LOS ANGELES – Forget the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” When it comes to plastic surgery, Beirut, Lebanon may be ground zero when it comes to nips, tucks and everything in between.
Cynthia Ghazali recently spent a summer in Beirut making the short documentary “Copy. Cut. Paste” about what she says is Lebanese women's unhealthy attraction to plastic surgery.
“I was inspired to make this movie by my personal experience as well as my observations of Lebanese women every time I went back to visit my family,” Ghazali told FOX411's Pop Tarts column. "I am Lebanese-American and moved to New Jersey at a young age. I never felt uncomfortable with myself and was happy about my personal appearance, but every time I would visit Beirut, I would feel different.”
Ghazali said that people – including her friends and family – consistently commented on the size of her thighs and the state of her eyebrows when she visited her home country, prompting her to notice that the “polished” women in Beirut all looked the same, from their tattooed brows and thin bodies with large chests, to their wrinkle-free skin and small noses.
“Many women in Lebanon are competing to find a husband, even though they are highly-educated," Ghazali said. "The end goal for many women is to find a good husband and build a family.”
As “Copy. Cut. Paste” explores, Lebanon – a country torn by over two decades of war – has found a way to escape the political, social, and economic instability through a growing epidemic; cosmetic enhancements and plastic surgery. A whopping 1.5 million procedures are done annually in a country with a population of 4.2 million people.
Cosmetic surgery has become so popular that banks offer loans of up to $5,000 for the procedures.
“This idea first originated at First National Bank in Lebanon. On one hand, it must be very lucrative for the bank. On the other hand, it is wrong because people are borrowing money for things that aren’t a necessity,” Ghazali continued. “They could be putting the money to better use.”
As Dr. Nabil Hokayem reveals in the film, plastic surgery in Lebanon costs a fifth of what it does in the United States, and a quarter of the prices in Europe. Many Beirut-based women even use their hard-earned vacation time to go under the knife rather than visiting a new place or soaking up some sun, and “lunchtime procedures” like Botox and fillers are the norm.
“The craze about beauty is filtering down to younger generations and more recently men,” Ghazali said. “This epidemic can take away Lebanon’s cultural identity and reduce diversity.”
Girls as young as nine are seen in the documentary expressing their desire to lose significant amounts of weight and following their mothers into low-carb diets. Ghazali says the motivations for Lebanese women of all ages are many.
“Both Beverly Hills surgery addicts and women in Lebanon want to reach physical ‘perfection.’ There is no doubt that both idealize celebrities,” Ghazali added. “Vanity plays more of a role in Beverly Hills than it really does in Lebanon. I think that the issue of plastic surgery in Lebanon involves more factors. It's a combination of globalization, political and economical factors in a post-war country, and Lebanese cultural beliefs in a woman's role: ultimately finding a husband and becoming a mother.”