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May 2nd, 2008

Teens and Plastic Surgery

This morning, I read a disturbing article at ABC News that stated teens-those under 18 years of age-were getting plastic surgery at an alarming rate these days. In fact, that the number of teens going under the knife has jumped considerably in the past few years:

Between 2002 and 2003, the number of breast implants for girls younger than 18 nearly tripled, from 3,872 to 11,326.

... from Teen Trend: Breast Enhancement No Biggie at ABC News

Naturally, there are times that plastic surgery is needed for those under 18; there are valid medical reasons that a young person might require plastic surgery. This was the case with Stephanie Kuleba who lost her life after suffering complications from anesthesia during breast augmentation surgery. Though only 18 years-old, Stephanie suffered from asymmetrical breasts and an inverted areola; conditions that caused her suffering from more than just self-esteem issues.

Stephanie's death has brought to light the new trend of young people getting plastic surgery for non-medical reasons. It's an idea that is so commonplace that many parents offer paid-for plastic surgery to their young daughters as birthday or graduation gifts.

It's hard to fathom doctors agreeing to perform such procedures on still-developing young women on no more than the mercurial moods of youth. Bombarded as young women are today with plastic perfection and the need to look like a cookie-cutter Barbie clone to "fit in", it's no wonder so many young girls feel the need to so drastically alter their appearance. Yet should we be encouraging this behavior?

Though a young woman may feel a desperate desire to feel attractive, most that decided to wait until they were older to undergo such procedures often changed their mind. Psychologist consultant Eileen Bradbury counsels young women opting for plastic surgery before they take the leap. She says:

Adolescents often believe they are lot more mature then they actually are. As they lack insight into the difficulties that they might have in the future, they tend to be very black and white.

Adolescents have always been self-conscious. It's just that in the past people have had to wait a longer time, and I would imagine as time passes people drop out along the way. I've had people say to me, 'I thought about having it done, but then when I grew up, I changed my mind.

... from Teen Trend: Breast Enhancement No Biggie at ABC News

However, some consultants - such as Ellen - and psychiatrists do decide that certain teens are good candidates for the surgeries. If a teen shows themselves to be mature-minded and to have fully thought out the consequences and risks of their decision, many doctors will agree to operate on them.

It's disturbing to think that our upcoming generation is so very quick to turn to the knife and undergo the risks of surgery to change their natural appearance. If this keeps up, the world will be over-populated with a sea of Barbie and Ken clones in the next fifty years; a mass of perfectly plastic people without any of the beautiful and unique characteristics that make us different and special.

I would like to see more corporations and media mavens focusing on positive self- and body-image rather than glorifying stick-thin and unhealthy celebs. The message we are sending out to our youth is "if you don't look like this, you aren't attractive - in fact, you're nobody".

Everyone remembers the awkward years of puberty and just beyond, and the agonizing over your looks and trying to fit in and be attractive. It's a difficult time for anyone - but how much more so must it be for today's young teens and adults who are faced with an ideal that is impossible for anyone to live up to. The people they look up to and want to emulate are almost not real - in movies and in glossy magazines they are polished and airbrushed to godlike perfection. In an attempt to look like these painted perfect people, young people are losing their own identities as they wallow in low self-esteem and-often-self-loathing.

How else can one explain the rise in not only plastic surgery among our youth, but in eating disorders, self-injury, and other harmful traits that show a severe and detrimental self-loathing. Young people today do not only have low self-esteem, many of them hate the bodies they were born into. They will actively and determinedly seek to starve, injure, or undergo the risks of surgery simply to "look" better so that they will "feel' better about themselves.

Yet when the bad body image is there to start with, all the dieting, plastic surgery, and new clothes in the world can't make someone feel better. It has to start inside.

Instead of giving these girl's plastic surgery as a gift, these parents should be encouraging their children to be proud of themselves and their unique traits - to love themselves just as they are. Telling them to go out and use surgery to fix whatever Nature has blessed (or even cursed) them with teaches them no coping skills and it is not an effective way to learn how to face challenges and acceptance of life's difficulties.

This rising trend disturbs me just as much as the continuing rise of self-harm and eating disorders in today's youth. Until the mass media makes a conscious decision to stop peddling plastic perfection and questionable role models like they do to our youth, nothing will change. Instead of giving these impressionable minds someone to focus on and worship, teach them to love themselves and see their own uniqueness as amazing. I want to tell them all, "Yes, Miley Cyrus is amazing - but so are you." Until they realize this, nothing will change.

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