Has there ever been a black female plastic surgeon featured on a nip-and-tuck reality show? Doctor 90210? The Swan? Botched? Nope, nope, and nope. Well, that’s all changing now.
Atlanta Plastic, Lifetime TV’s entry into the plastic-surgery-reality genre, premieres on Friday, breaking new ground. Not only does the show center on three board-certified, African-American plastic surgeons in racially diverse Atlanta, one of the three (along with Wright Jones and Marcus Crawford) is a woman: Aisha McKnight-Baron.
According to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in 2014 black patients accounted for only 7.1 percent of all cosmetic-surgery procedures, which may help explain why black men and women have not been not well represented in plastic-surgery shows in the past. That number is up from 4 percent in 1997, however, and many credit this small but significant increase to the rise of beauty icons like Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and even Kim Kardashian, who have ignited a widespread interest in body features that are appreciated in black and Hispanic cultures.
The first patient featured on Atlanta Plastic is Roz, a 47-year-old who arrives at the surgeon’s office with her husband of 23 years, Cregg. Explaining why she chose Baron, Roz says, “Having an African-American woman as my surgeon is very, very important to me. She can relate to my skin; she can relate to my body.” Roz wants a breast lift, tummy tuck, liposuction, and vaginal rejuvenation. “It’s my time after four children. There are so many things I don’t like about my body. I want a full vaginal reconstruction. Who [doesn’t] want a beautiful vagina?” Her husband is against the operation. That’s one part of Roz’s body he believes he gets a say in—but that’s not how it works in Baron’s office.
Baron, 34, is polite but firm, despite Cregg’s interruptions: “You need to understand that I need to talk to her—unless you want surgery. If not, I want to hear what your wife has to say,” says the surgeon. Women viewers will applaud. And they’ll cheer again when Baron slam-dunks her rubber gloves into the trash from across the room after finishing the operation.
While all Baron’s patients on Atlanta Plastic are black, she says that’s not indicative of her actual practice. “My practice is 50 percent white and 50 percent black and Latina,” says Baron. “Both of those cultures appreciate a curvy body. For the average black or Latina patient, you would never suggest liposuction for the hips or the butt. It’s a cultural sensitivity. They’ll say, Can you liposuction elsewhere and add it to my butt. Lately, everyone asks for butt augmentation. They don’t want to waste their fat. Some people want to be shaped like Beyoncé. Or Nicki Minaj, which is more extreme. I want them to be tasteful. I may say, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
A big part of her job, she told me over the phone while playing with her one-year-old last weekend, is to manage expectations. “I have to explain to patients they need to take time off from work, and tell them they have to take this seriously. You’re smoking? I’m not operating. I’m a real, live doctor and you’re not in someone’s hotel room,” she says. “They come with laundry lists of procedures they want. I have to take the reins and tell them what we can do safely.” And of Roz’s desire to be “the Black Barbie,” Baron says, “it’s part of my job to bring reality to their aspirations. Bring them down to earth.”
Baron is ambivalent about being defined as an African-American plastic surgeon. “That’s not how I see myself. I define myself by my training and experience. I’m a plastic surgeon. But I don’t hide from that [designation] either. There are not a lot of African-American plastic surgeons—and surely not a lot of African-American women plastic surgeons, so It can be inspiring. Lots of women choose female OB-GYNs. Feeling comfortable with a doctor can go a long way.”
One thing the patients on Atlanta Plastic seem comfortable talking about is their sexuality, which is probably due to strategic casting more than anything else. When Baron told Roz and Cregg that after a labiaplasty sex was not recommended for six weeks, Cregg became agitated. The couple, says Baron, “were maybe giving a little too much information about their sex lives, but I’m glad they were as candid as possible. They verbalized what many other patients are thinking. Normally we don’t have a husband during a cosmetic consult who is so vocal.” How did she handle it? Baron just looked him in the eye and told him there are other ways to deal with his discomfort.
On a future episode, we’ll see how surgeon Marcus Crawford deals with a patient who wants penile enlargement. “Hopefully we can be informative and entertaining,” says Baron.
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