Should Teens Get Plastic Surgery To Boost Their Self-Esteem?

More teenagers are getting plastic surgery in the hope that it will make them look "normal," but can you get self-esteem from a scalpel?

Today's New York Times reports that the bad economy is having little effect on the number of teens getting plastic surgery, and in fact, the number of people age 18 or younger who had cosmetic surgery more than tripled in the past 10 years, to 205,119 in 2007 from 59,890 in 1997. Liposuctions and breast augmentations are much more popular than they were a decade ago — remember Amanda from an episode of the View last July? — and have increased more than sixfold.

Teens are often motivated to get plastic surgery because they believe their natural looks are inadequate. “Unlike adults who may elect cosmetic surgery for that ‘wow’ factor to stand out in a crowd, to be rejuvenated and get noticed, kids have a different mantra. They do it to fit in,” said Dr. Frederick Lukash, a New York plastic surgeon who specializes in adolescents. Dr. Lukash is especially familiar with why teens want to change their appearance because he has performed rhinoplasty on two of his three daughters, at the ages of 16 and 17.

All teens want to fit in, and the reality is that kids will often be teased for "abnormalities" such as ears that stick out "too far", or a crooked nose. But studies show that today, most kids think there is something wrong with the way they look naturally. 7 in 10 girls said they believed that when it came to beauty and body image they did not measure up, and only 10 percent thought they were "pretty enough," according to a recent survey of 1,000 American girls sponsored by the Dove Self-Esteeem Fund. “Our children are barraged with images of ideal women and men that aren’t even real, but computer composites,” said Jean Kilbourne, co-author of So Sexy, So Soon, a book on adolescents. “These girls and boys can’t compete. The truth is, no one can. And it leaves teens feeling more inadequate than ever and a lot of parents unsure as to the right thing to do.”

Often the parents and doctors who allow a child to get plastic surgery just want to spare them pain and increase their self esteem. Some even justify the plastic surgery by saying it will prevent other destructive behaviors like eating disorders, bullying, and self-mutilation. But while most doctors say they can judge how developed a teen's body is and if they are getting a procedure done for the "right" reasons, the long term effects are hard to predict. It's natural for teens to have issues with their looks because their bodies are changing so much and they're trying to figure out how to define themselves as adults. But accepting how you look is part of maturing, and if perceived imperfections are taken care of with a knife, teens may not be learning mentally how to be comfortable with their appearance.

Seeking Self-Esteem Through Surgery [The New York Times]
A Surgeon Finds Teenage Clients In His Own Family [The New York Times]

Earlier: Teen Girl Gets Lipo To "Prevent" Eating Disorder