Back in my day, waiting to grow into your nose and having slow-blossoming breasts was part of being an adolescent and teenager. If you were me, you dealt with these insecurities by listening to angry rap music and wearing padded bras. But, according to the New York Times, kids these days are exchanging that excruciating, but no doubt character- and confidence-building, rite of passage for another: cosmetic surgery.
The Times reports that "the number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youths 18 or younger more than tripled over a 10-year period, to 205,119 in 2007 from 59,890 in 1997." Liposuctions "rose to 9,295 from 2,504, and breast augmentations increased nearly sixfold." While the recession is slicing into plastic surgeons' business, it isn't stopping parents from giving their teen that promised nip 'n' tuck. Dr. Alan Gold, a New York plastic surgeon, tells the Times: "If parents have bought into the concept, if they’re supportive of a procedure for their child, they seem to be going through with it despite the economy."
As the Times points out, it seems that part of the "concept" parents are buying into is that cosmetic surgery is an "opportunity to transform a teenager with low self-esteem and a crooked nose into someone with self-confidence" and "could prevent destructive behaviors, including eating disorders, bullying and self-mutilation." (Which is kind of funny, because some might call plastic surgery self-mutilation.) In this view, the question is: How could a sympathetic parent, who once experienced the painful awkwardness of teenagehood, deny their child surgical salvation?
Experts, however, worry that parents and surgeons are failing to recognize teens' plastic dreams as a desperate search for self-esteem -- one that will not be fulfilled by a ski-slopped nose or porn boobs. Dr. Richard D’Amico, a plastic surgeon in New Jersey, offers these sage words: "You don’t get self-esteem from a scalpel." It certainly doesn't help you to learn to love your flaws or base your confidence on something else, like your smarts and personality, or allow you to watch your still-developing body mature naturally.
That's not to say that it isn't possible to imagine extreme cases where early plastic surgery isn't dangerously premature. But, surely those cases aren't responsible for tripling the teen plastic surgery rate and the sixfold increase in breast implants. A more likely cause: A recent survey by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund found that 7 in 10 girls believe that they did not physically "measure up"; a mere 10 percent thought they were "pretty enough."
Ann Kearney-Cooke, author of “Change Your Mind, Change Your Body," tells the Times: "I work with a lot of teens on body image. I have girls who say they want lipo when really what they need is to learn how to exercise and diet. If a girl thinks no waist, big breasts and chiseled features is the only definition of beautiful, I try and teach them to recognize the narrow view of what's considered acceptable appearance in our culture, and how to challenge that view."
I know that successfully widening my view of beauty was one of the greatest, and hardest-earned, achievements of my high school years (that and managing to graduate despite cutting class a remarkable number of times to suck face with my boyfriend). Is it even possible to feel like you "measure up" or are "pretty enough" after you take an early plastic surgery shortcut to self-esteem?