The beginning of the year is a time when many people's thoughts turn to self-improvement. For most of us this means eating better, committing to finally working out, or finishing that novel. But for some, this means a new nose or bigger breasts. And increasingly the segment of the population considering cosmetic surgery is under the age of eighteen.
A few weeks ago I came across a young adult novel about cosmetic surgery. The heroine was only sixteen. She had already had one procedure and was considering another. I was disturbed by the idea that this was a subject that needed to be dealt with in adolescent literature. I couldn't get it off my mind and I kept wondering how prevalent cosmetic surgery actually was in children under eighteen.
Let me start off by making a distinction between cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery which both fall under the heading of plastic surgery. Reconstructive surgery serves to fix a defect. An example of this would be a surgery to fix a cleft palate.
I fully endorse this type of surgery, which can be truly life changing, and occasionally even life saving, at any age. I feel these procedures reflect the true spirit of the medical profession, which is to heal the sick. Cosmetic surgery on the other hand is meant to aesthetically enhance one's natural physical appearance. The Brevard College website defines cosmetic surgery as "a procedure performed primarily to: improve appearance rather than to restore the..functions of the body that are lost or impaired due to an illness or injury."
What I want to discuss here is cosmetic surgery only, and specifically its prevalence in minors. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons over 330,000 people under eighteen had plastic surgery in 2005, up from 306,000 in 2000. These numbers are staggering. What is more staggering to me is that the medical community thinks that adolescents are capable of making a psychologically sound decision about the need to surgically alter their physical appearance. The decision to have an elective surgery that could have horrible consequences is a huge for a person of any age.
Children under the age of eighteen are not mature enough to make such a decision. Aside from that is perfectly normal for most adolescents to have a skewed perspective of their appearance. At that age, most of us are still struggling to discover our place in the world. It seems to me it would be better to council these teenagers and try to work on their self-images. If they still have the desire to go through with the surgery at the age of eighteen then they should be allowed to do so. Also their bodies are still growing and changing. If they wait long enough their body will most likely change and possibly they will no longer desire the procedure.
The prevalence of plastic surgery amongst teenagers is really just a symptom of the bigger problem of the pressure to be perfect in today's society. It has always been hard to go through adolescence, but it seems that as time goes on it just getting harder.
Pressures will always be there, and growing up means learning to deal with these pressures. The decision to have cosmetic surgery requires a lot of thought and self-reflection. It also requires a certain level of maturity and life experience that adolescents just don't have.