‘Boob factory’: Dark side of cosmetic surgery
CUT- PRICE cosmetic surgery clinics are offering Australian women treatment by doctors who aren't trained plastic surgeons under a business model described as a "boob factory".
A Four Corners investigation into cosmetic surgery has revealed how clinics are milking the obsession for so-called perfection that's affecting a generation and putting countless women at risk.
Social media influencer Kate Szepanowski told Four Corners breast implants and fillers are commonplace.
Kate, along with younger sister Chloe, regularly discusses and documents her cosmetic surgery procedures on YouTube.
"Everyone as soon as they turn 18, they're getting something done. And if they can get something done before they turn 18, they get their parents' consent."
Szepanowski told the ABC cosmetic surgery was no longer taboo and that patients were "flaunting it".
She said she regularly got free treatments in exchange for endorsements on social media.
"A big laser clinic actually. I was their ambassador for about a year, I had some cosmetic fillers, had all my laser treatments and everything like that free, facial treatments free, for like a whole year," Szepanowski told Four Corners.
Dr Pouria Moradi, a specialist plastic surgeon, said the practice was "unethical and illegal".
"They write to you and it's pretty much a standard text. I'm sure they write to everyone saying, 'look, here's my Insta page, I've got this many loyal followers. If you perform surgery for me, I will promote you on my page.'
Szepanowski said a surgeon had called her up to offer her a half-price Brazilian butt lift, but she refused after going to an appointment.
"I sort of got scared and backed out," she said.
The controversial procedure - made popular by fans of the Kim Kardashian look - has a higher rate of death than any other procedure.
Dermal fillers continue to be marketed as non-invasive and low-risk, Four Corners reported. But they can have serious consequences like necrosis, where the skin and flesh dies and even blindness.
Australian clinics are preying on vulnerable women, offering them procedures carried out by doctors who are not plastic surgeons and when complications arise, they can be ill-equipped to deal with it.
Complications from breast implant surgery can include everything from infections, to pain caused by contracture of the implant, to deformity.
Professor Anand Deva, who established a world-first breast implant check clinic at Sydney's Macquarie University, told Four Corners: "We're slowly corrupting the profession of medicine, but secondly because there are consequences to patients if they get sucked into that vortex, then they get spat out the other end and it's people like me that have to come and pick the pieces up. And that's not fun. It's really not fun at all."
Until now, these women had nowhere to go if they were concerned about their surgery," Professor Deva said.
"The idea behind it is that when these problems, not if, but when, these problems start to surface, that we can detect them and treat them proactively," he said.
"If you look at these women as a group, a lot of them are not insured, a lot of them don't have means, a lot of them are quite scared when something was to go wrong.
"But most importantly, a lot of them are really embarrassed and feel guilty."
The Cosmetic Institute (TCI) offered breast implants for as little as $5,990, compared to the $10,000 to $13,000 typically charged by a plastic surgeon.
TCI's flagship Bondi Junction clinic was next to Centrelink, and former nursing unit manager Nicole Montgomery told Four Corners that "easily" one in five patients who had a breast augmentation at TCI were on Centrelink benefits.
She recalled the case of a woman who needed to buy a supportive strap after surgery to hold her breast implants in place.
"This woman literally pulled out an envelope out of her handbag and said, you know, 'This is our weekly grocery money. I don't know how I'm going to explain to my husband that, you know, we're not going to have enough food for the week because we have to...we have to get this strap'."
Ms Montgomery said people should not be able to operate just because they have a medical degree.
"I think it shouldn't be legal for somebody to just pick up a title and operate, do invasive surgery on somebody, just because they have a medical degree. They took an oath to do no harm. Significant harm is happening."
Ms Montgomery said the clinic "preyed on women".
"Preyed on women who were divorced, who were single and who were low socio-economic status. It was all about accessible surgery, advertising price point, being that you can change your life for a coffee a day.
"You know, someone who has low self-esteem, who has low confidence, especially after going through a divorce or being a single parent, being on a single parenting pension."
Former TCI operations manager Alfie Lombardi said the business worked on "high volume, lots of people coming through the doors and doing it at a low cost".
"The business model at TCI effectively was aiming to be set up like a McDonald's," he said. "Over time, it was very apparent that the whole system was set up just to make money. It was literally a, um … It was a boob factory. We … we worked on high-volume, lots of people coming through the doors and doing it at a low cost."
Professor Merrilyn Walton, former head of the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission, warned that more people would be harmed if action wasn't taken.
"If we don't regulate this industry, more people will be harmed. There'll be, more players will come in, more people without knowledge and skills, thinking it's an area to make a lot of money very quickly. But it will be at the expense and cost of patients."
Belinda Hooker is one of several women who has told Four Corners about the horrifying impacts of low-cost breast implant surgery.
Ms Hooker says she spent more than $70,000 in surgeries, flights and accommodation to fix the problems brought on after an aggressive post-operative infection.
"I just thought 'why is this happening to me? What I have done wrong?'" Ms Hooker said.
"There's not a day that goes by that I [don't] blame myself and regret the choice I made to go down the path I did.
"It'll affect me forever, I think."