The perfect nose. The perkiest breasts. For more and more teens, achieving the ideal look means scheduling time under the plastic surgeon’s knife.
Many teens like Kristin already have. The plastic surgery society notes that Americans 18 and younger had 46,198 chemical peels, 17,233 rhinoplasties, 4,211 breast augmentations, and 4,074 Botox injections last year alone. All in all, teenagers underwent nearly a quarter million cosmetic procedures last year.
"Teenagers are the new market," says Sharlene Hesse-Biber, professor of sociology at Boston College. "Magazines have pushed the envelope on what it means to be beautiful, and surgery is now a way to deal with body issues. We’re a very visual and quick-fix society. Young people are now getting that quick fix, that instant body."
When he was 16, Brian started thinking about enhancing his appearance. He had breathing problems and was unhappy with his nose. So he did something about it. A surgeon performed a rhinoplasty. That same year, Brian paid for a chin implant. "What’s great about cosmetic surgery," says Brian, who went on to attend Boston University, is that "you have the ability to change what couldn’t otherwise be changed." He says he’d recommend surgery to other young people as a "self-esteem boost."
"All you have to do is watch any television show, and you will see relatively uncovered, young, supposedly ideal-looking Americans," says Chestnut Hill’s SkinCare Physicians co-director Dr. Jeffrey Dover. "Twenty years ago, liposuction didn’t even exist, but now young women are coming in for it. They’re looking at all the magazines, from People to Vogue to Seventeen. Large breasts with skinny bodies are very popular right now. Look at Christina Aguilera. She has very large breasts in a tiny body, and teenagers want to look like her."
It’s not just girls feeling the pressure. Young men, inspired by the metrosexual movement, are also taking shortcuts to better looks. Dover says his practice has seen a dramatic increase in the number of 16- to 19-year-old males who come in for laser hair removal. He says they might be prompted by GQ and Men’s Health, whose cover models sport nary a hair on their bodies.
Newbury Street surgeon Dr. Ramsey Alsarraf agrees that cosmetically enhanced celebrities’ looks are affecting the way teenagers view themselves. "I’ve had young boys bring in 10 pictures of Brad Pitt and his nose from different angles and say ‘I want to look like this.’ Those are unrealistic expectations. Generally if someone says they want to look like Britney Spears or J.Lo, that puts up a red flag."
Lisa sees red flags, too. Now a 21-year-old college senior at the University of Maryland, Lisa had plastic surgery as a teenager. She, too, is pleased with the results of her rhinoplasty, which she’d been contemplating since middle school. But she says she’s seen the cosmetic culture shift since then. Lisa thinks more people find surgery acceptable and that invasive procedures have become "easier than the alternatives, such as making an effort to accept yourself as beautiful or physically working hard to lose weight." Teenagers who want to look like models or celebrities they see should think again, she says.