Teenagers and cosmetic surgery - The shocking truth

In a bid to look beautiful, many teenagers are going under the knife. Explain to your teen the pros and cons of cosmetic surgery with the help of this article.

By Malini Gopalakrishnan

Teenagers and cosmetic surgery - The shocking truth

With airbrushed magazines and stick-thin models on the ramp, a contrived idea of beauty is being propagated by the media, favouring a plastic and much-too-perfect ideal. Perhaps the ones most vulnerable to this idea are teens and children, and an alarmingly large number are opting to undergo cosmetic surgery to achieve that ‘perfect’ look.

The notion of beauty in today's age

What is beauty? Is it in the perfect arch of an eyebrow, the dramatic pout of a full lip, or the just-right thigh gap to give you that skinny-legged look? The modern preoccupation with the mannequin-like sculpted body is just a reflection of how we have lost sight of what beauty really is. While most of us are able to detach from this artifice, teenagers and young adults often fall victim to this image and yearn to achieve that level of perfection in their appearance forcing them to opt for plastic surgery.

Here is an honest look at the factors that lead up to teenagers increasingly opting for plastic surgery and the risks of teenage cosmetic surgery.

In 2013, there was a media frenzy about Valeria Lukyanova, a Ukrainian model with unrealistic body proportions. Due to her inhuman proportions, the media dubbed her the ‘human Barbie’, the counterpart of ‘the human Ken doll’, Justin Jedlica. While Valeria denies that she has had procedures like rib removal, grafting, sculpting and face reconstruction done, Justin’s close to 140 surgeries made him the subject of many headlines. This is a grotesque paradigm for the importance and weight that is being given to physical appearance in today’s world. Disturbingly, this image of perfection is being sold through every possible medium, be it beauty products, high-fashion apparel or ‘item-number’ divas. On the receiving end of this incursion are the vulnerable teenagers. Struggling as they are to find their identity, a majority of these youngsters are also dealing with angsty self-esteem issues.

Like most disturbing teenage behavioural trends, cosmetic surgery too can be traced back to peer pressure. A majority of teens complain about getting teased by classmates and even friends for some aspect of their appearance.

The need for the perfect selfie

One cannot speak of the deteriorating body image issues in teens without reserving a mention for social media. The advent of this tech miracle, which made the world a much smaller place and connected us with so many of our distant friends and relatives, has an ugly face as well. In trying to make the best impression, teenagers spend a large amount of time trying to click the perfect selfie. As the number of likes becomes a meter to judge popularity, self-esteem and confidence balance precariously on your latest image or profile picture. Is it so surprising then, that a too long nose or a thin lip seems like a means to a lonely life?

Dr Harish Shetty, a well-known Psychiatrist in Mumbai says, ‘How you feel defines how you look but in this fast-paced world how you look defines how you feel. With advancements in Science, it has become possible to fix the defects in almost any organ within the body. So why not modify what’s on the outside to feel more beautiful? The philosophy of made-to-order has enveloped minds and corrections based on needs, choices, demands are increasing. In this consumerism driven world, the desire and the decision to look within and see the inner beauty is vanishing. Instead, the focus has shifted to the packaging, shape and size."

The main reasons for this growing trend of plastic surgery among youngsters are:

  • Low self-esteem.
  • Childhood trauma.
  • Low self-worth.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder.
  • Peer pressure. 

Instead of giving into their demands, parents should counsel their children and help them develop a positive body image for themselves.

Dr Parang Telang, Plastic Surgeon and Consultant Surgeon at Kohinoor Hospitals, Mumbai says ‘Today the scope of plastic and cosmetic surgery has transcended the repairing and correcting deformities and accident-inflicted injuries. Science has come a long way and more than that has the awareness. There is a marked increase in the number of enquiries we get everyday about various surgeries and their cost from young people. With media playing such a big role in our everyday lives, children and teenagers are constantly exposed to a make-believe and superficial world."

So while the older generations took their imperfections in their stride, the younger generation strives every day to measure up to that ‘perfect’ image. 

Youngsters want to follow western trends and look like celebrities. We often get requests asking to be made to look like Justin Bieber or Kim Kardashian. We call these ‘designer surgeries’ and they involve radical cosmetic procedures such as jaw contouring and chest implants. As doctors, we keep reiterating that what looks good on one person is not bound to fit another individual. Even so, there is a startling number of young adults between the ages of 15-19 who opt for surgeries like nose jobs, six pack construction and body sculpting. Of the patients we see, 60 per cent are girls and the remaining are boys. We also see a lot of facial reconstruction surgeries being requested which are only performed after the age of 18 since the face is still changing up till that point, adds Dr Talang.

Dr Anup Dhir, a leading Cosmetic surgeon in New Delhi says, "While most cosmetic surgeons will turn down operating on those under the age of 18, the discontent with appearance is definitely on the rise amongst teenagers. I would say there has been a 15-25 per cent increase in the number of young adults who come in for surgeries that they feel will make them look better."

There are conditions where there is a functional impairment such as a deviated septum or cleft palate where surgery is necessary for functional and aesthetic reasons. However, young adults are increasingly seen coming in for aesthetic cosmetic surgery. A majority of these cases are looking to change a certain facial feature, or for surgeries like breast enlargement and liposuction, adds Dr Dhir.

"What you need to remember with plastic surgery is that it is a permanent change. It is also an extreme step to achieve a certain look at such a tender age. It is a big step and one should be absolutely sure about his or her decision before jumping into it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good. However, it is not healthy to be obsessed about your outward appearance," says Dr Telang.

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