There has been a storm brewing for some me now regarding teenage cosmetic surgery. A concoction made up of quick fixes, a society obsessed with beauty, and the commercialisation and overexposure of cosmetic surgery, have all lent themselves to the growth of cosmetic surgery for Generation X and younger. This has been further compounded by the increasing number of medical specialties entering the cosmetic arena. My worry is that this Generation X and their successors wanting teenage cosmetic surgery may become an abused marketplace. It would appear that they have it a little easier, in the sense that, they have parents or relatives who have had cosmetic surgery and are approving of it, in an economy that has been both buoyant and robust for some me now. This takes away from the fact, that teenage cosmetic surgery needs much more scrutiny because it can play on people’s insecurities and promises of an instantly better life.
Most plastic surgeons I believe are responsible individuals with a conscience who try and counsel teenagers, usually in front of their parents, of the risks and benefits and outcomes of procedures and whether they are appropriate or not. They try very hard to show that TV programs like Extreme Makeover, Dr. 90210 and The Swan trivialise and glamourise cosmetic surgery and that glossy magazines like Teen Vogue or Teen Cosmo display airbrushed photos of models and celebrities that are in reality unachievable.
Now teenagers who want to have cosmetic surgery usually have different motivations and goals than adults. They often have cosmetic 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 cosmetic surgery to fit in with peers, to look similar. Adults tend to have cosmetic surgery to standout from others. Teenagers frequently gain self-esteem and confidence when their physical problems are corrected. In fact, successful teenage cosmetic surgery may reverse the social withdrawal that so often accompanies teenagers who feel different. Not every teenager seeking cosmetic surgery is well suited for an operation. Teenagers must demonstrate emotional maturity and an understanding of the limitations of cosmetic surgery.
I would caution teenagers and parents to keep in mind that cosmetic surgery is real surgery, with great benefits, but also carries some risks. Teenagers should have realistic expectations about cosmetic surgery and what it can do for them. In addition, certain milestones in growth and physical maturity must be achieved before undergoing cosmetic surgery. The most rewarding outcomes are expected when the following exist:
- The teenager initiates the request. While parental support is essential, the teenager’s own desire for cosmetic surgery must be clearly expressed and repeated over a period of me.
- The teenager has realistic goals. The young person must appreciate both the benefits and limitations of cosmetic surgery, avoiding unrealistic expectations about life changes that will occur as a result of the procedure.
- The teenager has sufficient maturity. Teenagers must be able to tolerate the discomfort and temporary disfigurement of a surgical procedure. Cosmetic surgery is not recommended for teens who are prone to mood swings or erratic behaviour, who are abusing drugs and/or alcohol, or who are being treated for clinical depression or other mental illness. Some of the commonest teenage cosmetic surgery procedures include:
1. Rhinoplasty (nose reshaping)
Rhinoplasty may be performed on the nose to straighten the bridge, remove an unsightly hump, reshape the tip or open breathing passages. Ordinarily this is not performed until the nose reaches its adult size – about age 15 or 16 in girls and a year later in boys. The procedure accounted for nearly 50 percent of all cosmetic surgical procedures performed on this age group.
2. Otoplasty (ear surgery)
Surgical correction of protruding ears, in which the ears are pinned back, may be performed any time after the age of five. Otoplasty made up 11 percent of all cosmetic surgical procedures performed on this age group.
3. Correction of Breast Asymmetry or Breast Augmentation
When one breast grows much larger size than the other, an operation may correct the difference by reducing the larger breast, augmenting the smaller, or both. Many teenagers who want breast augmentation have one breast that is larger than the other – sometimes a full cup size or more in difference. This condition is called breast asymmetry. Using a breast implant in the smaller breast allows the patient to have breasts of the same size. Although waiting may prolong the physical awkwardness, it is advisable to delay surgery until breast growth ceases in order to achieve the best result.
4. Breast Reduction
Surgical reduction of very large breasts can overcome both physical and psychological burdens for a teenage girl. In fact, many teenagers suffer ongoing back pain due to overly large breasts. Although waiting may prolong the psychological awkwardness, it is advisable to delay surgery until breast growth ceases in order to achieve the best result.
5. Acne and Acne Scar Treatment
Acne eruptions may be controlled by the proper use of modern prescription drugs. In addition to supervising the use of these medications, plastic surgeons may improve acne scars by smoothing or ”refinishing” the skin with a laser or with a fine sanding technique called microdermabrasion. Other treatments for acne related skin problems include laser skin resurfacing, dermabrasion, and chemical peels.
6. Male Breast Reduction (Gynaecomastia)
Teenage boys with large breasts, known as gynaecomastia, are often eager to undergo plastic surgery. Surgical correction can be accomplished in a variety of ways including liposuction and/or surgical excision of the breast tissue.
As a plastic surgeon, I am an advocate for the right teenage cosmetic surgery, at the right time and for the right reason. Things like correction of prominent ears, breast reduction in adolescent boys or breast reconstruction in young girls with an underdeveloped breast can truly advance the person’s quality of life. It is our responsibility as a plastic surgeons to guide teenagers (and their parents) in the right direction and to educate them that cosmetic surgery is not a panacea for the everyday pressures that teenagers face. Cosmetic surgery can make you more attractive but not necessarily more happy!
Question: What do you think is the commonest reason teenagers want cosmetic surgery? You can leave a comment below.