Teenage cosmetic surgery: To do or not to do? Self esteem issues and functional problems of the body are not owned solely by adults. Teenagers also struggle with (no surprise) their appearance and body image. Pressures to look good, feel attractive and to not look ‘too different’ are often more intense. Peer pressure is strong when bodies are maturing and ego strength is not yet developed. Information about these procedures is easily available over the internet. As more adults undergo aesthetic procedures, it is no surprise that teens have a high interest in ‘teenage cosmetic surgery’. Is this fueled mainly by insecurity, or by high profile celebrities, or by the ‘selfie’ obsession and/or by other factors? http://www.aafprs.org/media/stats_polls/m_stats.html
Speaking of ‘selfies’, does the typical teenager EVER manage take the perfect selfie? 🙂
So, what are examples of cosmetic/aesthetic procedures that a teenager might consider?
. disproportioned size or shape of the nose
. acne scarred skin
.traumatic scars from an injury
Developmental issues Boys grow and physically mature until about 19, while for girls this is usually 17 or so. Some surgical procedures on a still developing adolescent may later be affected by normal future body maturation. Body image usually improves with time, so this may self-correct some self -image issues.
When a person has surgery, this produces stress, and creates not only physical but emotional discomfort. Teens need to possess the emotional reserves to handle this, hopefully with healthy parental support. Those who are struggling with other life crises may not be ready for this extra stress.
Adolescence is often a time of impulsive decision making, based more on emotions than reason. The part of the brain (prefrontal cortex) which monitors and understands long term consequences is not well developed until the mid 20s. A teen with a history of impulsive decisions (illicit drug history, tattoos, piercings, unprotected sex, for example) might be at risk of making a spurious surgical request.
External influences Peer pressure plays a major role in aesthetic decision making. Just like the hottest fashions or hair colors or other trendy fads influence dress and style, there are intense pressures for teens, especially girls, to look a certain way. Society has long awarded those who are pretty and sexy and young. Unfortunately, girls are presented with one acceptable definition of female beauty: tall, tall, thin, large breasts. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sandra-hawken-diaz/girls-body-image_b_4258881.html
In an internet addicted world, there is no shortage of ‘famous’ or celebrity-types who influence the behavior of normal folk. One example is the national obsession with lips and lip size: the bigger the better? For example, not long ago, Kylie Jenner publicly discussed her lip enhancement procedure, which would not be easy to miss.
And just as ear and other body piercing are readily available at the mall as are tattoos and facials and peels at the salon, so is the availability of Botox and fillers at many commercial outlets. More and more adults and teens alike view cosmetic procedures as just a ‘retail’ experience. They may not even regard these as medical procedures. But one doesn’t like the effects, it is not like the purple hair: teenage cosmetic surgery results don’t just fade away.
As a surgeon, we want all of our patients, regardless of age, to have a positive procedural experience with a beneficial outcome. Self esteem can be enhanced by improving a physical problem: a large nose that produces unwanted teasing may become a very pretty nose. But neither happiness nor social acceptance is guaranteed afterwards. Parental support is important and ideally parents are insightful and honest, neither denying a problem exists nor prodding the teen into surgery to fulfill the parent’s needs.
It is equally important for teenage girls in particular to hear the message that they possess great value apart from their physical attractiveness (even though society does not promote this message).
Teenagers are a work in progress, neither fully physically nor emotionally mature. It is important for both parents and the surgeon to carefully listen to the teen and understand what they seem to want. Then we can offer a reasoned professional strategy that has the highest chance of success with the lowest risks.
The results can be satisfying for all.