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Critics say bars' surgery giveaway is demeaning to participants

A group of downtown Buffalo bars is giving away a free breast-augmentation procedure to the person who collects the most beads tonight as part of a Mardi Gras promotion that has drawn some criticism.

The "Boobs for Beads" promotion is open to men or women, and the winner can apply the value of the prize toward a tummy tuck, nose job or another form of cosmetic surgery, an organizer said.

"I wanted an attention grabber," Sean Coughlin, manager of Bayou nightclub, told The Buffalo News on Monday, adding, "As bad as the promotion sounds, I don't want it executed in a tacky way."

Thirteen bars in the Chippewa district have retained the services of Dr. Lakshmanan Rajendran, a plastic surgeon with offices in Cheektowaga and West Seneca, on the winner's behalf.

Not everyone thinks the surgical giveaway is a good idea, with one critic saying it reinforces the poor body image that many young women have.

"I think the overall message is here's a shortcut to fixing something that's wrong with you -- which may or may not be wrong," said Sharon Mitchell, director of counseling services for the University at Buffalo.

Coughlin said he won support for the concept from representatives of the other bars that belong to the Buffalo Entertainment District Association. But the owner of D'Arcy McGee's, which is listed as a participating bar, said he wasn't consulted and thinks it's a bad idea.

"We were a little bit appalled when we heard about the promotion," Mark Croce said.

Coughlin said he and other downtown bar owners want to drum up more business tonight for the holiday -- historically not a busy night along the Chippewa strip -- and he heard that a nightclub in Miami had run this promotion before.

Coughlin said he ran the idea by Jay Manno, president of the bar owners group and managing partner of Soho Burger Bar, and other members of the association to gauge their interest.

He said everyone, including a bartender from D'Arcy McGee's, signed off on this "light-hearted" promotion.

"We got put into this by default," Croce responded.

The bar owners paid Rajendran in advance for the cost of a breast-augmentation procedure, though Rajendran did give them a discount on the price, Coughlin said.

Rajendran did not return a call from The News seeking comment, but an employee confirmed his participation.

The bar owners advertised on radio, fliers and online, and the reaction has been mixed.

One woman wrote on Facebook that she would rather pay to support a charity than to subsidize someone's cosmetic surgery.

An online flier and a Facebook page promoting the event refer to the "person" who collects the most beads, and Coughlin emphasized that the winner can be male or female.

However, the prize for the winner is listed as breast-augmentation surgery, and the flier has a photo of a voluptuous woman.

Ruth Meyerowitz said the gender neutrality of the contest doesn't make it better. "I think it's very dehumanizing, for both men and women," said Meyerowitz, a retired UB associate professor who researched women's social and labor history.

Coughlin said women won't have to expose themselves to win strings of beads from the 13 bars. Anyone interested in collecting beads for the contest will have until 2 a.m. Wednesday, when the final count will take place at Noir nightclub.