Piece-by-piece look at teens, plastic surgery
Each year, more teen-age girls are getting plastic surgery to correct what many people consider natural human imperfection.
Females start critiquing their physical appearance at a young age, according to South Shore high school students, who blame skewed societal ideals for putting pressure on girls to have Barbie-like bodies.
“I think (teen-agers) get plastic surgery because they think they have to live up to society’s expectations,” Whittell High School junior Liz Rico said. “It starts really early. You don’t see fat Barbie or flat Barbie.”
Breast augmentation and nose reshaping were two of the most common surgeries performed on patients 18 and younger in 1998, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Legally, anyone under the age of 18 must have parental consent before going under the plastic surgeon’s knife. The ASPS has no formal position on cosmetic plastic surgery for teen-agers, but advises parents to appraise their child’s physical and emotional maturity.
A board certified plastic surgeon generally looks for three things when considering operating on a teen-ager.
n Did the teen-ager initiate the request?
n Does the teen-ager have realistic goals?
n Does the teen-ager show sufficient maturity?
Darrick Antell, a New York-based board certified plastic surgeon, is a national spokesman for the ASPS. He has made appearances on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America,” and been quoted in Vogue and the New York Times.
Antell said parents often want plastic surgery for their children more than the children want it for themselves.
“Sometimes I think the parents are to blame,” he said. “Parents, in their zeal to give their children everything – they want their kids to have a new stereo, a new car and a new nose.”
Procedures such as breast reduction and otoplasty (ear surgery) are commonly performed on patients under 18. These surgeries are usually done for functional reasons.
“I think there are certain types of plastic surgery that are very appropriate for teen-agers and some that are very inappropriate for teen-agers,” Antell said. “What I think is inappropriate is breast augmentation for teen-agers unless there is a dramatic asymmetry. Purely cosmetic augmentation, I think, is inappropriate because you can disturb the growth process.”
But Antell is not against operating on teens and neither are his colleagues.
According to a nationwide survey, ASPS members performed 24,623 cosmetic surgical procedures on teen-agers in 1998.
“We do recognize, as plastic surgeons, that surgery can take years off the psychiatrist’s couch,” Antell said. “One of the problems today is the media is so ever present with seemingly perfect people in television programs and magazines, but those are people who are way off the bell curve. Then you’ve got the average person holding themselves up to those standards. But if there is something I can fix on someone that will make that person’s life better and it’s a relatively safe (procedure) then I think it’s a good thing.
“I’m not suggesting that people operate on every kid who walks in the door but society is starting to recognize the advantages of looking good. Don’t kid yourself that (society) doesn’t judge people by how they look. We definitely do.”
Whittell sophomore Jackie Laurian said there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good.
“I think getting plastic surgery is OK if it makes a person feel better about themselves,” Laurian said. “If it makes them feel better, if inside it is all they can do to make themselves happy, OK. I don’t agree with it, but it’s your body, you can do what you want with it. I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be attractive.”
Who wouldn’t want to be considered attractive? asked 12th-grader Emily Bowman.
“I’m sure every single person in this room has looked in the mirror and thought they wanted to change something,” she said. “It’s a matter of how you go about it. I personally wouldn’t have plastic surgery, but if someone has worked hard on their body, they exercise and take care of themselves but they’re really flat-chested or something, I don’t see a problem with them getting (surgery) to fix that.”
Antell said plastic surgery is not appropriate for all teen-agers or in all situations but under the right circumstances, it can bring about positive results.
“Any ethical board certified plastic surgeon is likely to discourage a teen-ager from plastic surgery if the desire is not consistent or they do not show sufficient maturity,” he said. “We are doctors first. We are not selling shoes. It’s not something you can take back. But we’re treating the mind, not just the body with plastic surgery and there are times when it is ethical and practical.”
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