Liposuction pioneer says plastic surgery helps self-confidence

The Sunday Times Logo Sunday, November 18, 2012

The pursuit of happiness may take many different forms: from the most materialistic wish to fulfilling life ambitions, finding one’s inner self, or feeling confident in one’s outer body.

You change the outside; you change the inside

Dr Pierre F. Fournier knows a thing or two about the latter quest. The French plastic surgeon, attributed the title of “founder of modern aesthetics”, has travelled far and wide to give women what he calls “the surgery of happiness”.

Dr Fournier recently led an international workshop on his co-invention, liposuction and lipo-filling techniques, at the Persona Med-Aesthetic Centre in Ta’ Xbiex. The event formed part of the first international annual congress of the Dermatologic & Aesthetic Surgery International League (Dasil), a global forum for dermatologists and aesthetic surgeons.

It was the doctor’s second visit to Malta: the first time round was, however, only a one-day stop while on a Mediterranean cruise years ago, when he was still a medical student.

The hands of the octogenarian, who comes across as a charming gentleman, may not be as firm as they once were – in fact, he stopped practising two years ago – but his mind and wit are still as sharp as the instruments he once used.

“We are surgical psychiatrists,” says Dr Fournier of his profession. “You change the outside; you change the inside.”

According to the doctor, an aesthetic “anomaly” destroys or decreases one’s self-confidence.

“Human beings do not only want to live; they want to live in the best physical and mental condition possible – as close as possible to perfection,” he says, although he admits there is no true definition of beauty or perfection, and their perception varies from one culture to the other.

But that is primarily why people resort to all sorts of aesthetic surgeries – from hair transplants and nose jobs to breast augmentation to facelifts and tummy tucks.

Name it and Dr Fournier has done it!

“We serve beauty à la carte,” he says, “just as long as we make people happy”.

His clients have ranged from queens and models to factory workers, but, of course, he does not divulge any names.

“Gravity is man’s worst enemy,” says the doctor, recalling an 85-year-old “important” lady, who wanted to do a facelift. He was quite hesitant about it considering her age, but she convinced him by saying: “If you are not attractive, you don’t want to feel unattractive.”

Dr Fournier has acquired fame and fortune over the years but he had quite humble beginnings. After serving in World War II and graduating from medical school after 15 years of study, Dr Fournier said he had no more money than a pickpocket.

An ENT friend of his thus suggested he try aesthetic surgery, the demand of which was growing in France.

“It came quite natural. It’s like a cook trying a different recipe,” he quips.

He eventually opened a small clinic in the suburbs of the French capital and, by offering lower prices than most other surgeons in central Paris, clients soon started to line up behind his door.

Dr Fournier’s big break, however, came when he visited his friend Giorgio Fischer, a gynaecologist from Rome, in the early 1970s, who had invented a machine “to suck the fat of Italian ladies”.

Dr Fournier invited him to his clinic, where he treated some patients.

Dr Fischer wanted to build a factory to produce his invention. But a friend of theirs, Yves-Gérard Illouz, approached them with a suction machine used by gynaecologists for abortions – since abortion was already legal – which worked perfectly for the same purpose.

The trio of doctors’ popularity soon got them an invitation to the American Congress of Plastic Surgery. Thereafter, they started touring the world teaching their techniques.

Cosmetic surgery became popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s when exotic destinations such as Tahiti, Greece and Egypt became all the rage, Dr Fournier maintains.

“Before, the few people who underwent cosmetic surgery kept it all hush-hush; it was like a shameful thing to do. But then people started to uncover themselves to go on holiday and they wanted to look good,” Dr Fournier says.

This era coincided with the sexual revolution and the introduction of the Pill. “Girls wanted to have fun,” he adds with a twinkle in his eyes.

But who could afford these surgeries back then?

One of Dr Fournier’s missions has always been the “democratisation of beauty” – making beauty available to all.

His principal tool for liposuction is the syringe, which he emphasises “is as powerful as any suction machine because vacuum can be created only once”.

So it was a relatively cheap procedure, and thus affordable across different social strata. It nowadays covers 80 per cent of all cosmetic surgeries.

Liposuction is, however, not only done for aesthetic purposes. Leafing through a book he wrote on liposculpture, Dr Fournier shows pictures of male and female patients who underwent surgery for health reasons.

“I extracted 20 litres of fat from him,” he says, pointing to the photo of a man from Saudi Arabia. “It was a life-saving operation.”

He also expresses concern about obesity among the younger generation, pointing to the “pandemic among children in many countries, including Britain, the US and France”.

Another popular surgery is fat grafting or fat transfer from one part of the body to another, used to firm, fill out or plump up lips, cheeks or buttocks, among other areas. This kind of surgery dates back to World War II when it was used to alter the look of notorious spies.

“It only worked for a couple of months but it lasted enough to complete a mission,” he says.

Fifteen years ago, Dr Fournier did this kind of surgery on himself: he took fat from his tummy and transferred it to his cheeks. “And it’s still there,” he says, proudly pinching them.

Another kind of surgery which is becoming more and more popular – and perhaps a little more talked about nowadays – is aesthetic surgery of the female external sexual organs.

“Patients with such problems are embarrassed and believe they are ridiculous to request such treatments. This is the cause of deep distress,” Dr Fournier claims.

The anomaly may be responsible for a deficiency of the sexual organ’s physiological or erotic function or even of permanent pains.

“Once corrected, patients may rediscover life’s satisfactions and their character and morale can change for the better.”

So there seems to be a solution to all quests for enhancing one’s image and psychological well-being. But does one necessarily need to undergo surgery to improve one’s look? What about a quick fix?

“A smile is the biggest embellishment operation of all,” he says.

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