Editor's note: Wanderlust is a regular GlobalPost series on global sex and relationship issues written by Iva Skoch, who is now traveling the world writing a book on the subject.
LIMA, Peru — Of the many items one can purchase at the Feria Dominical market in Lima — alpaca wool sweaters, bootleg DVDs or tea bags made from coca leaves — it’s the underwear table that buzzes with activity on Sundays.
Jose Vargas, a shopkeeper, noticed my perplexed look as I picked up a pair of frilly undergarments with padding on the back.
He eagerly explained the benefits. “For woman with small, how you say…”
He points to his butt cheeks and places the panties over them. “Now you’ll be like JLo,” he said.
Then he hinted I should seriously consider getting a pair.
Padded panties have been a common household item in Peru and elsewhere in Latin America for decades, at least as long as padded bras have been popular in the United States. Both work on a similar gravity-defying principle: they provide a lifting function and a pocket to insert a bit (or a lot) of padding to create an illusion of curves in places where curves are culturally mandated.
According to Vargas, it used to be that Western tourists would laugh at padded panties because they couldn’t understand why somebody would want their butt to look bigger. “Now, tourists buy them, too,” he said, suggesting that Westerners finally came to their senses and realized what Peruvians have always known — that a big bubble butt is beautiful.
As padded panties slowly make their entry into U.S. shops and websites, experts claim the global emergence of curvy Latina divas such as JLo, Shakira or Eva Mendez heralds a new archetype of beauty. Women around the world are emulating these bulbous celebrity behinds, taking their own gluetus to the maximus — first with padding, then with surgery.
In the U.S., buttocks augmentation is still a relatively uncommon type of plastic surgery — although growing in popularity in recent years — but in South America, gluteal implants have been one of the more popular procedures for decades.
According to Nikky Sanchez of Femilife, a clinic in Lima specializing in “feminization” surgeries, buttock augmentation is the third most requested body alteration in Peru, after breast augmentation and liposuction.
During international plastic surgery conferences, it is mainly South American surgeons who lecture on buttocks augmentation because they have the most experience. Not surprisingly, the inventor of the most popular buttocks implant used by U.S. surgeons is also a South American, Dr. Jorge Hidalgo from Peru, who has clinics in Lima and Miami.
The Hidalgo elastometer gluteal implant is round, and formed by a silicone elastomer envelope filled with silicone elastomer. It comes in three basic sizes: 250, 290 and 340 cc (cubic centemeters). “It’s like rubber, solid but soft,” Hidalgo says of his invention.
He uses his own implants for the surgeries he performs in Miami. For his surgeries in Peru, however, he prefers silicone gel implants, invented by Argentinian plastic surgeon Jose Robles in the early 1980s. Silicone gel implants are not FDA-approved for buttocks augmentation in the U.S., which is one of the reasons foreigners flock to places like Peru, Argentina, Brazil or Panama for their surgeries. The other reason is cheaper medical care.
George Adams, an Australian from Nip and Tuck Solutions, a medical tourism company based in Panama, estimates the difference in cost for a buttocks augmentation surgery between Peru and U.S. at about $9,000. But he says butt augmentation is a cultural phenomenon and, as a result, he isn’t seeing a huge influx of Westerners requesting the procedure.
“Men in South America like their women with a big butt, like JLo,” he said, whereas in Australia and other countries where “fit and slim” is the valued body type, the “big bottom is not such an attractive item in comparison to the neat and tidy butt.”
But others say that with ethnic diversification of popular female images, the era of the “neat and tidy butt” might be over. At least among plastic surgeons, it is said that JLo is doing for the rear end what Pamela Anderson has done for the front end.
Douglas Senderoff, a plastic surgeon in New York City, isn’t sure what exactly is fuelling the sudden popularity of buttocks augmentation surgery in the U.S., but he also speculates it’s the “JLo effect.” He has done over 200 such surgeries and lately has been performing 10 a month. Most of his patients are Hispanic women between 20 and 40 years old, who apparently all agreed that not being able to sit directly on their buttocks for at least three weeks following the surgery is a good tradeoff for having a more shapely bum.
“In the U.S., it’s been about breasts, is it going to be about butt now? I don’t know. Styles change,” he said.
His first encounter with buttocks augmentation surgery was during a trip to Peru in 1997. By that time, South American plastic surgeons routinely augmented the gluteal area in an attempt to meet the demands of a buttocks-conscience culture. It wasn’t until years later that buttock implants became popular in the U.S.
Although the implants he is allowed to use in the U.S. are different than the gel-filled devices found in Peru and other countries of South America, they have their advantages.
“They are firmer. And they don’t leak,” he said.
Because if they start leaking it can be a real pain in the, well, you know.