The most beautiful girl in the world is not happy with the way she looks. She picks herself apart in the mirror every day. She's disgusted with what she sees as her flabby thighs, her too small breasts, her muffin top and her "pelican" nose. You look at her with love, you tell her she's phenomenal, you praise her daily and she is still hung up on her looks. Your 14 year old daughter... and now, she can do something about it. Heck some of her friends are doing it, why can't she? Wouldn't it be a great sweet 16 birthday gift? Plastic surgery.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS),teenagers who want to have plastic surgery usually have different motivations and goals than adults. They often have plastic surgery to improve physical characteristics they feel are awkward or flawed, that if left uncorrected, may affect them well into adulthood. Teens tend to have plastic surgery to fit in with peers, to look similar. However, adults tend to have plastic surgery to standout from others. The ASPS states, more than 219,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed on people age 13-19 in 2008.
Plastic surgery amongst teens is becoming more commonplace. In a podcast transcript from Today in Plastic Surgery (an ASPS radio show), the patient (who remained anonymous during the interview) said, "My biggest reservation on having plastic surgery was that I didn't want to be placed in the stereotypical high school graduation gift of plastic surgery from my parents." Stereotypical? Gosh, I got a pen when I graduated. Are we becoming too lackadaisical about using a scalpel to make changes in our lives?
There are real risks involved in plastic surgery. The ASPS reminds us, not every teenager seeking plastic surgery is well suited for an operation. Teens must demonstrate emotional maturity and an understanding of the limitations of plastic surgery. The ASPS cautions teenagers and parents to keep in mind that plastic surgery is real surgery. Parents and children also should be aware that guidelines do exist for younger patients. Facial plastic surgery generally should not be done on anyone until facial growth is complete. For a female, that happens by about age 14; for a male, it's about age 15. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not allow breast augmentation to be done on anyone younger than 18, and most surgeons will refuse to perform liposuction on anyone younger than 17 or 18.
And, please don't forget, in many cases, we do have options. TeenHealth.com reminds us,
before moving ahead with any kind of plastic surgery, parents and teens are encouraged to remember that surgeries are never risk-free. We should read up about any possible complications and be sure we can handle the risks involved. A real awareness of the risks can prompt parents and children to pursue non-surgical options for changing body image, such as diet and exercise.
Unfortunately body dysmorphic disorder, also known as BDD and "imagined ugliness", the disorder affiliated with plastic surgery addiction, is also rearing it's ugly head with teenagers. In an article in the Washington Post, plastic surgeon, Dr. Csaba L Magassy noted that some of his patients undergo more than one surgery - often at the same time. A common combo is getting a smaller nose and bigger breasts. And, of Dr. Massey's 100 teenage girls he has given breast implants to in the past year, 20 of them had an accompanying tummy tuck or liposuction.
What do we do now? We talk about it. We exercise our rights to love ourselves, and as women - we set the example. If we don't practice acceptance with ourselves, then how can we expect our daughters to do so?
TeenHealth.com offers some very good suggestions in how to get this conversation started. Here are a few things to think about if you're considering plastic surgery:
- Almost all teens (and many adults) are self-conscious about their bodies. Almost everyone wishes there were a thing or two that could be changed. A lot of this self-consciousness goes away with time. Ask yourself if you're considering plastic surgery because you want it for yourself or whether it's to please someone else.
- A person's body continues to change through the teen years. Body parts that might appear too large or too small now can become more proportionate over time. Sometimes, for example, what seems like a big nose looks more the right size as the rest of the person's face catches up during growth.
- Getting in good shape through appropriate weight control and exercise can do great things for a person's looks without surgery. It's never a good idea to choose plastic surgery as a first option for something like weight loss that can be corrected in a nonsurgical manner. Gastric bypass or liposuction may seem like quick and easy fixes compared with sticking to a diet. Both of these procedures, however, carry far greater risks than dieting, and doctors should reserve them for extreme cases when all other options have failed.
- Some people's emotions have a really big effect on how they think they look. People who are depressed, extremely self-critical, or have a distorted view of what they really look like sometimes think that changing their looks will solve their problems. In these cases, it won't. Working out the emotional problem with the help of a trained therapist is a better bet. In fact, many doctors won't perform plastic surgery on teens who are depressed or have other mental health problems until these problems are treated first.
We will be discussing this further in our Women on the Verge BlogTalkRadio show, Free to Be. Please join me (Ana Lewis) along with Melissa Wardy, J. Brianne (BRIE) Widaman and Elin Waldal as we will discuss this very heartfelt topic. Our show is live, every Wednesday, 10am PST / 1pm ET at http://blogtalkradio.com/womenontheverge . Please join us and share your thoughts and experiences.