Albania is a land of harsh and austere beauty – remote mountain villages and vast vales of green pastoral countryside. However, appearances can be deceptive. Underpinning the façade of alpine chic, there's a growing trend for Albanian cosmetic surgery to give people that elusive Hollywood look.
Rising above this surveillance culture is the horizon of social media. People are now more likely to have their profile pics catching attention, and they are more concerned about remaining young and fresh than ever before. Everyone wishes to look beautiful and has an increasing demand for cosmetic surgeries.
Doctors have seen an increased demand for botox and fillers. So much so, a lot of young women are getting this procedure done. Typical of these clients is Ana Kela, a 20-year-old student with some exciting hobbies – lip augmentation and nail polish.
“Every time I looked at my face on the screen, I couldn't even say a word. I was gripped by anguish,” said Kela. She continued, “I studied economics at the University of Tirana, where I found it very difficult to take my courses online because of how I looked onscreen.
Before the operation, I was not happy. I didn't like my nose and mouth. Now I feel like a whole new person and much more beautiful.”
The popularity of cosmetic surgery has increased significantly in the past decade. Although many professionals and doctors have leapt, there are still many unprofessional and ill-equipped centres that lure potential patients by promising low prices and promotions.
Many new centres are offering a variety of procedures, but many are unqualified and poorly trained.
There is a lot of promotion on social media; the low-cost offer is attractive in Albania, where the average monthly salary is about 420 euros.
Some local marketers have taken a ‘Groupon' approach and are promoting group discounts – “come with your friends and pay less!”
“Life isn't perfect, but your eyebrows are,” says another.
The equipment might seem like harmless fun, but those who don’t know what they’re doing are putting your skin at serious risk.
The Association of dermatology and cosmetic doctors surveyed 70 salons in Tirana. They found that most were operated by unqualified personnel.
Eva Kola, a 21-year-old political science student, is typical of people speaking to AFP. She trusted a salon whose work she was following closely on Instagram.
For 20 euros, she paid to have her ex's initials erased from her finger tattoo.
But the quick fix did not go as planned.
She said that she has been crying for a week and is here at the university hospital to see a dermatologist.
The badly calibrated laser caused a third-degree burn and a strong allergic reaction.
She has a fever and unbearable pain along her arm.
One of the most respected plastic surgeons in the country, Dr Balloma has treated many victims of bad cosmetic surgery.
A law regulates Albania's cosmetic sector from 2017, which guarantees quality standards, but it hasn’t prevented some doctors and clinics from offering questionable procedures.
According to Fatmir Brahimaj, president of Albania’s Order of Doctors, careful regulation is necessary for all steps involved in developing a successful medical procedure.
Even the most gorgeous and physically perfect in Tirana want to look a little better, and plastic surgery clinic providers are more than happy to oblige.
The latest research shows a growing body of evidence that links obesity and Covid-19. This, in turn, has resulted in a surge in demand for liposuction procedures among those who have high hopes it could help them recover from Covid-19.
“The trend is clear. Nose operations have almost doubled” since the end of lockdown measures in July, said Dr Balloma.
The truth of the matter is, Albanian cosmetic surgery can be very beneficial. It’s never too late to make changes in your life.
Recent reports from Jorida Zegali, a clinical psychologist at the University of Tirana, indicate that the incidence of self-inflicted plastic surgery may be a direct result of Zoom meetings and video conferences.
Society has dictated that people live up to standards of beauty that are unattainable, so it is no wonder that people are more and more resorting to cosmetic methods to fit in socially.
Nertila Rrahmani, 31, is a manicurist in Milan but returned to Tirana to undergo surgery on her nose because she experienced breathing problems. In a country where Tumblr and Instagram platforms are awash with filters and cosmetic surgery, it's far from unusual for an Albanian woman to travel back home for a nip and tuck.
She also took the opportunity to tweak its shape and pin back her ears to appear smaller.
Still wearing the bandages post-surgery, she explained that the operation “will let me get rid of the psychological uneasiness that I've been stuck with for years.” “Despite everything,” she added, “the pandemic has not been able to prevent people from loving themselves and getting aesthetic treatments to make them feel even more beautiful.”