Surabhi Reddy could never fathom what the fuss over Kareena Kapoor’s Size Zero figure was all about. The 27-year-old Mumbai-based IT professional had been that size — slim as a stick, with a near-flat chest and buttocks — all her life. And it gave her zero pleasure. “My body was always the butt of all jokes. Friends changed my name to Saurabh because I looked like a boy,” she remembers.
A meeting with Vijay Sharma changed all that. A cosmetic surgeon, Sharma told her about autologous fat transfer (AFT) — a minimally-invasive surgical procedure by which fat cells are extracted from one part of the body and replanted into another. “Fat grafting is natural,” says Reddy, who now happily wears jeans two sizes larger than her pre-surgery ones.
Size Zero, clearly, is going out of fashion among a section of women. “I’m swamped by requests from patients who want their bottoms to look like Jennifer Lopez’s and lips like Angelina Jolie’s,” says Sharma, founder director, Cosmetic Surgery Centre of India, Mumbai. In his two decades of practice, the surgeon claims he’s done 40,000 fat grafting procedures. “AFT wasn’t a popular procedure five years ago. But now, with the entry of hi-tech grafting machines and methods, most patients who get a liposuction club it with a fat transfer,” he adds.
In today’s organic-friendly age, fat transfer of natural body tissue scores over synthetic cosmetic procedures such as botox, silicon breast implants, fillers and bovine protein injections.
Fat transfer has taken over globally as well. Last month, the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons said that for the first time in 2012, the number of AFT procedures overtook the numbers undergoing liposuction in the UK.
Although no statistics are available for India, cosmetic surgeons believe the numbers of patients undergoing AFT are growing by 30 to 40 per cent every year. “In India, the most popular procedure continues to be liposuction. Fat grafting is emerging as a consequence of this. Once the fat is removed, most patients agree to put it back in places that need filling,” says Mohan Thomas, founder-president, Indian Association of Cosmetic Surgeons (IACS).
Sharma adds that the new cells rejuvenate the skin and stall the ageing process. The areas where fat transfer is applied include breast and lip augmentation, hand rejuvenation and Brazilian butt lift (for firm and fleshy buttocks). The procedures cost between Rs 30,000 and Rs 2 lakh, depending on the volume of transfer.
The new-found interest in fat grafting is a result of research that’s found fat to be a storehouse for stem cells. “Scientists call stem cells the fountain of youth,” explains Thomas. Like cord blood banking — where cord blood from the placenta is stored for stem cells for future use — fat transfer has also caught consumer fancy, he adds.
“Cosmetic surgery has become as commonplace as buying a television or a refrigerator, Sharma holds. “Anything new and eye catching finds takers.”
For 49-year-old Shankar Gowda, it was more than just a fancy. When he landed a plum executive job overseas last year, his first thoughts went to his sunken cheeks, tired-looking eyes and sagging facial skin. He feared his middle-aged appearance would go against him in a young workplace. So he sought cosmetic help.
D.S.A. Surindher, director and consultant cosmetic surgeon, Cosmesis India, Bangalore, conducted a fat grafting procedure on Gowda’s mid face and lower eyelid area. “The newly injected fat cells rejuvenated his facial skin and features. He felt he looked 10 years younger,” he says.
Surindher conducts about three AFT procedures for facial rejuvenation and anti-ageing every month and an equal number of major graft surgeries — that is, on breasts, buttocks and legs.
With the growing health scare around PIP (poly implant prothèse) silicone breast implants — some experts believe they could leak industrial-grade silicon into the body, leading to health problems — consumers are becoming increasingly wary of inserting foreign material into their body. “Patients prefer to have their own tissue injected rather than something synthetic,” Surindher says. Also, fat transfer is a permanent procedure, while facial fillers — such as Restylane and Juvederm — last for about a year. “Since fat tissues are harvested from the patient’s body, it also costs less than fillers,” he adds.
Since the fat cells used for AFT are sourced from the patient’s body, it also minimises the possibility of an adverse reaction, points out Prashant Yadav, cosmetic and hair transplant surgeon at the Dezire Clinic, Pune. Yadav adds that his clinic conducts 30 per cent more fat graft procedures now, versus three years ago.
But despite the hype, not all cosmetic surgeons give AFT an unequivocal thumbs-up. “When fat is transferred in large volume, there is a risk of it calcifying (calcification is when calcium salts harden soft tissue),” says K.M. Kapoor, senior cosmetic surgery consultant at Fortis Hospital, Chandigarh. “This can give a false signal for breast cancer in sonography tests.”
IACS founder Thomas feels AFT has become too popular, too soon in India. “Doing fat grafting is like flying an F-16 fighter jet,” he says. “It needs precision and a steady hand.” As per procedure, 0.22 cc of fat cells are injected at multiple points in the grafting area — any more than this will kill the cells. “Only skilled surgeons can perform an accurate fat graft. But the IACS has found that hundreds of small, fly-by-night cosmetic clinics, with dubious credentials, now offer the procedure,” he says.
But for those seeking to enhance their shapes, size-plus has its plus points. Better fat than flat is clearly the new mantra.
(The names of some people have been changed to protect their identities)