Friday, November 4, 2011

Teen Trend: Plastic Surgery

They say that adults have plastic surgery to stand out, while teens have plastic surgery to fit in.

Every year in the United States, more and more teenagers are electing to have plastic surgery, mostly to correct aspects of their appearance that make them targets for bullying. They now make up about 2% of the population that goes under the knife.

The most popular procedure with teens is skin resurfacing, such as chemical peels or microdermabrasion, usually to counteract acne scars. Coming in a close second is rhinoplasty, which makes up about 50% of scalpel-wielding procedures, for a total of approximately 1 in 800 teens.

Breast augmentation is also very popular, although the numbers are harder to pinpoint, since the use of implants in anyone under 22 is technically "off label." Ear-pinning, breast reduction (in both boys and girls), and liposuction round out the most common teen procedures.

So, what are we to make of this? Is it a sad commentary on the looks-obsessed nature of our society that younger and younger people are so disturbed by the way they look that they're opting for painful and expensive surgery to "fix" it? Or is it good that these procedures are available to kids might otherwise endure years of mockery and self-consciousness?

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure.

My gut reaction is horror, because I've declared a cease-fire with my body and want everyone else too as well. We're all just different, not aberrations from some mythical perfect body, which is a lie used to sell us stuff. Teenagers today are getting these damaging messages about how unacceptable they are even more than I did at their age, and it makes me truly sad.

But then I watch a piece like the one below, about thirteen-year-old Nicolette and her nose job, and even as I'm prepared to be horrified, I find myself feeling happy for her. She was deeply self-conscious about her nose, she had it changed, and she feels great about it now.

Is it really such a bad thing for teenagers to have something they really hate about themselves taken off their plates? Isn't suffering unnecessarily for the sake of "building character" kind of BS? Is plastic surgery really that different from getting braces to fix unsightly teeth, having a mole or facial birthmark removed, or correcting a broken nose?

PERSONAL ANECDOTE TIME, BEWARE: When I was fifteen, my orthodontist pointed out to me that my lower jaw was misaligned and there was a chance it would develop into TMJ (a painful jaw condition). He recommended I have surgery, which would involve breaking my jaw, resetting it, and then wiring my mouth shut for two months while it healed.

Not a very appealing proposition, is it?

But then he put his fingers under my jaw and moved it forward into the correct position so I could see in a mirror. He sighed and said, "Look how pretty you'd be!"

And, my God, thirteen years later those words still pierce me right to the heart.

Just moving my jaw a few centimeters would make me pretty. I hadn't felt pretty a day in my life, and suddenly the idea of a very painful, inconvenient, risky, and probably unnecessary surgery seemed totally worth it. Plus, I wouldn't be able to eat for two months, so I'd get thin too! IT WAS PERFECT.

I didn't end up getting the surgery. I think a part of me was afraid it would start me on a slippery slope. I was constantly keeping a mental catalogue of what parts of my body were acceptable (hands, calves, shoulders) and what parts were just too monstrous to be borne (stupid receeding chin, giant nose, cartoonish breasts). If I actually gave in and started changing things instead of trying to come to some kind of accord with my body, where would it stop?

But to this day, I'm ashamed to say, I still sometimes find myself pushing my lower jaw forward before someone snaps a picture, so I'll look pretty in it. Maybe that's just proof of how ridiculous I am, but I think it's more to do with how sensitive teenagers are to any little comment made about their appearance.

With television and magazines constantly telling teenagers how they should look and Facebook ensuring that even their homes might not be safe from bullies and teasing, it's a tough world to be a big-nosed teen these days. Should they just suck it up, sing kumbaya and learn to love themselves as I (mostly) did (a decade later), or should plastic surgery be considered a good option for teens who are unhappy with an aspect of their appearance?

What do you think? If you'd had the option as a teen, would you have considered plastic surgery? I'm especially interested to hear from our teen readers about this one.


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