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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 11  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 120-123

Examination of gendered differences in the advertising of cosmetic surgery procedures in the United Arab Emirates

Department of Psychology and Counseling, United Arab Emirates University, Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Date of Web Publication24-Sep-2018

Correspondence Address:
Zahir Vally
Department of Psychology and Counseling, P. O. Box: 15551, Al Ain
United Arab Emirates
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/HMJ.HMJ_15_18

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Background: The number of cosmetic surgery procedures has steadily increased, in the United States (US) as well as on a global scale. Research reports that the majority of surgical procedures are performed on women, despite societal changes that have precipitated increased interest from potential male consumers. Much less is known about cosmetic surgery practices outside of the US. Objectives: This study investigated the differential targeting of cosmetic surgery advertising directed towards male and female patients. Methods: An exploratory review of publicly available online information was conducted. A systematic search strategy was employed to find cosmetic surgery practice websites operating in the United Arab Emirates. Website content was examined to determine the procedures performed, whether services were specifically targeted at male patients and the gender of the images contained on the website. Results: The content of 34 websites was accessed and examined; 90 surgeons who were predominantly male (75%), some of whom had trained in the US (21%) and were primarily working from metropolitan cities formed the sample. The majority of practices did not specifically target male patients, 82% did not have a male services section, only 18% displayed images of male patients or models, but more than half of the practices performed gynaecomastia. Conclusions: It appears that despite socio-cultural and attitudinal changes in this region of the world towards cosmetic surgery, many practices continue to ignore male consumers in their online advertising efforts.

Keywords: Advertising, Arab, cosmetic surgery, gender, marketing, Middle East

How to cite this article:
Vally Z. Examination of gendered differences in the advertising of cosmetic surgery procedures in the United Arab Emirates. Hamdan Med J 2018;11:120-3

How to cite this URL:
Vally Z. Examination of gendered differences in the advertising of cosmetic surgery procedures in the United Arab Emirates. Hamdan Med J [serial online] 2018 [cited 2022 May 28];11:120-3. Available from: http://www.hamdanjournal.org/text.asp?2018/11/3/120/236265

  Introduction Top

Cosmetic surgery has increasingly gained popularity as a ready means to alter aspects of one's appearance. This is evidenced by the substantial and increasing number of procedures performed each year, particularly in North America and Europe, and these continue to increase exponentially with each period that is assessed. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) reported that in 2010, the number of cosmetic procedures completed in the United States (US) had increased by a rate of 155% within a period of 3 years.[1] The Society's most recent review in 2016 reports a similar increase. In 2016, Americans spent >15 billion dollars on cosmetic procedures, an increase of 1.5 billion dollars in expenditure over a period of just 12 months.[2] The top five surgical procedures most frequently performed, namely, liposuction, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, eyelid surgery and breast lift, have, in 2016, shown an increase exceeding 100% since the inception of the ASAPS survey in 1997.[2]

In comparison, much less is known about the rates of cosmetic surgery in contexts outside of North America. However, a steadily growing body of research shows that women from a variety of cultures and social contexts hold favourable views towards cosmetic surgery. Women resident in Brazil,[3] Malaysia,[4] Italy [5] and Sweden [6] scored highly when their level of consideration and acceptance of surgery was assessed, levels comparable to those of North American samples.[7] Conversely, samples from the Middle East have rarely been subjected to empirical study; however, there are some preliminary indicators that residents here may have particularly favourable views of cosmetic surgery as they appear to be gaining in popularity among women in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabia, for example, ranks within the top 30 countries in the world with the highest number of plastic surgeons, while citizens of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are recorded as being within the top three most frequent visitors abroad for the purposes of medical tourism.[8] Women in the UAE are noted to exhibit an acute awareness of their external appearance and have continued to spend prolifically on its maintenance as evidenced by the burgeoning beauty and personal care industry in this country.[9] In addition, the UAE, and Dubai, in particular, has flourished, having recently experienced a proliferation of cosmetic surgery practices. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) reports that the Emirate has the highest ratio of plastic surgeons per capita in the world, 50 doctors per one million residents.[10] A further factor promoting the cosmetic industry in this region is the DHA's active promotion of Dubai as a medical tourism hub. In 2015, it launched the 'Be Beautiful in Dubai' campaign during which all-inclusive wellness and cosmetic surgery tourism packages were offered. The campaign saw an increase in the number of medical tourists by 12% in comparison to the previous year.[10]

Globally, the total number of cosmetic procedures performed on women still continues to outnumber those of men; however, in the Middle East, there appears to be a significant upsurge in the number of men seeking cosmetic procedures, and initial reports suggest that the number of men compared to women may be relatively equivalent.[11]

Given that potential consumers increasingly conduct research online when considering cosmetic procedures,[2] this study sought to ascertain by means of a systematic review of publicly available online information the extent to which cosmetic surgery practices differentially direct their marketing efforts towards male and female consumers in the UAE.

  Methods Top

A systematic search was conducted in February 2018 using Google (Mountain View, CA, USA) to generate a list of cosmetic surgery practices currently operating across the seven Emirates within the UAE. For each of the seven Emirates (i.e., Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Fujairah, Umm Al-Quwain, Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman), the following search procedure was executed: The principal search term, '[name of the Emirate] cosmetic surgeon' was entered, for example, 'Dubai cosmetic surgeon,' and the practice websites, both solo and group practices, present on the first and second pages of results were then analysed. A maximum of two-result pages was a satisfactory criterion as there were never more than two pages of results meeting the inclusion criteria. Practices that performed only dermatological or non-surgical procedures were excluded from analyses.

The systematic procedure outlined by Sinno et al.[12] in viewing the images displayed on the websites was adopted. The first ten images to appear on each website were inspected and the gender of the model or patient displayed in each was recorded. In viewing the ten images, a consistent procedure to view the webpages for each website was followed; first, the homepage, then the procedures page, an image gallery page and then beyond these, web pages were viewed in order from left to right as the links were displayed on the homepage. Only images of models or patients were included; those that were drawings, animations, paintings or pictures of the doctors were excluded. To avoid potentially skewing the data towards a majority of female images, two strategies were adopted. First, before-and-after images of abdominal and facial procedures were counted first before those of breast procedures, and second, each pair of before-and-after images was counted as 1, not 2 images.

Then, the contents of each website were examined to determine whether the practice provides services that are specifically directed towards male patients by looking for a clearly labelled webpage indicating 'For Men', 'Male Procedures', or the equivalent. Where males-only sections existed, the particular services offered were noted. If a males-only section was not listed, we perused the procedures page and extracted those procedures that are typically sought by male patients (e.g. gynaecomastia). The listing provided by Sinno et al.[12] was employed to complete this step of the procedure.

Finally, the following information was gathered pertaining to the surgeons of each practice included in the sample: the number of surgeons working in the practice, their gender and the country from which their license membership is held.

  Results Top

In total, the websites of 34 practices were accessed and examined following our systematic search strategy. Unsurprisingly, the majority were located in the larger metropolitan areas of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The smaller, rural Emirates did not yield any results. There was a total of 90 surgeons working across the identified practices, the majority were male (75%) and a total of 19 (21%) were licensed and certified in the US.

Some websites displayed <10 images. Therefore, a total of 201 were viewed. Of these, 162 images (81%) were of female models or patients, 37 (18%) were of males and two images contained both a male and a female model. Five websites did not have any images of models or patients that met the inclusion criteria.

Only six of the 34 practice websites included a male section; however, when the general procedure pages of the remaining websites were perused, all contained a number of procedures typically performed on male patients. In total, the most common procedures offered were gynaecomastia (53%), liposuction (50%), facelift (44%), rhinoplasty (38%), blepharoplasty (35%) and abdominoplasty (32%).

  Discussion Top

Consumers residing in the Middle East are demonstrating increasingly positive views towards cosmetic surgery.[13] Which factors might explain this trend? It has previously been suggested that the emergence of appearance and external bodily concerns in non-Western cultures is associated with the process of globalisation and its accompanied socio-cultural factors.[14] Specifically, Gordon [15] proposed that contexts characterised by rapid socioeconomic growth, the promotion of consumerist culture and the consequent preference for a particular body shape and size may result in behaviours directed at attaining desired appearance. Certainly, these factors are reflective of the context in the UAE at present. The country has witnessed exponential social and economic growth over a very brief period, resulting in foreign investment, economic migration from Western countries and a thriving tourist industry. These factors may collectively result in a populace who are more sensitised to varying ideas of beauty through greater exposure to influences from elsewhere in the world, enjoy proximity to world-class medical services, and are more likely to have access to the requisite funds to enlist the services of a surgeon.

Globally, this phenomenon is not limited to female patients only. Rather, in the present climate, and in contrast to traditionally-held views, a large number of men appear to be seeking cosmetic surgery services, representing a substantial increase, according to one account, as high as 274% over an 18-year period.[12] This trend observed in first-world, industrialised settings appears to be mirrored in the Middle East. Men in this region are now more readily challenging traditional views of masculinity, possibly following the pervasive expansion of metrosexual attitudes and practices towards self-care that invariably accompanies globalisation.[16] Moreover, there is evidence that men resident in emerging markets such as the UAE are steadily devoting more attention to their appearance. Euromonitor International [17] reported that as many as one third of men in emerging markets spend up to 30 min a day grooming. In Arab contexts, the use of cosmetic enhancing procedures, beauty and personal care products, and for some, cosmetic procedures, has gradually gained social acceptance.[17] This is despite the often-cited contention that, in Islam, Muslims are discouraged from altering their physical appearance.[18] However, the Arab and Muslim world are not homogenous, and a great variety of opinions, customs and practices can be found. The UAE in particular has sought to find integration between its Islamic heritage and culture and the incoming Western ideas that accompany globalisation and the migration of expatriates. Thus, the attitudes toward and uptake of cosmetic enhancing procedures have been favourably welcomed; however, for those seeking a culturally dictated rationale, surgical procedures are seen as being essential for achieving a better quality of life, thereby satisfying any religious objections.[19]

This study's results suggest in concurrence with that of Sinno et al.[12] that despite indications of increasing interest from men in cosmetic procedures, surgical practices have maintained a clear marketing focus on female patients. The websites of a minimal proportion of those included in our sample had male-specific sections. Moreover, the websites in the sample displayed an equally small number of images containing male patients or models. This omission is a missed opportunity. Many prospective patients conduct initial research online, and the information contained on a practice's website may be the initial step in securing more male patients. Remediation of this omission will likely aid the further dismantling of stigmatised views towards cosmetic surgery, especially for men.

Male-specific services are being offered. Many of the practices offered surgeries typically targeted at men, but these were listed in generic procedures sections. Gynaecomastia was the most common problem. This was performed by more than half of the practices and is unsurprising given the reported prevalence rate of 36%.[20]

  Conclusion Top

There are a number of areas in which the current study might be expanded in future work. While the search strategy was expansive, there remains the possibility that some practices were not included, especially if they did not have an online presence. Furthermore, the decision to include a maximum of 10 images was guided by prior research; however, if a larger number were included, this may invariably impact the results attained. In addition, an account of the attitudes of men towards cosmetic surgery, correlates of cosmetic surgery attitudes in men and the factors that impede active engagement in cosmetic surgery are worthy foci to explore.


The author wishes to thank Ms Vanessa Baaba Dadzie for her assistance in completing the online search.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Cosmetic surgery national data bank statistics. Aesthet Surg J 2015;35 Suppl 2:1-24.  Back to cited text no. 1
ASAPS Press Centre. Cosmetic Surgery National Data Bank Statistics; 2016. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Available from: https://www.surgery.org/sites/default/files/ASAPS-Stats2016.pdf. [Last accessed on 2018 Mar 15].  Back to cited text no. 2
Swami V, Campana AN, Ferreira L, Barrett S, Harris AS, Tavares Mda C, et al. The acceptance of cosmetic surgery scale: Initial examination of its factor structure and correlates among Brazilian adults. Body Image 2011;8:179-85.  Back to cited text no. 3
Swami V, Chamorro-Premuzic T. Factor structure of the body appreciation scale among Malaysian women. Body Image 2008;5:409-13.  Back to cited text no. 4
Nerini A, Matera C, Stefanile C. Psychosocial predictors in consideration of cosmetic surgery among women. Aesthetic Plast Surg 2014;38:461-6.  Back to cited text no. 5
Lunde C. Acceptance of cosmetic surgery, body appreciation, body ideal internalization, and fashion blog reading among late adolescents in Sweden. Body Image 2013;10:632-5.  Back to cited text no. 6
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Euromonitor International. Country Report: Beauty and Personal Care in the United Arab Emirates. Available from: http://www.euromonitor.com/beauty-and-personal-care-in-the-united-arab-emirates/report. [Last accessed on 2017 Dec 29].  Back to cited text no. 9
Dubai Health Authority. Available from: https://www.khaleejtimes.com/nation/uae-health/dha-woos-tourists-with-beautiful-packages. [Last accessed on 2018 Mar 15].  Back to cited text no. 10
Alfayez SM, Al-Harbi AB, Al-Mana YT, Al-Qattan MM. The perceptions and attitudes of Saudi internet users toward the practice of plastic surgery. Int J Acad Sci Res 2017;5:7-13.  Back to cited text no. 11
Sinno S, Lam G, Brownstone ND, Steinbrech DS. An assessment of gender differences in plastic surgery patient education and information in the United States: Are we neglecting our male patients? Aesthet Surg J 2016;36:107-10.  Back to cited text no. 12
Al-Saiari AA, Bakarman MA. Experiences and attitude among Saudi female University students towards cosmetic surgery. J Taibah Univ Med Sci 2015;10:427-31.  Back to cited text no. 13
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Gordon RA. Eating disorders East and West: A culture-bound syndrome unbound. In: Nasser M, Katzman MA, Gordon RA, editors. Eating Disorders and Cultures in Transition. New York: Brunner-Routledge; 2001.  Back to cited text no. 15
Harrison C. Real men do wear mascara: Advertising discourse and masculine identity. Crit Dis Stud 2008;5:55-74.  Back to cited text no. 16
Euromonitor International. Men's Grooming Habits in Emerging and Developed Markets; 2014. Available from: https://www.blog.euromonitor.com/2014/07/mens-grooming-habits-in -emerging-and-developed-markets.html. [Last accessed on 2018 Mar 20].  Back to cited text no. 17
Atiyeh BS, Kadry M, Hayek SN, Moucharafieh RS. Aesthetic surgery and religion: Islamic law perspective. Aesthetic Plast Surg 2008;32:1-0.  Back to cited text no. 18
Abbas OL, Karadavut U. Analysis of the factors affecting men's attitudes toward cosmetic surgery: Body image, media exposure, social network use, masculine gender role stress and religious attitudes. Aesthetic Plast Surg 2017;41:1454-62.  Back to cited text no. 19
Nuttall FQ. Gynecomastia as a physical finding in normal men. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1979;48:338-40.  Back to cited text no. 20

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