Is cosmetic surgery for teenagers ever appropriate? The answer is yes–sometimes. In some situations it is appropriate, in others, no. Careful consultation and discussion, and often multiple appointments involving the whole family are really necessary to make that determination.
Why or why not? In some situations, a physical or facial abnormality can be quite distressing, significantly and negatively affecting psychological, emotional or physical development or well-being. Or a condition may not be quite as severe, but there is clearly a level of maturity and a thorough thought process that the teen demonstrates which is behind their desire to change a feature which is personally very troubling. But an emotionally or physically immature individual with a concern suggesting of a cosmetic procedure is an immediate red flag and would be the first sign that the time may not be right for proceeding. Moreover, if the teen has a perceived problem but an examination and discussion reveals factors not supportive of their choice are at work, a cosmetic procedure should definitely be put on hold. Proper evaluation and consultation by a well- respected and experienced board certified plastic surgeon with the teen and their family along these lines should result in a good feeling by all that the right decision has been reached whether the final decision is for or against proceeding.
Some teens seek consultation regarding cosmetic surgery options because they have been repeatedly teased or ridiculed over some aspect of their appearance by their peers, often year after year. Incredibly, a significant amount of even more harmful “teasing” actually comes from their very own family members (who think that it is all “just teasing”) which causes an even greater and deeper degree of emotional trauma. Some teens have a personal dissatisfaction that is very private and may not be as outwardly noticeable, such that perhaps others would not even see a need to “comment” on. Teens in a healthy family environment often ultimately will consult with a Plastic Surgeon because they have openly discussed their concerns with Mom and Dad–who took the concerns seriously and arranged the consultation. The knowledge and emotional strength that a teen gains when they can see that their parents are listening and are trying to help are as important as the consultation itself. Often teens have a reasonable concern that a particular feature is out of proportion, or makes them feel that they don’t look “normal” or feel physically uncomfortable.
The media has played both a positive and a negative role with this topic. The media has definitely created a pressure for a teen tending to assume that certain body shapes or facial features must be a certain and standard–Hollywood/Magazine-type of way to be attractive–that is the media’s definition of what is or should be perceived to be as beautiful. This is very wrong. But a good aspect of the media’s role is that teens can see that it has become increasingly open, acceptable and actually desirable to take charge of your life and do something about making it better in any way that is personally meaningful–sometimes that includes cosmetic surgery.
Teens need to be made aware, as all patients should be that there are risks to any cosmetic procedure and these factors must be taken into consideration. In general, there are risks for scars, infection, and sensation changes. Most importantly, there is the risk of being dissatisfied with the final result. The more common cosmetic procedures for the teenager age group being performed today are rhinoplasty (nasal reshaping), mole removal, and breast reduction.
Is Cosmetic Surgery appropriate for teenagers? This is not a simple “yes or no” answer. Nor is it simply a “yes or no” answer for adults either! The plastic surgeon has the responsibility to explore with each patient, regardless of age, what makes them who they are and what their concerns are. The options that exist and the advisability, pro’s and con’s, etc. of proceeding must be carefully considered and discussed. The final decision–whether to proceed with a procedure or hold off–should be based on those factors for everyone, not simply based on age alone.
Dr. Lyle Back is originally from New York City, receiving his medical and surgical training at Rutgers Medical School, Cooper Hospital – University Medical Center, and Ohio State. He is Board Certified in General Surgery (ABS) and Plastic Surgery (ABPS). He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS), and a longstanding member of the premier American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). He served as a Professor of Plastic Surgery at Temple University and St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and performed reconstructive surgery with “Operation Smile” in Vietnam. He specializes in the full range of the most modern and state of the art cosmetic surgery procedures for the body and non-surgical cosmetic enhancement techniques available today.