Written by Anna Okon - Punch, Nigeria.
From the dingy shops and dubious tools of self-acclaimed hairdressers under the Ikeja Bridge, Lagos, come a most unexpected service: breast enhancement.
The Lagos traffic snakes along the main road from the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, crawling sluggishly towards the bridge which leads to the Oba Akran Road. A similar scenario plays out under the bridge where rows of shops line both sides of the road. Smartly dressed young men and women are everywhere, clustering around these shops, while some are by the road side calling on pedestrians, trying to entice them for patronage.
This place is known as Ikeja Under Bridge. It is an area that has always been home to both male and female artisans in the beauty business.
Recently, however, men appear to have upstaged women in the business. It is now a common sight to see young men hovering along the fringes of the roundabout linking Obafemi Awolowo Way and Oba Akran Avenue, soliciting customers and taking them to nearby shops.
One of these shops is owned by Linus Solanke (not real names), a hairdresser. He is one of those who make extra money by renting out their shops on a short-time basis to other hairdressers who need space for a few hours to attend to their customers.
Solanke's salon, a makeshift space, is equipped with a wall mirror and a few straight-backed chairs and it has become a haven for other young men who do hair braiding, pedicure and manicure body piercing, tattoos, permanent eye lashes/brows, permanent lip colour and other services. For each client attended to in his shop, Solanke charges between N300 and N400.
While in their salons, one easily understands why men are taking over the business. Unlike their female counterparts, the young men take their time to do their work and their charges are very flexible. Whereas the women charge between N2, 500 and N3, 000 for hair 'fixing,' the men take as low as N1,000 or less and they hardly leave a client unattended to.
Getting cheap tattoos
Tattoo services cost N2,000; permanent pink lips cost N3,000 while body piercing ranges from N1,500 to N2,000.
The customer flow in Solanke's salon is quite impressive: it plays host to no fewer than 10 customers within a time frame of 30 minutes. All the customers seek various beauty fixes.
One young man wants his lip colour altered to a permanent pink. Promptly, this is done by Mike, the "beauty expert" using an instrument fitted with an ink dispenser.
"The colours come out very well when the lips have peeled," the beauty expert explains.
Another young man has a tattoo that he wants removed. Mike does this with a tattoo gun which he keeps dipping in a chemical solution. The gun has an in-built steriliser, explains to whoever wants to know.
But other beauty treatments can be obtained in these rickety structures.
While having her hair done at Solanke's, a young man approaches our correspondent.
"Aunty, come and enlarge your breasts," the young man, who introduces himself as James, croons into her ears. "No. I don't need enlarged breasts," she retorts. "But you can jack them up. We can make your breasts stand erect if they are drooping," James persists.
"There is a machine we use. After lifting the breasts with the aid of the machine, we will then give you cream that will make them stay erect," he adds.
When asked how he became both a hairdresser and a breast surgeon, James replies. "I am not a breast surgeon. The process does not involve surgery. I went on a six-month-training on the techniques of breast enhancement. I am actually a graduate of Automobile Engineering from the University of Benin. I came out with a Second Class Upper Division, but after searching for a job and getting none, I decided to learn this trade."
As this conversation goes on, another young man is busy advertising his ability to increase the size of a man's private part. And for a sample, Sunny, the young man volunteers himself. "I have done it on myself, you want to see it?" he inquires.
The cost of enhancing breasts according to James is between N15,000 to N30,000. "We offer three services; we can reduce your hip, enhance your breasts and flatten your tummy. A total package will cost N40,000 or N50,000 but if it is just breast enhancement, we charge N30,000," he explains.
He continues, "I will take you to a spa. We will massage your breasts first, and then use the machine to pump them. At the end of the day, you go home with a cream to apply regularly. You can always come back for retouch."
According to him, regular retouch is vital, "You know, when men suck the breasts, they will droop again, so you need regular retouch," he explains.
James later cancelled a date fixed for a visit to the spa with the excuse that visitors are not allowed into the spa. "But I have the machine with me. We can go to a guest house around here, and start with massage," he says. This offer is, however, declined by our correspondent for safety reasons.
Another hairdresser, Collins, whom SUNDAY PUNCH consulted on the existence of other breast enhancement centres, directs her to a place along the busy Awolowo Way in Ikeja. There she meets Phillip, another spa operator.
Philip takes her to yet another hairdressing salon where he shares with her his own style of carrying out breast enlargement.
Phillip's method is different from James'. He explains that he does not use breasts pump. "Breasts pumps cause cancer," he says.
"What we do is to massage your breasts, then give you cream to use. You pay a deposit of N20,000, and when you have achieved the desired shape of breasts, you can pay the balance of N10,000," he explains further.
On further prompt on samples of breasts he had worked on, Phillip produces from a smart phone, photographs of women's breasts of various shapes and sizes. He says he does not have a spa but hires a guest house to treat his clients.
A female hairdresser spoken to by our correspondent confirms that the young men do perform some form of breast enhancement.
"I know of a girl who did it. She was one of my customers; her chest was very flat when she used to come here. One day, I saw her and observed that her breasts were very large, but they appeared too large, almost reaching her elbows," she says.
Foremost Nigerian body enhancement expert, Modupe Ozolua, debunks the breasts enhancement claims. Ozolua who pioneered the practice of breast enhancement in the country says, "Breasts enhancement cannot be done independent of surgery."
She expresses shock at the fact that some women patronise (under bridge) beauty experts. "Anyone who believes hair stylists or 'cosmetologists' can enhance a woman's breasts will become a victim of his or her ignorance and outright stupidity. It is disturbing to know that people actually patronise these people. Those that have difficulty understanding that there is no connection or possibility of these 'non-surgical' treatments working will eventually have themselves to blame after they have experimented with their bodies.
"Let's address the definition of 'cosmetology'. It's the study of hair, skin and scalp, thus making a hair stylist a cosmetologist. There is nowhere in the course of cosmetology training that gives them certification or authority to address or treat concerns regarding the breasts.
"As for these young men 'massaging women's breasts', it seems to me not only are the women being duped, they are also being sexually assaulted," she insists.
Two ladies admit they had undergone breasts enhancement procedure at the beauty parlours.
One of them, Maria, says she did it a long time ago. "It is real. I did it a long time ago. They started with massage, after which they gave me cream to apply regularly. There are no side effects and the breasts are not disturbing me," she says. However, Maria's breasts are unnaturally large. Her small frame appears to be struggling to carry her chest, which is very round and huge.
The second lady, Bimpe Balogun (not real names), who could only speak on phone claims that she was "operated upon''not too long ago. "A machine was used to massage my breasts, after which I was given a particular cream to use. The cream is very important. Make sure they give you the cream," she cautions.
Along Kodesoh Street, Ikeja, where female hairdressers and manicurists operate from shacks lining the walkway that stand adjacent to the bridge however, the story is different. While debating the authenticity of the young men's claims, some of the women say the claims are true while others declare them false.
"It is just a ploy by the young men to gain access to women's breasts," one of them says. "There was a girl who paid N15,000 to have her breasts enlarged. While the fake doctor was massaging her breasts, he became sexually aroused and raped her."
Evelyn George-Obe, an anatomist with the Rivers State College of Health, cautions women against tampering with their breasts anyhow.
"That part of the female anatomy is very sensitive and also a life force. Moreover, some of the so-called breast enhancement creams contain chemical substances that cause cancer," she warned.
Also, a medical practitioner, Dr. Kemi Ibru, says diseases like Hepatitis B and HIV are transmitted through the use of sharp objects in uncontrolled environments like the Ikeja Under Bridge.
"People in these environments are not exposed and do not understand the need to sterilise sharp objects like professionals do in developed countries. Transmission through blood occurs when infected blood comes in contact with an open wound on an uninfected individual.
"What it means is that, when a sharp object is used on a person who is infected with HIV or Hepatitis B, the HIV or Hepatitis B Virus is transferred to the sharp object and when the same sharp object is used on an uninfected person, the virus is immediately transferred into that person's blood," she says.
Ibru, a specialist in blood and reproductive health adds, "You will mostly find this problem among people who operate local tattoo parlours, body piercings and circumcision practitioners, local midwives, local manicurists and pedicurists. People get infected when the piercings are done and when they are removed."
A dermatologist, Dr. Sadiat Bakare, holds that people are free to go anywhere for beauty treatment but they should be cautious.
Bakare, who runs a clinic that offers medical grade laser and aesthetic services including breast surgery and skin rejuvenation, adds "You really can't dictate where people should go to for any beauty enhancement. What they should be concerned with is if the beautician or cosmetologist is a licensed practitioner or not. Most people you find under the bridge are quacks, and their customers are exposed to unsterilised instruments which could lead to various diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis, and the risk that comes from the use of chemicals that are not under controlled conditions.
"My advice for those who want to provide such services is that they should get licensed and attain the necessary certification and acquire adequate training. Also, those who want to enhance their beauty through aesthetic treatment should get it done by licensed practitioners."
A leading obstetrician/gynaecologist and the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, Professor Innocent Ujah, echoes Bakare's views.
He says, "The practice of body piercing and tattooing in such environments is unhygienic and dangerous to health. It is in such situations that people contact diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B because the sharp objects used for tattooing and body piercing are unsterilised and subject to multiple use."