Self- improvement, the surgical way
Perfect bod, perfect face, perfect teeth. A growing number of teens want it all - and they're willing to pay thousands for cosmetic procedures to firm thighs, reshape noses and straighten smiles
In many ways, Karen was your typical teen. Her appearance meant a lot to her and there was a lot about her appearance she didn't like.
She hated her double chin and felt utterly miserable in shorts or a bathing suit.
But unlike most teens, Karen's desire to look better didn't end with diet and exercise.
Not quite 16, and accompanied by a reluctant mother, she took her less than model perfect body to a plastic surgeon.
Over the next three years - and with the help of a loan from her parents - Karen spent more than $4,500 to have the fat permanently removed from her neck, then her thighs, hips and stomach.
"I was frustrated because I felt I had done all I could," to slim down, says Karen, who is now in her 20s. "I wasn't happy, I wasn't satisfied with the way I looked."
Perfect bod, perfect face, perfect teeth. For a growing number of teens it's makeup and designer clothing at 13, cosmetic surgery by 20.
For decades, young people have flocked to surgeons for less noticeable noses and to dentists for straighter smiles.
Today, the options are much greater. Breasts can be resized, up or down. Saddlebags a worry, tummy too flabby? There's liposuction. Chin or cheeks too hollow? There are implants.
The world of cosmetic surgery is just a consultation away. But the procedures themselves don't come cheap. Body contouring, for example, can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $4,000 and beyond. A new porcelain veneer smile, $500 plus per tooth.
And yet it's not just rich kids who are turning to cosmetic procedures. Some young patients gladly work nights, weekends and summers to cover all or part of the cost, surgeons say.
Young people like Bruce. At 17 he had a $3,000 nose job. Just last month, he returned to have his nose reshaping refined - and for $3000 worth of implants for his cheeks and chin.
"I guess I'm my own worst critic," says Bruce, a high school student who delivered fast food for nearly three years to pay his surgical bills.
But why surgery and why so young?
"I wanted to be more photogenic," he says. "I wanted to be as perfect as I could be... ..I guess I'm kind of stubborn, that's all"
Plastic surgery, says Dr. Michael Bederman, has gone mainstream. Since 1990 he's seen a surge in interest from teens, who now make up about 15 per cent of his practice.
He doesn't think teenagers are any more self-conscious or under any more peer pressure than in the past. They're simply responding to greater social acceptance of all sorts of cosmetic procedures.
There can even be advantages to being young, he says. Because young skin has more elasticity, the younger you do liposuction the better the results.
Procedures most commonly sought by teens include breast reduction, nose reshaping, liposuction, chin augmentation and the pinning back of ears.
Not all youngsters qualify for all procedures. Breast augmentation, for example, isn't usually done before age 16.
Bederman says he doesn't hesitate to turn clients away. One 15-year-old wanted her breasts enlarged because her mother and grandmother were "flat" and she feared she'd be the same. He suggested she let nature take its course and come back in a year.
Like just about everyone else, young people "are keen to look their best," says Dr. Wayne Cannan, a fellow plastic surgeon.
Young people make up roughly 10 per cent of Carman's practice and provide "a steady, slow stream" of new business.
Teens are well aware that cosmetic procedures are available and not just to the most wealthy, he says.
"There's a tremendous desire on the part of these girls to look like models," notes Dr. Earl Farber, another local plastic surgeon. "They want to look like somebody maybe they're not They want that image."
The look? Large full lips, rolled out lips - even if it takes more than one try to get them full enough; a "natural" nose, not the pinched little nose that used to be a dead giveaway.
Braces? Sure, some teenagers still get braces. But the real rage is cosmetic dentistry - porcelain and plastic veneers, and bleaching.
Teen clients are a sign of the times, says Dr. Edward Philips.
"These are important years to them and they aren't willing to put their lives on hold," he says. "More and more kids are doing this. It's a snowballing effect"
A designer smile can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars.
For her birthday Christine Hanke had a choice between a car and a new smile. She chose the smile.
Her teeth made her self-conscious and unsure of herself she says. The work, done over several sessions, completely transformed her badly misshapen and discolored smile. The cost to her gift-giver? A handsome $8,500.
"It wasn't an overnight decision," says Hanke, 16. "I'd always had it in the back of my mind. As a child I'd modelled a bit and thought if I wanted to model through university my teeth might be limiting. I'm extremely happy (with the results)."
Philips describes his patients, most of whom come in without a parent, as "generally outgoing and self-confident people. They like themselves, as long as they're not smiling."
A new smile may be just part of the picture. Several of Philips' patients have also had a nose job or a chin augmentation or liposuction.
But is society's emphasis on appearance putting too much pressure on teens to both perform and conform? Carla Rice, a consultant with the
Woman and Body Image Program at Women's College Hospital, thinks so.
The teen years, she says, are often a time of profound insecurity, when youngsters are "struggling to define themselves and where they fit in the world.
"There's a myth in our society that if only you can look good, you'll feel good as well," says Rice, "that if you're physically beautiful and have a particular body size or shape things will be good for you, you'll get what you want, you'll have success and happiness."
Many no doubt do end up feeling better about themselves, she says. Others may find that, just like losing weight or getting a new hairstyle, plastic surgery is not a magic bullet.
Was Karen's liposuction worth it? Karen believes so. She says it gave her confidence a boost and made it easier for her to wear a greater variety of clothes.
But she has this advice.
"If you're going to have it (plastic surgery) don't do it for anybody but yourself.
"Don't do it for your boyfriend or because of pressure from your friends. Think long and hard about it, and ask yourself is it really going to make you happy."