SÃO PAULO, Brazil – A Miss Bum-Bum runner-up, Andressa Urach, now admits her obsession with beauty — and cosmetic surgery — almost killed her.
Urach, 27, launched her career as a model and reality TV star with a face and body sculpted in the operating room.
“I’ve had more than 10 surgeries,” she told CNN. “My nose, my cheekbones, my jaw. I injected my lips numerous times, changed my breasts twice and did liposuction two times.”
In 2012, she got second place in the uniquely Brazilian contest known as Miss Bum-Bum, or Miss Backside. Modeling contracts followed.
“I idolized my body, so it had to be perfect,” she said during the interview in the São Paulo apartment she shares with her 9-year-old son.
Her agent brought out the before-and-after pictures.
First, snapshots of a thin teenage mom nicknamed “Beanpole,” smiling and hugging her baby.
In the more recent pictures, her body fills out: pouty lips, enormous breasts and her now-famous derriere as well as voluptuous thighs.
“I had plastic surgery like going to the supermarket,” she said. “I wanted to take out ribs to have a slimmer waist. I wanted to cut off my toes to wear smaller shoes.”
Massive doses of hydrogel and PMMA
Eventually, the medical procedures took their toll.
Last November, Urach was rushed to the hospital in septic shock. She spent weeks in intensive care, then in a wheelchair.
Hoping for more curvaceous thighs, Urach had taken large quantities of anabolic steroids. Then, she injected her thighs with hydrogel and a plastic known as PMMA.
By November, the tissue in her legs was rotting. Pictures taken at the hospital show huge, gaping ulcers.
More than two months later, she is still getting her legs drained. We accompanied her on a doctor’s visit.
“Back when Andressa injected the hydrogel, she put in 10 times the amount allowed,” said plastic surgeon Felipe Tozaki. “It’s injected into the muscle and fat and skin, and it’s difficult to remove.”
After the bad publicity, authorities said they wouldn’t renew the license for hydrogel to be used in Brazil.
Now Urach is warning against excessive vanity.
“I hope those injuries, those holes can be an example to warn women that there is a huge risk. You have to respect the limits of your body,” she said.
Seeking shortcuts, finding unqualified doctors
Brazil, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, surpassed the United States in 2013 as the country with the most cosmetic surgical procedures — 1.45 million. While American women received more breast implants than their Brazilian counterparts, Brazilians got 64,000 buttock augmentations, almost six times more than Americans.
Unfortunately, many women take shortcuts or seek doctors who aren’t qualified but are willing to try more risky procedures.
“If my doctor hadn’t been willing to put the 500 millilitres of hydrogel in each leg, I would have gone to four or five doctors, getting a little bit from each one,” Urach said.
According to the Federal Council of Medicine, there are 5,500 recognized plastic surgeons in Brazil, but nearly 12,000 doctors perform cosmetic procedures without proper training.
The demand for cosmetic procedures spikes in the summer months and especially ahead of Carnival, when many women seek a nip and tuck before they strip down to their glittery bikinis in Carnival parades.
Doctor Tozaki said the problem is cultural, but it is also medical, noting that 10% to 15% of patients “have psychiatric issues,” more specifically body dysmorphic disorder.
“They look in the mirror and they’ll always find something wrong,” Tozaki said.
“Like me,” Urach said.
After her nightmarish surgeries to remove hydrogel from her thighs, Urach said, she’ll never go under the knife again.
But she also would never go back to the way she looked before.
“I like the way I look now,” Urach said. “It’s good to take measures to improve your looks, just not excessive measures.”
By Shasta Darlington for CNN