Teen Plastic Surgery

Author Kate Monahan
Kate Monahan is a New Zealander living and working in New York City.

It’s always tough being a teenager – you think your nose is too big, your boobs too small, your zits like braille and your thighs too chubby. Most teens deal with their physical imperfections via a tube of Clearasil and some well-placed tissues. However, a growing number of young Americans are opting to smooth out the physical awkwardness of their teen years by undergoing cosmetic surgery. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), over 220,000 people under 18 years old had a cosmetic procedure in 2002, up nearly 75,000 since 2000.

Stephanie, 17, is a New York teenager who talked to me about teens and plastic surgery. “One of my best friends, Jourdan, had a nose job and a chin implant when she was 15. And I’ve heard of a girl, a year older than me in school who had liposuction,” she says. While Stephanie herself is happy with how she looks, she thinks that plastic surgery is becoming “more acceptable because it is becoming easier and easier.”

The most common cosmetic procedures among teens are chemical peels and microdermabrasion to treat acne, laser hair removal, ear surgery, nose jobs, breast reduction, collagen injections, breast enlargement, and liposuction to remove excess body fat.

In 2002 about 54,000 teens had chemical peels and just under 53,000 underwent microdermabrasion. More than 19,000 teens had nose jobs and almost 22,000 underwent a procedure called otoplasty, or ear surgery for protruding ears.

Male breast reduction (related to hormonal imbalance) was done in just under 2,000 young men, while almost 2,900 females in this age group had breast enlargements – some of which are done to correct uneven breasts. Liposuction to reduce fat deposits in the stomach or chin was done in more than 3,800 people age 18 and younger in 2002. Teens must have a lot more to worry about these days, as just over 2,400 teens got their furrowed brow lines zapped by botox injections in 2002.

Societal and media pressure plays a role in influencing teens to consider plastic surgery to change their bodies. Stephanie says that she would like to look like Britney Spears or Angie Harmon “because both of them are naturally gorgeous, and very confident.” If she had to change anything it would “probably be my nose” but “only after a lot of consideration.” She thinks that there is a lot of peer pressure on girls to look a certain way “because girls want to be with the best guys, and the best guys have the highest standards.”

Today’s teenagers have grown up with Bay Watch and Michael Jackson, airbrushed models and artificially enhanced superstars, which may make plastic surgery somehow more normal and acceptable. “The media defines strongly what our expectations of beauty should be,” notes Dr. Lloyd Krieger, the director of Rodeo Drive Plastic Surgery in Beverly Hills. “It plays a role, the word is out that a lot of celebrities do it.” Indeed, a recent PEOPLE magazine article claimed that everyone from Roseanne Barr (tummy tuck, nose job, breast reduction, face-lift) to Courtney Love (nose job) to Lara Flynn Boyle (supposed lip reshaping) were “cosmetically enhanced”. Increasingly, in emulating the Hollywood set, many ordinary people are going under the knife. According to Dr. Krieger, “more people all the time are getting plastic surgery. It’s more socially acceptable nowadays.” The top requests among his younger teen clients are for nose jobs. Among older teens (16-17 years old), breast enhancement surgery is more popular.

One of the most popular TV shows in the States this season has been “Extreme Makeover,” which takes two ordinary people and awards them the face and body of their dreams, via plastic surgery. The chosen few – saggy, often with humped noses, bad teeth and sticky-out ears – are completely cosmetically remade and reintroduced “new and improved” to family and friends. The popularity of the show, with its happy Cinderella-like coming out ceremony, indicates that Americans are more and more accepting of undergoing surgery to enhance ones looks. Looking into a mirror after surgery, one patient exclaimed tearfully, “It looks like me, only better.” The irony is that her mottled bruised and laser-peeled face looks horrible, she could be an extra in any Hollywood movie, as long as it was a horror flick!

With the risk and recovery, not to mention the permanency of changing ones looks, how can plastic surgeons even consider operating on people younger than 18? It is a matter of consumer demand and self-esteem. “Some kids are bought in by parents who are upset that their kids are made fun of in school for their ‘dumbo’ ears,” Dr. Krieger says. More often than not, the desire for surgery is lead by the teens, and financially supported by the parents. Most plastic surgeons would not do something that wasn’t initiated and fully understood by the teenage patient. “In the case of breast augmentation or liposuction, the teen has to be pushing for it themselves,” says Dr. Krieger. “Everybody has to be onboard.” It is generally only the kids of wealthy parents are able extreme makeovers, as in Jourdan’s case, “they are paying through the nose, pun intended,” jokes Stephanie of her friend’s rhinoplasty.

Not all teenagers think going under the knife is a good idea. Emily, 17, another New York teenager, is opposed to plastic surgery. “I think that when people want to change their bodies permanently, they are tampering with the way they are supposed to look. I feel that every imperfection in everyone is a special characteristic of that person.” However, she thinks that the trend towards plastic surgery may increase in the future. “I think that it will be more acceptable to have plastic surgery,” says Emily. “I think that as we advance in technology, more techniques that are safer and quicker will be developed … soon we’ll have “do-it-yourself” liposuction.”

But how young is too young? Stephanie thinks that it is okay to get a nose job at 16, a boob job at 18. She thinks its “okay” to have plastic surgery “if it is really important to the person,” adding “I think it’s really important to have psychological counseling beforehand.”

Dr. Krieger is very careful to gauge teenager’s physical and emotional maturity for any cosmetic procedure. “We ask ‘are they emotionally ready to change their appearance in a dramatic way? Do they understand the risks and do they have a reasonable expectation of the results?’ A 15 year old wanting to be an actress who thinks, ‘if only I had thinner thighs then I could be on Bay Watch’, doesn’t get it,” he says. “If someone says ‘if only I had bigger breasts my life would be great’ then that is a warning sign. We would have to say no to that.”

“Physical maturity is also important in any cosmetic procedure. No beautification surgery should be undertaken on someone who is not fully developed, physically,” he stresses. “A 13 year old girl who wants breast implants is still growing so it’s ridiculous [to do surgery]. If a patient hasn’t finished growing in terms of height, liposuction on the thighs is going to distort their growth. I wouldn’t recommend rhinoplasty (nose jobs) before 16, because the face hasn’t fully finished growing.”

It’s certainly getting more popular. According to WebMD, the overall number of cosmetic procedures (among ages) has increased 228% since 1997. More and more average people are getting something done, whether as a 30th birthday present to themselves, as a confidence booster after divorce, or to land that perfect job. “More and more men will be getting into it,” Dr. Krieger predicts. “Since the rise of the stock market in the 80s and 90s, men have been doing more things to pamper themselves.

Travel, luxury apartments,” and plastic surgery is part of that trend of aspiring to be the best and have the best believes Dr. Krieger. “Men get caught up in that. Men don’t come in to look feminine, they want to look more youthful, vibrant and strong. It’s totally different than what you would do for a woman,” he says. “And as the job market gets shakier, having plastic surgery done can be an advantage [in certain job fields].”

Dr Krieger has just opened his state of the art surgery in the heart of the shopping district of Beverly Hills, in LA. It’s “the busiest shopping street for tastemakers in LA,” he says. “We have taken plastic surgery out of the hospital setting and placed it in Rodeo Drive.” He sees getting plastic surgery as a retail experience, and his clinic seems more like a spa, with a Zen-like atmosphere and attention is given to creating the most comfortable and pleasant experience.

There may be a plastic surgery in every mall in the future, if we follow this model, with patients being able to drop in for a nose job as easily as they go in to get their nails done, or pick up a double Mac with cheese. “It’s becoming cheaper and it’s more popular,” he says. “No longer is it just the playground of the super rich. Prices are under control and there is financing available.”

Plastic surgery is no magic bullet but may make you look and feel better, according to the experts. According to teenagers like Stephanie and Emily, it is more important to like yourself for who you are. So, in the end it is up to each person, no matter what their age. “I was happy for Jourdan,” says Stephanie of her friend who had her nose and chin cosmetically altered. “Most people thought it was great. She looks better now to be honest, it was what she wanted.” For this generation of teens, feeling confident about yourself sometimes means plastic surgery, a hallmark of how acceptable it is becoming in the US. Although Dr. Krieger positions plastic surgery as a retail experience, teens should be careful – you cant change your new look as easily as you can return those jeans.

Reprinted from: http://flipside.nzoom.com/flipside_detail/0,2359,231503-212-223,00.html

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