In the past, Alina Makhmedova taped her eyelids to change the shape of her eyes. About a year ago, the resident of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital, signed up for a so-called “Asian blepharoplasty” or double eyelid surgery.
After consulting with her friends, she turned to Instagram where many surgeons have personal profiles showcasing their work to find the right specialist for her.
The operation is so popular that she will have to wait a year and a half for her first appointment.
“There are many surgeons in Bishkek, but those who do their work well always have long queues,” she told Euronews.
‘I will love myself more’
The 29-year-old university professor decided to go ahead with the operation about a year ago. According to her, deep-set eyes — which give the illusion of a prominent brow bone — are considered the “beauty standard” in Kyrgyzstan, where Asian features are more common.
“We generally admire the eyes and not other facial features. When someone praises someone in front of me, they say: ‘Here, this girl has such expressive deep-set eyes!’ Few people in our country admire an Asian eye shape,” she said.
Her desire for a new eye shape eclipses any fears she has about the risks of going under the scalpel.
“I look at the photos and think to myself, why does everyone have such expressive eyes? And mine are the only narrow and unnoticeable ones. I want my features to be more visible in photos. I think it will change my life. I will love myself more, admire myself more,” she argued.
Eyelash extension specialist Cholpon Adzhibaeva had her first “European eye” surgery in 2006 when she was 16 years old. It was a gift from her mother before the start of high school.
“I had small eyelids and my eyelashes always looked down. It really annoyed me to use eyelash curlers,” Cholpon recalled.
She did not regret her choice. “I came back to school a month after the surgery when my eyes had healed. I was glad. I remember I was sitting in class and my classmates surrounded me, asked me questions.”
After a few years, the lid on the right eye was almost smooth again, and so she decided to repeat the operation.
‘We feel the need for new plastic surgeons every day’
Plastic surgery is a fast-growing market in Kyrgyzstan. Surgeon Isken Kachkinbayev estimates that in the Central Asian country with a population of six million, more than 4,000 surgeries are carried out every year.
Most of them are Asian blepharoplasty. The operation, which costs between €300 and €700, is carried out under local anaesthesia and lasts around an hour. The surgeon incises the skin of the upper eyelid and forms the lid on the eye muscle. The patient boasts a new look in five or six days.
“The number of plastic surgeries grow by the hour. We feel the need for new plastic surgeons every day,” Kachkinbayev said.
He added the number of patients is growing thanks to the development of social networks, hence why Kyrgyz surgeons use Instagram for advertising.
“In the past, people got information [about plastic surgery] on websites. You had to have a computer or read specialised magazines. Now you can simply type ‘eyelid surgery in Kyrgyzstan’ or ‘eyelid surgery in Bishkek’ on Instagram or Google and see thousands of examples of our work,” the doctor said.
He went on that the trend for Asian blepharoplasty came to Kyrgyzstan from neighbouring China and South Korea, although, it was in his country that the first techniques, now used in Europe and the US, were developed.
“In our practice, more than 10%, maybe even 15% (of patients) are foreigners from neighbouring states. But they also come to us from further afield,” the surgeon said.
“On the one hand, they’re attracted by a specific doctor. On the other, by our low prices. In our country these surgeries are way cheaper than in their countries,” he added.
A way out of poverty
According to Jyldyz Kuvatova, UN-Women coordinator in Kyrgyzstan, poverty is at the heart of the boom in plastic surgery in the country.
A quarter of the population lived under the poverty line in 2017, according to official statistics. For many Kyrgyz women, marriage is the only available way to improve their socio-economic status.
Additionally, European features are generally accepted as canons of beauty and considered as a sign of wealth and status.
For psychologist Laura Omuralieva, this trend also reveals something more profound: “If we look deeper, these women don’t accept themselves.”
But while plastic surgery is widely accepted and accessible for women in large cities including Bishkek and Osh, in rural areas where the influence of religious groups is increasing the picture is quite different.
For these groups, any changes in appearance are considered “haram” — forbidden under Islamic law.
“We want to be beautiful and fashionable in cities, but in rural areas, girls are increasingly ‘closed’ and cover their heads according to Muslim tradition,” the UN’s Kuvatova highlighted.