Indonesia Expat
Scams in the City

On Baldness & Boobs

As the human body approaches middle age, many adults start experiencing embarrassing physical changes. Hair may start thinning and greying. Breasts invariably start sagging. Wrinkles appear and waistlines expand. All sorts of purported remedies are on offer to those seeking to defy the aging process, but not all are effective. 

Some hair restoration products on the Indonesian market use false advertising to entice the unwary. Take the case of a product called Adorer G21, which is marketed as being able to promote hair growth and overcome hair loss.

If this product really works, it should be widely available in shops, yet it was instead sold via late-night infomercials, which were screened relentlessly for several years. Perhaps the manufacturer just wanted to avoid selling through retailers. A box of Adorer G21 costs about Rp.880,000 and contains one bottle of Hair Loss Treatment Shampoo, a bottle of Hair Growing Liquid and a small jar of Vitamin for Hair.

In the late 1990s, a British friend of mine, let’s call him Liam, who worked in Jakarta as an English teacher, was recruited to appear in the main infomercial for Adorer G21. A genuine hair restoration company could have simply found a balding man, treated him with its product and then shown his mane growing back. Instead, the marketers behind Adorer G21 chose Liam, who was 23 years old and had a full head of hair. 

Upon completing a day’s teaching at 9pm, Liam was taken to a studio for a couple of hours’ filming, which interfered with his usually strict post-work schedule of fraternizing with fellow teachers over beer. The agency generously placated him by providing a Big Mac Value Meal and two large bottles of Bintang beer. He was also given a false moustache in an absurd effort to make him look in his 40s.

Shooting commenced with the ‘after’ scenes, showing off Liam’s natural hair, purportedly after using Adorer G21, which he never actually used. Next, prior to shooting the ‘before’ scenes, a bald patch was shaved onto Liam’s scalp. He was given a comb and pretended to be distraught at losing strands of his hair.

The infomercial ran for several minutes, so Liam had to ad-lib a lot of serious talk about the importance of having hair. It didn’t matter what he said because he was later dubbed into Indonesian. After two hours of filming, Liam was given a crew-cut so that his hair was of a reasonably uniform length. He was then handed an envelope of Rp.1 million and driven to Jalan Jaksa.

Despite the ad being a sham, that didn’t stop some of Liam’s expatriate friends – genuinely balding men – from asking whether the product really worked. One friend, an aspiring TV star, even berated Liam for failing to collect a free sample.

Bald men seeking a remedy may be better off trying costly hair transplant surgery, in which hair follicles are harvested from the side or back of the scalp and then plugged into the bald patch. In Indonesia, the cost for this sort of treatment will start from about Rp.20 million, which is equivalent to about 23 packs of Adorer G21 and will provide results. 

An ad from Indonesian hair growth product Hairy Oil shows apparent before and after photo of English footballer Wayne Rooney. Text reads: “Hairy Oil is truly amazing..! From being bald, I now have hair again.”

Male baldness has also been treated with mixed results by combinations of medications such as finasteride (sold as Propecia), minoxidil (Rogaine) and ketoconazole. A dodgier and cheaper option available in Indonesia is a product called Hairy Oil, which costs Rp.250,000 for a 100ml bottle. Its marketing spiel contains a laughably fake testimonial from English footballer Wayne Rooney, who actually overcame his baldness by spending £15,000 on hair transplants.

Hair treatments aside, some of the other most commonly marketed products on late-night Indonesian TV are those that claim to firm and enlarge the breasts. Supermarkets and pharmacies have a range of breast-firming creams and soaps, most of which are made largely from water, glycerine and palm oil extracts. There are also numerous types of “magic” bust-enhancing bras, as well as girdle and corset combinations, promoted via infomercials.

Some Indonesian women swear that the most effective breast-firming product is an oil extracted from turtles, although it does not have the most pleasant odour, nor is it likely to thrill animal lovers.

Breast enhancement infomercials, with lots of close-ups of cleavage, are as close as increasingly prudish Indonesian TV comes to screening erotica. The only exception being in July 2000 in the East Java capital of Surabaya, when the frequency used by state-owned TVRI began broadcasting pornographic films after the station was supposed to have ceased transmission at 11pm. The official explanation was that someone playing a porn video compact disc had somehow connected to the broadcast frequency.

The efficacy of potions that claim to enlarge the breasts is limited at best. There are some natural and chemical ingredients that can encourage the natural tendency of milk-producing glands to expand before menstruation. Creams may make skin feel firmer but they won’t tighten or strengthen stretched ligaments that support the breasts.

Breast sagging is proportionally related to breast size. Big ones tend to sag more easily, whereas smaller ones will appear perkier for longer. Healthy diet and exercise are also factors. Women desirous of a bigger bust can try consuming foods that contain natural estrogen, such as dried fruit, flax seeds and soy beans.

Because breast tissue is mainly fat and not muscle, be wary of scammers who claim their products will cause breasts to grow larger and firmer. You could instead opt for exercises that make the pectoral muscles bigger. Or if insecure and shallow, or in the acting business, there is always breast augmentation surgery, which guarantees results and is a booming industry in Indonesia.

Products that cater to human vanity are a natural part of a capitalist society. The only harm is when people squander their money on potions that simply don’t work, especially if that money could be better spent on health, nutrition and education. Happiness comes not from hair, gravity-defying breasts and white skin, although Indonesian TV preaches otherwise.

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