Introduction Page 4 | Seeking Beauty from Afar: How I Got My Smile Back

It’s so … Foreign …

The mainstream media in the United States didn?t really know what to do with the story. It was so … foreign … and always seemed tainted with desperation and a little craziness. No one seemed to know how many people were getting on airplanes and traveling abroad for inexpensive plastic surgery. Doctors in the United States, when asked, uniformly warned against the practice.

If you paid attention only to newspaper, magazine, and television reports emanating from the United States in 2004 regarding traveling outside the country for cosmetic or plastic surgery, you would reasonably conclude, in fact, that anyone who did so successfully was simply lucky. First-person stories such as my own were few and far between. The bulk of the reporting fell into two broad categories:

  1. Horror stories. If someone went overseas for plastic or cosmetic surgery and came back dissatisfied, disfigured, or, very occasionally, in a box, it was news. As a journalist, I fully empathize with why this was so. Such cautionary tales of … “This could happen to you!” … are a staple of journalism everywhere.
  2. Novelty stories. I would call them success stories, but they were rarely offered as such. As opposed to the this-could-happen-to-you tales, these were stories that portrayed traveling abroad for surgery as though the patient (and the reporter) had stumbled upon something exotic, something cutting edge, not quite ready for prime time. Again, as a journalist, I empathized. As my editor at Northeast said, “It’s new to our readers.”

I was reminded of the last phenomenon on which I’d done significant research and reporting, the rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s. Reading and watching the mainstream media at that time, one could be forgiven for thinking that the new medium was notable only for spreading pornography (horror) and creating instant millionaires (novelty.) Eventually — and it took several years — the media found context, understood what was happening, and started explaining it better.

The same sort of comprehension regarding medical tourism started to evolve in 2004. As I continued the routine of research, reading dozens of e-mails a day, plowing through message-board postings, checking for the latest news, home and abroad, I watched the story change. It would not have happened so fast without the Internet. In fact, it wouldn’t have happened at all without the Internet. But change it did, rapidly.

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