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Extreme Teen Makeovers

Helping Your Teen Feel Good About Her Body Image without surgery

Many teenagers, influenced by the billion-dollar beauty industry, want to emulate big-bosomed Hollywood divas. In 2003, more than 11,000 girls 18 and younger went under the knife in search of a bigger cup size. With the average cost of breast implants hovering around $3,500 – an amount that would barely cover a teenager's first semester of college – cosmetic surgery is becoming more affordable. So what do you tell your teenage daughter when she wants liposuction or breast implants?

The Doctor's View

Dr. David L. Abramson, a cosmetic surgeon in New York and New Jersey, says he does have a few teenage clients for reconstructive surgeries. However, Abramson believes teenagers are not mature enough to fully understand the risks and benefits of surgery.

"I refuse to do a cosmetic breast augmentation until they are 18," he says. "There are reconstructive things where someone needs a breast implant on one side or has some type of problem &$150; that I will do before they are 18 #&150; but I don't feel a parent should be signing for a child to have breast implants in for the rest of their life. I think the child should have to be of age to make that decision and sign that consent themselves."

According to Dr. Abramson, teenage women's bodies are not completely developed. Since their breasts change in size and shape as they grow, it's best to wait to have a breast augmentation.

As for liposuction, some teens see their mothers having the procedure and want to try it themselves. "Usually people don't need tummy tucks until they have had children or previous surgery or massive weight loss," Dr. Abramson says. "That's unlikely to happen to someone younger than 18."

Still, there are times when cosmetic surgery is necessary and even beneficial to a teen. "The most common thing people do in teenage years is rhinoplasty (a nose job) and odoplasty (an ear reduction)," says Dr. Abramson. He advises parents of teenage daughters to wait until their child is 15 or 16 to have a nose job. "Some people have [rhinoplasty] done in high school," he says. "It definitely can help their self-esteem. It's a self-confidence issue."

A Parent's View

Many experts believe building self-esteem is not as much about improving one's outer appearance as it is finding skills and talents. Toni Raiten-D'Antonio, a clinical social worker from Long Island, N.Y., says she has had serious talks with her two daughters, Elizabeth, 23, and Amy, 19, about finding their inner beauty. Raiten-D'Antonio is the author of The Velveteen Principles (Health Communications, 2004). She describes her book as a self-help, inspirational takeoff for adults on the classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit, a toy that wants to understand what it means to become real.

Raiten-D'Antonio advises parents to ask their teenagers to examine why they feel they need an extreme body makeover. "I would ask my kid to look at what she believes this change would bring and how would it enrich her life," she says. "What would change in your life really if you had a different nose? And, ultimately, the things that matter don't change with plastic surgery."

She says her daughters struggled with the messages from society that encourage women to focus on the superficial and external aspects. "I have had ridiculous conversations with them where one of them thought she had the wrong-shaped belly button compared to what fashion models had, and she said to me, 'Is there such a thing as belly button-oplasty?' and she knew it was crazy, and it was obvious I was never going to support her having anything done to her belly button," Raiten-D'Antonio says.

Teenagers are inundated with images in video games, music videos and television, which are often profit-driven images aimed at selling products. "The message in the media is you have to look a certain way, and there is a certain type of look that makes you successful – that makes you desirable," she says. "And kids are really susceptible to those messages, and they are reinforced in their peer groups, and the parents' job is to start very early in the life of a child, communicating to them what makes them magnificent specifically. If you have a child who is a talented athlete, that's what you focus on. If you have a child who has written a beautiful poem or is a particularly generous or kind person, that's what makes them successful and beautiful."

While it's important to make an effort to be well-groomed, Raiten-D'Antonio says parents can teach their children how to be "real." And it's a critical lesson as the allure grows stronger. Raiten-D'Antonio believes more teenagers are turning to plastic surgery because of the advancements in technology, affordability and media focus on extreme makeovers. "It's more affordable and it's more normalized," she says. "It used to be something that celebrities did in secret. Now, if you go to get your hair cut, the woman who shampoos my hair has brand new breasts. She is shampooing hair so we know she is not well-off, but the assets she has, however limited they are, they went to those breasts, because she really felt it would change the quality of her life and the way she feels about herself."

A Teen's View

Jennifer Read Hawthorne of Fairfield, Iowa, author of several books including Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul (Rebound by Sagebrush, 2001) and Diamonds, Pearls & Stones: Jewels of Wisdom for Young Women From Extraordinary Women of the World (Health Communication, 2004), says parents can redirect their teen's attention by showing them where their authentic power lies. "There are so many ways for us to have power," she says. "The whole thing about extreme makeover is about feeling powerful, because when you feel beautiful you feel powerful."

She says some of the best sources of authentic power include having an open heart, gratitude, compassion, accountability, forgiveness, trust, service, intention, commitment and living in the present. "This body beautiful thing is something our culture seems to be obsessed with," Hawthorne says. "What's interesting to me is the beauty business – when you consider makeup, skin and hair care, fragrances, cosmetic surgery, health clubs, diet pills, it's a $160-billion-a-year global industry. In fact, Americans spend more each year on beauty than they do on education. Americans spend a million dollars an hour on cosmetics."

While Americans' idea of beauty is to be thin, she points out other cultures identify a woman's weight with having wealth. "The irony is we are bombarded with this propaganda of the body beautiful, and most models are thinner than 95 percent of the female population," she says. "So here we are believing what we see is normal and that we in comparison fall horribly short of these standards."

Hawthorne is a stepmother to a 23-year-old daughter and 21-year-old son. She believes in treating teenagers as people, not children, by respecting their opinions. "Kids are growing up so quickly today," she says. "We have to remember they have a lot of qualities of children; they also have a lot of qualities of adults. They are far ahead of where we were at that age."

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