SmackDown: Should You Let Your Teen Get Plastic Surgery?

Filed under: Teen Culture, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Opinions

teen plastic surgery

If your teen doesn't feel pretty, does that justify plastic surgery? Illustration by Dori Hartley

Let My Kid Get Plastic Surgery? Not on My Watch

by Jo Parente

Recent news: A 15-year-old girl hates her appearance. She's being taunted about her nose, so she tries to break it by banging her face against a door. Her mother allows her to have plastic surgery and believes her daughter's self-esteem is much improved. Problem solved.

Uh, I doubt it. The ugliness here was never this child's (perfectly average) nose. The ugliness is the self-hatred that compelled her to try to crush her own face.

How did this young woman get to this point? What role did the school play in this? Who might she have become as an adult, had her parents insisted upon and helped her map a no-surgery route to healing her profoundly damaged self-worth?

We won't know. She won't know.

What happens when the bullies decide to start in on her ears? Or her breasts? Or her rear? Maybe the bullies simply stick with "fat" or "ugly." Then what?

It scares the hell out of me to see cosmetic surgery becoming a socially acceptable "quick fix" for poor self-esteem in the teen years. The numbers of teens flocking to plastic surgeons are mounting. "Nearly 90,000 teenagers had cosmetic surgery in 2007, and doctors say the numbers are growing," Good Morning America reports.

But at what cost (besides the already high price tag of elective surgery not covered by a family's health insurance)?

Let's put aside the scientific fact that the human body is not finished growing and shifting and setting until approximately 18 years of age. Let's even set aside the very real, very serious health risks of going under the knife (infection, scarring, blood clots, complications with anesthesia, death).

The average 15-year-old still has to be reminded to apply sunscreen and do her homework. The average 15-year-old is not a long-term thinker.

Ask a 15-year-old who smokes why she does it, and she might tell you it's easier than saying no. It feels good. Same goes for underage drinking, drugs, or sex. We were teens once. We know the drill. Teens like to feel good right here and right now, even when the long-term consequences are appalling. The quick fix is king.

It's not my job as a mother to teach quick fixes. It's not my job to keep my child happy at all costs. Life, quite frequently, sucks. The trick is to learn the tools to minimize the suck and maximize the beauty -- not the kind you find in a magazine.

It's my job to teach my child tools for sustainable, long-term living. I refuse to OK an otherwise healthy child's wish to drastically and permanently alter her appearance with a surgical procedure. This is in no way a sustainable, long-term method for dealing with haters. Bullies will come and go. It's my job to teach her to love and live with the one beautiful, unique constant: her.

As an adult, she can decide if surgery is the best option for her. I'll support her choice then, either way. But the bullies don't get to win this round, not while she's on my watch. Her self-hatred doesn't get to win this round, either. I support my child by not supporting her wish for a quick fix.

I'm talking elective surgery on children who are still barely grown into their bodies. I have no issue with cosmetic surgery for kids who've been in horrible disfiguring accidents, or reconstructive surgery for cleft palates and various birth defects. And I can certainly understand the desire and the wish to protect one's child from any unwanted attention, from any cruelty or bullying. My older daughter has a birth defect and subsequent scarring of her arm that's caused stares and unpleasant comments from children (and ignorant adults) since she was a month old. If she wanted reconstructive surgery, insurance would pay for it.

So far, she doesn't want corrective surgery. At 10, she says, "My arm is part of what makes me who I am. If somebody makes rude comments, it's kind of annoying. But it makes it a lot easier to see who my real friends are."

She may have a different take on it in five years. But her sense of self has already been tested, and she's passed her own test, not someone else's. Her "defect" has been a remarkable asset, an invaluable lesson in accepting herself, as-is.

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Nothing Wrong With Kids Going Under the Knife

by Jo Kidente

From the time I was about 13, the question wasn't if I was going to get a nose job, the question was when.

My "sob story," however, isn't exactly in sync with the typical teen-plastic-surgery-tale we often hear on talk shows. I wasn't bullied. No one called me Pinocchio. No one made me cry. No one even called me ugly.

But, when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was a massive bump on my nose. It was the focal point of my face and it was the focal point of my thoughts. I was self-conscious all of the time.

In conversation, I would always try to maneuver so that the person was looking at me straight-on, since my profile was really the killer. God forbid I was ever the victim of a candid photo taken from the side, I'd rip the picture to shreds.

I read every "tips and tricks to make your nose look smaller" article in every beauty magazine I could find. But, the reality was, no amount of grey eye shadow or fancy shading technique would visibly reduce the size of the honker on my face.

I didn't need bullies to make me feel badly about myself; all it took was the mirror. I didn't feel feminine and I didn't feel pretty.

My mom constantly tried to boost my confidence. She told me (and still tells me) that I am beautiful, and she always made sure I knew how perfect I was. According to her, I'm not just smart, I'm brilliant. I'm not just able to carry a tune, I'm the next American Idol. The list goes on.

But, she couldn't lie to me. She couldn't say, "the bump on your nose is barely noticeable," because again, the mirror held the truth. All she could do to make me feel better was allow me to fix the problem. So, the solution was simple: Get a nose job.

And when I was 15, I did.

The reactions I got from my friends ranged from outraged to supportive. I heard the classic: "it only matters what's on the inside," countless times. My theory is that there are two kinds of people who say that:

1. People who are generally attractive and don't know what it's like to feel unattractive.
2. People who are helplessly unattractive -- so they say it to make themselves feel better, but secretly wish they were a contestant on "Extreme Makeover."

Of course, the inside does matter. But, appearance certainly weighs on confidence and anyone who denies that is only lying to themselves. It isn't superficial -- it's human nature.

Another popular reaction I got was that I should be happy with what God gave me, and that I shouldn't alter my appearance.

Not to spark a religious debate, but God didn't give me my nose. Unfortunate genetics and a family history of large noses gave me my nose. I am almost certain that there is no higher power who placed a bump on my nose for some deeper meaning that us humans cannot understand.

To those naysayers I responded, "Oh, I shouldn't alter my appearance? Then you shouldn't either -- quit waxing your eyebrows and let that unibrow grow in."

Obviously, plastic surgery is riskier and more expensive than eyebrow waxing, but the principle is the same: We all want to look good and feel about about ourselves. The only difference, is that my insecurity couldn't be fixed with a strip of wax.

When the bruises healed, so did my ego. Suddenly, sunglasses shopping became fun and my camera phobia disappeared. The mirror was no longer my enemy. I don't wake up everyday thinking about how awesome my nose is, but even better: I don't think about it at all.

My nose does what it's supposed to do now: It blends in with my face ... and smells things.

I know that I am so fortunate to have parents who could afford the surgery and supported me both financially and emotionally. For that, I am beyond thankful. So, if I become a parent, I will have the same attitude on the subject that my parents did. I can only pray that my kid isn't cursed with my pre-surgery nose. Although, praying won't do any good, because, of course -- God has nothing to do with it.

Jo Parente and Jo Kidente are ParentDish noms de plume, or pen names, used by female members of our editorial team when we want to spill our dirty little secrets but still keep our dignity, and families, intact.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.