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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Oscars of Nips and Tucks

When they're not worrying about Chechnya or conscript hazings, army colonels want what everyone wants: a trim waist and a smooth forehead. Plastic surgeon Oleg Berlev fixes their every flaw, free of charge, at a Moscow military hospital.

His efforts for Russia's more unfortunate-looking military commanders were recognized recently. Berlev was declared Cosmetic Surgeon of the Year at the Golden Lancet aesthetic surgery awards, before a 200-strong audience, where breasts threatened to break loose from dresses and wrinkles were noticeably absent.

Organized by the owner of a Moscow clinic, the overblown awards are the first of their kind in Russia, and lionize a practice that has grown steadily since the Soviet collapse. They began last year in modest circumstances, on the sidelines of a medical conference with only one award category.

Grigory Gorbunov, who was named best young specialist this year, said his mother's love had helped him win his award, which he'll keep in a cabinet at home. Berlev credited the colleague with whom he wrote his first academic paper, on treating wounds, in 1986. His award will be displayed in his office.

Amid the glitzy surroundings, doctors' assertions about the meaningful nature of their profession at times rang more than a little hollow.

"The Oscars -- it's a holiday. Here, it's something deeper, more genuine," opined Gorbunov, though he later laughed to a friend: "I feel like an actor."

Yevgeny Filonov / MT
TV presenter Yana Laputina hosting the awards. Nominees appeared on screen.
A panel of six doctors chose the winners. The award wasn't gold, as the name implied, but a gold-plated bronze scalpel created for a fee by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, slated by critics for his tacky Peter the Great monument near the Central House of Artists.

As well as the main award, there were prizes for best cosmetologist of the year and for a plastic surgeon who displayed "courage and selflessness." That was taken by a Vladikavkaz doctor who did reconstructive work on Beslan victims, Kazbek Kudzayev. His haunting speech was incongruous; yet more incongruously, he spoke clutching the eagle clock he'd been given in memory of an operation he once did.

"I hope you never see the pain of a child, the tears of a child, the blood of a child," he said, before the host rushed on in the same chipper tone as before.

Guests - designer-clad woman, tanned doctors and a lost Israeli businessman trying to sell a hair-removal product - posed for cameras. Nibbling hor d'oeuvres served on palm leaves, only a few would admit to having had a nip or tuck.

"If I can be better than I am, then why not," challenged Yana Laputina, the host and presenter of a television show on plastic surgery who has had her nose straightened. "It's not a total changing of you, I don't have big boobs, a small ass. This is normal, it's not extremely abnormal."

She added that although a nose job could cost from $1,000 to $3,000, hers was free as her father was a plastic surgeon and she worked in that area.

Yevgeny Filonov / MT
Kazbayev after receiving his bird clock.
Steven Connor, a professor of English at Birkbeck College in London and author of "The Book of Skin," said plastic surgery demonstrated the ambivalence felt toward skin - it's carefully nourished with lotions, and also cut or scrubbed away.

"There's an extraordinary aggression toward the skin, almost as a sort of deadness we wanted to expel," he said by telephone. "Think about the kind of assault we almost enjoy inflicting - plastic surgery is part of it."

"Given that it's a kind of therapy related to spectacle, perhaps it's appropriate that it itself should be celebrated in the mode of spectacle," he added.

There are about 500 plastic surgeons in Moscow and perhaps more than 200 clinics. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons estimates there might be a similar number of plastic surgeons in New York.

Statistics on the total number of surgeries in Russia are not collected, though Berlev said he had performed 369 operations in 2006, about 95 of which were liposuction and about 70 were facelifts. Kazbayev did 360 surgeries in Vladikavkaz, the most common being nose jobs.

A facelift in Russia - from $2,500 - can be half the price compared with Europe, and a few of Berlev's patients travel from abroad. Russian women and foreign women request breasts of a similar size, he noted.

In the entire Soviet Union, there were only two or three plastic surgery clinics, he said.

"People simply had a different mentality, different values in life," he said. "There were more important problems: You had to feed children, be dressed, get shoes for yourself."

Next year, organizers hope to attract more celebrities to the awards. Laputina said they were too embarrassed to advertise, say, their narrower noses and sharpened cheekbones.

Berlev, meanwhile, still sees himself as the same man he was before his big win.

"There's no euphoria. I'm still going to work. Tomorrow I'll be there at 8:30 p.m., like usual. Please God, it will continue and continue like this."