The story sounds like something out of a horror movie — a woman so desperate to feel better about her appearance that she paid someone to use “Fix-a-flat”, cement and super glue in someone’s apartment and had dreadful results.
Except this story actually happened.
Unfortunately, it’s not that uncommon. South Florida has become the epicenter of black market beauty treatments.
In 2003, a jury convicted a couple for injecting a woman’s buttock and thigh with silicone in a Miramar apartment without a medical license. A few hours later, the woman died from a blood clot in her lungs after the silicone leaked into her system.
WATCH NBC NEWS COVERAGE OF DANGEROUS PLASTIC SURGERY:
In 2005, a man was sentenced to probation after offering lips and buttock injections to an undercover detective, after which needles and medications were found in his home.
Such procedures are also seen among transgendered communities in order to augment their transformations.
This recent, highly-publicized story of the transgendered woman practicing medicine without a license in Miami Gardens is just one of many other stories that centered on women whose desperation to look beautiful led to ill-advised choices.
South Florida tends to attract doctors and nurses from other countries who are not licensed in the United States, and who offer cosmetic procedures out of homes and garages at a discounted cost. Their services are spread by word-of-mouth through aestheticians and hair stylists. Occasionally, in newspaper ads.
Despite the penalty of up to five years in prison for practicing without a medical license in Florida, the trend continues, and patients continue to seek their services.
Beauty may be skin deep but the desire to be beautiful goes much deeper than that.
The question is why someone would willingly do this to themselves. “We live in a microwave society. We want the results now, however we can get it,” explains Dr. Rosalyn Pitts, sole proprietor of Pitts Psychological Services in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
While beauty can take many forms, most women are fixated on the mainstream idea of it.
“Most women are still driven by the mainstream standard of beauty, which are thin figures, long hair, lighter skin, smaller noses, and symmetrical features. All of the examples you see of air brushed models in [mainstream] fashion magazines,” said Pitts.
Contrary to previous trends in cosmetic surgery, such procedures are gaining increasing interest among the black community, in general. African-American women are not only undergoing plastic surgery for cosmetic needs but also for reconstructive surgery as well.
“More black women are turning to plastic surgery for ‘mommy makeovers’ after having their babies,” adds Pitts. Mommy makeover procedures consist of a combination of surgeries including tummy tucks, breast lifts and liposuction.
Sometimes, seeking out these procedures on the black market can save hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and women often travel to the region in order to have them done.
According the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 13.1 million legal cosmetic procedures were performed in 2010, an increase of 5 percent from 2009. African-Americans make up 8 percent of those procedures with the top three surgeries done are liposuction, nose reshaping and breast reduction.
The amount of black market procedures are unknown.
“There still exists a group of black women wanting smaller noses, thinner lips, and other surgeries that are for enhancement and not corrective procedures. There is still a lot of self-hate in black women because a lot of us do not embrace our own beauty, explains Pitts.”
She speculates the seeds of self-hate in most African-American women were sown during their childhood.
“We grow up hearing the criticism that our butts are too big, or our hair is too frizzy. We internalize it and it produces a sense of self-degradation in how we relate to others and ourselves,” explains Pitts.
Another reason for why African American women have been so willing to embrace a beauty that doesn’t necessarily fit them could also be traced to who is raising them.
“Some women are not being raised by their daddies” Pitts said. “This makes a huge difference in how women relate to themselves, the men we meet and the world we live in. Because dads are the first men that we love unconditionally and that impacts the other relationships we have.”
Dr. Pitts suggests that the ways to improve self image maybe changing what images women chose to focus on. “The goal is not to be skinny but to be healthy and at a healthy weight. The goal is not to have straight hair but have hair that is healthy,” states Pitts.
“We need to be able to look in the mirror, be comfortable with ourselves and love what we see. Also we need to be gracious about the complements we get from other people and not shun them”, adds Pitts.
Erica Motley from Greensboro, North Carolina, has struggled with her weight since her early teenage years. It wasn’t until last year when she was 33 that she decided to do something about her weight. She decided to do something unconventional in this “quick fix” day and age. She started exercising.
“I never thought about any surgery, even gastric bypass. People are trying to put things in their bodies to make them look better right now and are dying to look a certain way,” says Motley.
Now that she has lost 70 pounds of her 135-pound goal, people are skeptical of her progress and ask her what procedures she had done.
“People I went to high school with ask me that all the time and I tell them the same answer, hard work,” she said.
Motley feels being in a positive environment helps in trying to stay focus on her goals to be healthier and look better. “It all starts inside. If you are happy with yourself you can do anything.”
Oneal Ron Morris, the transgendered woman masquerading as a physician, has been released from jail on bond and is awaiting trial.