Plastic Surgery For Teens: Trying to Blend In?

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Beth Longware Duff, Medical Editor

Beth Longware Duff is an experienced writer and reporter whose work on a wide variety of topics has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Her health and medical writing credits include nationally distributed videos for the March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, and she is the recipient of numerous awards including an American Cancer Society Media Award and a New England Press Association Award for Health Reporting. She holds a degree in Communications from Ithaca College.


March 25 2008

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Cosmetic Plastic Surgery: It's Not Just for Grown-ups Anymore 

Teens and cosmetic plastic surgery – it's a pairing that seems incongruous, if not unnecessary. What teen needs to look younger? And, in fact, the 18-and-under crowd accounted for just 2% of all surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures performed in this country in 2007, according to figures from The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).

Why Teens Turn To Cosmetic Plastic Surgery

But as a demographic, today's teens are far more familiar with cosmetic surgery than any previous generation. Many have parents and grandparents who've undergone procedures, and they've certainly seen and heard about celebrities galore who've sipped from the surgical equivalent of the Fountain of Youth. Perhaps that's why the younger set is not reticent about pursuing improvements for themselves. However, unlike adults who generally have plastic surgery because they want to stand out from the crowd, teens are more interested in it as a way to blend in.

"Teens live in a world of stereotypes and groups – a world of trying to fit in. They very much want to be part of the crowd," says Frederick Lukash, MD, a New York City-based board-certified plastic surgeon who has specialized in pediatric and adolescent issues for the last 30 years. He notes that successful plastic surgery may reverse the social withdrawal that so often accompanies teens who feel different from their peers.

He says plastic surgery for teens is all structural and reflected in the procedures they request most often: tweaking their noses with rhinoplasty surgery, minimizing protruding ears (otoplasty), reducing overly large breasts (mammoplasty) or equalizing asymmetrical ones, and erasing acne scars. Not surprisingly, they all fall within the top 10 cosmetic procedures performed on teens last year.

Dr. Lukash, who has three daughters of his own, adds that kids today are greatly influenced by forces outside their immediate peer group. "They're exposed to media images more than ever before, and they can get some unusual messages from these celebrities," he explains. "Sometimes when they come in to see me, their desires are a little unrealistic and we have to get them back on track."

Computer imaging helps keep teens realistic about what plastic surgery can do for them, he reports. The most rewarding outcomes are expected when surgery is the teen's idea and when he or she mature enough to tolerate the discomfort of surgery and recovery.

The greater challenge may be to make sure teens understand the ramifications of permanently changing their looks at a relatively young age. That's something Alisha Gorder didn't really consider when she had her nose job twenty years ago during the summer between her junior and senior years of high school.

Her motivation for the purely cosmetic procedure was as close-to-home as it could be. "My mother, who is a very beautiful woman, never liked her nose and felt it held her back. She finally did something about it when she was in her mid-30s," the Connecticut mom explains. She adds that her mother was so happy with the results – and so intent on saving Alisha from suffering the same insecurities she had – that she strongly encouraged her daughter to have rhinoplasty when she turned 16.

Gorder says she had no doubt at the time that it was the right thing to do, but in hindsight she wonders what she would've looked like if she had left well enough alone. "I have a typically bobbed nose, but my face is quite angular, so sometimes I think it looks like it doesn't belong," she says candidly.

Dr. Lukash, who wrote the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' briefing paper on plastic surgery for teens, notes that, as with any surgery, parental consent is required for all plastic surgery procedures performed on patients younger than 18. "And, by and large, it's the kids who want the surgery," he concludes. "It's not a taboo subject that's kept under the table any more. It has gone mainstream."