Making It Big

Unknown singer Ilanit Shimol is desperate for fame. Two days ago she decided to promote her career in an unusual way - by having breast enlargement surgery live on the Internet.

Ilanit Shimol achieved her first objective long before Dr. Robby Riegler picked up his surgical scalpel two nights ago and made the first cut below her right breast. With a look that transmitted a sense of victory she answered questions from the reporters hovering around her attempting to understand what prompted a young woman to have her breast enlargement operation broadcast live on the Internet.

PR tool

When Shimol, an unknown 26-year-old Oriental-dance singer, approached the Ariel chain of private clinics about a week ago and asked about the possibility of making her breast enlargement operation into a public relations tool, the chairman of the chain, Eitan Zachariya, offered her the chance to be the first Israeli woman to have her breasts enlarged live on the Internet. Shimol immediately "gladly" agreed to the gimmick and in return for her consent, it was agreed that she would not pay for the operation, which normally costs around NIS 13,000. Right afterward, the Ariel Clinics contacted the Nana Internet site, which aired the operation on Mixer, its culture channel.

Two nights ago, during the live broadcast, the site could not handle the capacity. As the surgeon was pressing silicon-filled sacs in Shimol's body - she chose one of the largest sizes - an apology appeared on the screens of thousands of surfers, who were told that because of the huge demand, it would be impossible to watch the operation, but they were promised that a tape of the event would be available on the site in the coming days.

Fulfilling a dream

"My dream was to enlarge my breasts and become famous, and now finally it's happening," said Shimol in an interview several hours before the operation. "When I put out my songs and approached all sorts of places, no one took notice of me. They said, `There are a lot more like you' and I realized I had to do something crazy. I constantly get offers to model because I look so good, but what bothered me were my breasts. I wanted to wear a low-cut dress; I have a good head for marketing, so I decided to kill several birds with one stone. First of all, I'd get the operation and then also I'd get exposure and lastly, perhaps I'd be able to help women who were afraid to have the operation and after they'd see me, they'd be reassured."

Shimol's promotion of her career, for the sake of which she did not hesitate to give up her privacy on the operating table, never stops. Less than 40 minutes before she was anesthetized on the cold metal operating table with doctors, nurses and photographers buzzing around her, she was still busily engaged in major public relations efforts.

Dressed in a greenish robe and equipped with a portable disc player that continuously played her album, Shimol attempted to justify her decision and praise her album, which she was waving in the air whenever a camera focused on her.

"Why did I need this? Precisely because of the people at your radio station," Shimol answered sharply to a question from an Army Radio correspondent. "To this day Army Radio has never wanted to hear about me and now here you are today with journalists from Ma'ariv and Channel 10 and Yedioth Ahronoth."

"I don't think I'm doing anything drastic," she said in response to another question. "A woman's body is an amazing thing. I just want to be recognized in every Israeli home and to be given a chance to sing my songs." Only when she is asked what gimmick she plans to use to promote her next album, after the precedent of the operation, she is quiet for a moment. "I'll think of something; it'll be okay," she finally answers.

No circus

Ronen Shamir, the editor-in-chief of Nana, does not think that broadcasting the operation on his site's culture channel is in any way problematic. "I don't think broadcasting the operation will encourage teens to have plastic surgery," he says. "We decided to broadcast the operation because it's interesting. We have a large audience of teenage boys and girls and even if we bury our heads in the sand, they'll have plastic surgery and they're curious to see this procedure done. If they want to watch it despite the warnings appearing on the site, they can. Even if it were open-heart surgery, I'd gladly air it. People watch this type of thing on the Discovery Channel too. I treat my audience as intelligent people."

Isn't there a problem here of providing a platform for commercial business on a content site?

Shamir: "It's not commercial content. Whoever is doing it is engaged in commercial activity. That's not the same thing. If a different company had approached me, I would also have broadcast their operation without a problem. Ariel Clinics are not paying us a single agora. It's a golden opportunity to show this and if we hadn't done so, another site would have."

Dr. Riegler, the surgeon who operated on Shimol, also does not see any problem in transforming a surgical procedure into a show intended to promote the surgery enterprises of Ariel Clinics and the music of Shimol. "I don't think it's a circus.

There is medical transparency here and it's not the first time operations have been broadcast on television or on the Internet," he says angrily, more interested in getting back to talking about the silicon implants he is about to insert into Shimol's breasts than discussing bothersome ethical questions.

Less than an hour and a half later, when it is clear that the surgery was successful and the tension in the sterile room eases, the nurse standing beside Dr. Riegler, allows herself to joke for the first time. "Too bad we didn't play some music from her disc," she mutters under her pale green mask. Shimol, who was under anesthesia at the time, did not happen to hear her comment, but if it were up to her, the appropriate soundtrack for her media coup would undoubtedly have been song number four on her disc: "Yalla, count on Ilanit."