Jenna Ryu, USA Today, March 21, 2022
For years, Bella Hadid denied she’d had plastic surgery. But now, she’s changing her tune and speaking about a cosmetic procedure she regrets: the nose job she got when she was 14.
“I wish I had kept the nose of my ancestors,” Hadid told Vogue last week. She’s the daughter of Dutch-born former “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Yolanda Hadid and Palestinian real estate developer Mohamed Hadid. “I think I would have grown into it.”
And it’s not uncommon for teens to get cosmetic procedures. According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, nearly 230,000 cosmetic surgeries were performed on teens ages 13-19 in 2017, and some as young as 15 are even documenting their plastic surgeries on social media.
According to Dr. Steven Pearlman, a board-certified facial plastic surgeon, it’s legal to perform plastic surgery on anyone under 18 — as long a parent or legal guardian consents. However, some experts caution it can be “damaging” and “concerning” for teens who are under 18 to get cosmetic procedures while their bodies are still developing.
“Girls nowadays live in a culture with so much pressure to change their appearances, whether it’s putting on makeup or something more extreme like cosmetic surgery,” says Leora Tanenbaum, feminist and author of “I Am Not a Slut.”
Pearlman says that in his experience with young patients, “it’s more often that the psychological impact of a rhinoplasty, (like) improved self-esteem, surpasses the physical changes to their nose.”
However, he says teens need to be emotionally mature enough to understand the complications that come with surgery. Though there’s aren’t additional risks for teens, potential side effects of a nose job, for example, include bleeding, infection, poor wound healing or scarring according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
“Some teens are more psychologically mature than others, but it’s important to note that their brain development is not at a point where they can really think through long term implications and they aren’t able to fully appreciate what the consequences might be,” explains Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research.
In addition, research shows that teens between the ages of 13 and 19 are especially vulnerable to peer pressure and more likely to have an unhealthy fixation on physical beauty, which may drive some to get procedures that they will later regret.
“There’s probably nobody as self-conscious as a 14 year-old girl,” Zuckerman says. “Some people have features that may make them self-conscious and it can be psychologically debilitating, but it’s also true that as people get older, they get less self-conscious and their face comes into their own.”
A ‘no win situation’
Though the decision to get plastic surgery can be empowering, experts say the marketing of these procedures to young girls is not: Rather “it’s almost always damaging” when social media and influencers force an impossible blueprint of beauty onto teens.
“The current message is, ‘This is what you’re supposed to look like, and if you don’t, it should be fixed,” Zuckerman says. “And often these teens never even considered these features as ‘imperfections’ until they were pointed out to them.”
“For minors and parents considering having these procedures done, think about the price you will be paying societally by making this decision. Because for every individual, no matter how empowering it is for them personally, that strengthens and reinforces the pressure for everyone else,” Tanenbaum says.
Ultimately, it is up to the teen and their parent to make an informed decision about proceeding with plastic surgery.
But in an ideal world, Zuckerman hopes plastic surgeons and practitioners will use their discretion to hold off on performing cosmetic procedures on teens.
“I think it’s in parents’ and children’s best interests to delay those decisions partly because the standards we have about what is beautiful will likely change… but I know parents can feel pressured by their teenage children, and they just want their kids to be happy,” she says.
“So it would be great if surgeons had some kind of basic ethical decision of denying certain kinds of surgeries until a teenager is of age, like at least 18.”
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