CARACAS, Venezuela - In Venezuela, women from all walks of life undergo procedures to nip, tuck or boost different parts of their bodies.
"Doctor, a friend of mine got them and they looked great. I want to look beautiful too..."
"Doctor, when my husband turned to look at another woman I knew if I got them he would look at me..."
"I never researched much, but they always talked about them in the beauty salon and I got them done too…"
"Doctor, I did know what they were, but I never thought they could be so bad, I just wanted to surprise my husband…"
"I had enough, but I wanted more…"
These were just some of the reasons Reuters photographer Carlos Garcia Rawlins heard when he was documenting the horrendous results caused by amateur plastic surgery.
Rawlins was shadowing Dr Daniel Slobodianik, a Venezuelan plastic surgeon who performs various procedures, including operations on patients who have previously had illegal or amateur injections of liquid silicone into their buttocks in order to enhance them.
His patients told him stories of unauthorised injections of liquids they received to fill in parts of their bodies they felt were lacking. One showed him the deformation caused by the liquid silicone she had paid to be injected into her lips, others on the severe pain caused by artificially enlarged buttocks.
Every day he attends to women and men who not only suffer from physical discomfort but also from a sense of guilt, fear, frustration, and regret.
They wait months for their turn at surgery to remove the foreign substance that was injected into some part of their bodies.
The reverse operation that Slobodianik carries out costs approximately US$8,200 (S$10,257) and takes between two and three hours depending on how much fluid the patient has in the area.
Plastic surgery is common in Venezuela, a country where the women are synonymous with beauty.
Many of them have received top prizes in pageants around the world, and the feminine ideal that they represent has been the motor behind the lucrative plastic surgery industry that generates nearly $3 billion per year.
One of the dangerous techniques used by the amateur plastic surgery idustry is the injection of body fillers such as liquid silicone, motor oil, and even silicone gel made to weather seal windows and doors.
"I can't imagine there even exists a substance that will solve a woman's dissatisfaction with her body," Rawlins oberved of the lengths women go to to achieve an unattainable ideal of beauty.
Invited into the surgery room where Dr Slobodianik worked to remove these foreign substances from his patients' bodies, Rawlins witnessed for himself the extent of the damage that needed to be rectified.
"It is impressive to see how the oily substance sticks to the surgeon’s gloves, instruments, operating table, and the patient’s skin. But the worst was handling one of the hardened pieces, similar to the fatty edge of a barbecued steak, and the small fluid-filled balls that were extracted from the patient’s buttocks, especially when they were still warm," he wrote of his experience.
The Venezuelan Association of Plastic Surgeons registered more than 15 deaths in the last 12 months from complications caused by these injections.
Once the substance is injected, the body begins the process of rejection. It will naturally try to encapsulate the foreign substance by making small balls filled with the fluid, causing severe pain, allergies, and even the death of surrounding tissue.
There is no technique that allows complete removal of the substance after it migrates from the point of injection and invades muscle fibre.
"In the end, I believe that at least these patients learned the lesson that they are human beings and not cars in an auto body shop. They can't just fill in a dent wherever and whenever they want," Rawlins said.
View the gallery below on his photo-essay documenting the painful price of beauty: