Plastic and cosmetic surgery is a life-changing decision that can positively affect a teen’s life, but needs to be made for the right reasons.
“It’s exploded,” said Dr. Julio Garcia, a Las Vegas plastic surgeon with 26 years of experience. “In 2012, there were 230,000 plastic surgeries nationwide.”
Although most of his patients are aged 35 to 60, 1 percent to 2 percent are 16 or 17. Garcia said that the most common requests among teens are nose jobs, pinning ears back, liposuction, breast reduction and cosmetic breast augmentation.
Some requests are reasonable, he said, whereas some are not; he sees nose jobs and breast reduction as sensible.
“At that age, the nose will no longer change with time,” he said. “(And) breast reductions can alleviate neck and shoulder pain.”
However, he views liposuction and cosmetic breast augmentation for teens as unreasonable. Regarding liposuction, “it is a matter of teaching (teens) to make good choices in their exercise and dietary habits,” he said. And he said it’s better to wait for cosmetic breast augmentation, since breasts can change up to age 22.
Although some teens have plastic surgery for medical purposes, many of the surgeries are cosmetic.
“Cosmetic is driven by the teen’s desire and society’s desire,” Garcia said. “It never comes from the kid alone. There are always other things pushing it.”
Many factors influence teens, he said.
“Part of it comes from wanting to fit into their ‘social tribe,’ but their social tribe is different from their family tribe,” he said.
Bullying also can lead to a desire for cosmetic surgery.
“Teens are more open and more blunt when they make fun of other kids,” Garcia said. “That one bully has friends and now it’s a whole gang. Sometimes, it becomes overwhelming and impossible to escape. Many times, parents see surgery as necessary in these situations.”
The media also influence teens regarding cosmetic surgery, with images of beautiful people constantly projected in magazines and on television. Recurring images, he said, begin to be seen as normal.
“People start thinking, ‘I need to look like that,’ ” he said. “Technology opens doors, but creates problems at the same time. People’s images are everywhere. People have more information to be more critical about. In the digital age, bullying is no longer at the schoolyard, but comes from social media as well.”
Cosmetic surgery can greatly improve lives. At 14, Las Vegas teen Emma Sofferman decided to get a nose job.
“It’s been a feature that I have always been self-conscious of,” she said.
In middle school, Sofferman said, she was constantly ridiculed by classmates for her nose.
“I felt that nobody saw past it,” she said. “I had a lack of confidence. I felt that my nose was holding myself back.”
She said her life was more difficult because she was always conscious of how she would face someone so as to not show her profile.
In the midst of bullying during middle school, Sofferman read an article on the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s R-Jeneration page about a student who’d had a nose job.
“When I saw it, it made me realize that people do it,” she said. “I did not think that someone my age would ever do it. I just thought I would have to accept it.”
Sofferman said she felt the surgery was “absolutely necessary,” so she had it the summer before high school.
“I wanted to have a normal high school experience,” she said.
The article made her feel better about her decision.
“It reassured me,” she said. “What the girl was to me, I would love to be that to somebody else.”
When she was considering surgery, Sofferman talked to her parents.
“Maybe I would grow into it, but when I hit middle school, my parents saw how unhappy I was and how I was ridiculed for it,” she said. “They wanted me to be happy. They understand that I wanted to have a fuller life.”
Before the operation, Sofferman had multiple consultations with her plastic surgeon. In one, she took a Sharpie and drew what she wanted to fix on a picture of her nose. The plastic surgeon suggested the best option.
“I was already excited, but the consultation just affirmed my trust,” she said.
Garcia said he gives the patient a mirror and a Q-tip and asks the teen to show him what he or she would like to fix.
“You’d be surprised at how many kids can’t answer that question,” he said.
Sofferman’s procedure was medical and cosmetic.
“Breathing better was the plus,” she said, because it fixed her deviated septum. As for the cosmetic part, “the doctor shaved the nose down so it was more of a swoop and lifted up the bottom so it was more of a button nose. I wanted my nose to look normal, in my opinion. My main goal was that I wanted to have the nose I should’ve had.”
Sofferman said the surgery has affected her life positively.
“I believe in the law of attraction,” she said. “I now exude more positive energy than before because I had a more positive outlook. I don’t know where I would be without it. Without it, I would not have the confidence that I have now.”
Sofferman’s advice for teens who are considering cosmetic surgery is to thoroughly evaluate the situation.
“Make sure this is something that you are OK with doing years down the line, and that you are doing it for the right reasons,” she said.
Garcia’s advice is to see a plastic surgeon for a consultation, think about it for three months, and then see the surgeon again.
“Drag your feet as much as you can (because) sometimes it pays off in the long run,” he said. “I believe they will be more self-confident and that (waiting) makes them more resilient adults because they learn how to deal with those things better.”
Garcia describes cosmetic surgery as psychiatry with a scalpel.
“(You) try to make people feel better with external changes,” he said. “You find out why they are having (surgery) and if it’s a wise emotional choice for them. My goal is not only to tell potential clients how suggested operations are performed, but why or why not. Cosmetic surgery is not necessarily for everyone. I think that the better educated the patient is, the better they’ll be able to make the right decision.”
He said he doesn’t advise cosmetic surgery when the parent or child tries to look like a celebrity or because they didn’t win a pageant and believe they would’ve won if they had cosmetic surgery.
“Don’t be sold on who’s on the cover and what they look like,” he said. “Become your own role model. There is a move to have more people look more uniform, but I think diversity is the way to go.”