicon is needed for, say, a nose job, with some customers requiring as many as six injections. Some salon owners, however, provide a discount “whole face package,” including injections in the nose, cheeks, lips and chin, for as low as Rp1,500,000 (US$150). If you happen to be a waria in Surabaya, the going rate can even be as low as Rp15,000 (US$1.50) to Rp20,000 (US$2) as a kind of waria solidarity price. This makes it possible for even poor waria who sing and beg for money in the streets to have their faces enhanced.

Waria are, of course, no strangers to bodily modification. Not only are they experts in effecting transformation through makeup and clothing, they often use cloth, buns or water-filled balloons to fill in their bras or they use padded shorts to create the effect of fleshy buttocks. They also sometimes take large doses of contraceptive pills (the estrogen enlarges the breasts, but also reduces the libido). Now, however, waria can do away with all that and just have silicon injected in these strategic spots. While it is not very common, one also hears of silicon injections to make the penis shaft thicker or to create bumps in the penis head (believed by men to give pleasure to their partners, an age-old practice in the Southeast Asian region). Women also may have silicon injected in the labia, believed to tighten the vagina (an alternative to the traditional practice of using drying agents, again believed to give pleasure to one’s partner).

Injections in the face are usually done without anesthetic. Those in the breasts and other parts of the body require use local anesthetics because of the large amount of silicon involved. But the potential for pain does not seem to deter most people. After all, the hurt goes away in a day or so but the beauty stays.

A Brisk Business in Beauty
The silicon business has, over the past four years, become a brisk one, making many salon owners quite wealthy. Bought in bulk, one liter of silicon, enough for 100 injections, costs a mere Rp1,000,000 (US$100). To make even more money, some salon owners heat the substance and mix it with cod liver oil, lard or frying oil. But there is a price to pay for salon owners who become overly enamored of their own product. Some have ended up with copious amounts of the stuff in their faces, making them seem frozen in permanent masks.

Liquid silicon is not regulated by the Directorate General of Drug and Food Control at the government Ministry of Health, thus its sale is legal in Indonesia. It is freely available at chemical stores, where it is often mixed with other substances to be sold as glues or as that cloudy hard stuff that prevents water from dripping through the glass of your aquarium.

Silicon implants, where the liquid substance is sealed in a packet to prevent it from migrating to other parts of the body, are also available in Indonesia for physical enhancement, but that’s for the wealthy. The same procedure that costs at the most Rp600,000 at your neighborhood salon can easily cost you Rp6,000,000 or more at the hands of a trained plastic surgeon. Not only are silicon injections at a salon more affordable, but most Indonesians think of salons as the appropriate place to go for such treatments. Physical enhancement is not seen as a medical issue—you go to see a doctor when you are ill, not in order to look more beautiful. Add to that many Indonesians’ habit of making the modern medical doctor a last resort, first seeking health from traditional healers, shamans and the like, and you understand the situation.

Hygiene standards vary when injecting silicon. Salon owners learn how to give injections when they buy the substance for the first time. In other words, the first liter comes with a free lesson. Disposable syringes are usually used; these are easily available without a prescription at Indonesian drugstores because they are also used to vaccinate chickens. One hears, however, of syringes being cleaned with alcohol and re-used. But what else should we expect when such practices are also carried out in many Indonesian community health centers, as well as some public hospitals, in the name of saving poor patients from higher bills?

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