There is probably not a single girl who hasn’t worried about the way her body looks. We know the feeling well. It certainly doesn’t help that the message pervading our culture extols the “perfect” body image — skinny-as-a-toothpick with large breasts. But in recent years, younger and younger girls are resorting to plastic surgery to look like the models that embody that popularized image. They are disregarding the adage that “true beauty is on the inside,” to concentrate, instead, on perfecting themselves on the outside.
In 2003, plastic surgeons performed just under 3 million cosmetic procedures. This figure is up 424 percent from 1992, 207 percent from 1998, and 41 percent from 2002. More and more women are finding a “quick fix” to their unhappiness by altering their bodies. Nose reshaping (rhinoplasty), breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, facelifts and liposuction were the top five procedures of choice last year.1
Even more shocking is the increase in plastic surgery on teenagers. Nose reshaping appears to still be the most preferred among those under 18, but doctors are finding a steady rise in breast implants, liposuction, and tummy tucks as well. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the number of girls under 18 who received breast implants tripled from 2002 to 2003. Cosmetic surgery is also increasingly popular as a graduation or birthday gift.2
Why the shocking trend?
Perhaps an obvious answer is the societal fascination with reality TV shows that glamorize plastic surgery. Just in the past couple of years, five new shows have debuted with “transformation” as their focus. The Swan (Fox), Extreme Makeover (ABC), I Want A Famous Face (MTV), Dr. 90210 (E! Entertainment) and Nip-Tuck (FX) exploit their patients as “ugly ducklings” who are now much more content with their lives after surgery.
Teenagers going through the pains of adolescence are particularly susceptible to this message.
Dr. Janice Crouse, senior fellow of the Beverly LaHaye Institute, agrees, “Sadly one of the most harmful results of crass advertising is the anxiety it produces in many children. It is common for pre-teens and teens to experience anxiety about their clothes, skin, hair, body image and whether they belong.”3
According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, women in the U.S. are under pressure to measure up to a certain social and cultural ideal of beauty, which can lead to poor body image. We are bombarded with media images of females who are extremely thin with flawless features. These images can reinforce an already negative image a woman might have of her body, leading her to believe she is overweight and not able to meet the standard.4
The big problem, however, is that the standard is a myth. Girls need to know that “[e]ven fashion models don’t look like their images. Their sags, blemishes and cellulite magically disappear with a few clicks of a mouse wielded by a talented photo retoucher.”5 Geneen Roth, reporter for Prevention magazine, says, “I once read that the supermodel Cindy Crawford, after hearing that people wanted to look like pictures of her, said, ‘I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford.'”6
Another huge misconception is that cosmetic surgery is quick and painless. Some girls imagine that plastic surgery compares to other enhancements such as teeth whitening or hair highlights. These popular shows consist mostly of the before and after, glossing over the long recovery or the complications in between.
Breast implants, for example, come with great financial burdens as well as interference with mammograms or breast-feeding later in life. Some patients also claimed illness stemming from their surgeries. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other diseases could possibly be linked to breast implants. For one reason or another, 45,000 breast augmentation patients had their implants removed last year.7
Basing their image of happiness on reality TV or supermodels in magazines is never a healthy thing for teenagers. Bethany Patchin wrote in her article The Eye of the Beholder, “There will be people who are more physically attractive, more aesthetically pleasing than others. But our differences are what make us so very appealing.” Little details such as countenance, body shape, the unique combination of hair, eye and skin colors are exclusive to us.8
Since the beginning of time, we can see through God’s word that He created us in His own image (Genesis 1:27). In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, God also tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” As young women, we must realize that although we see many imperfections when we look in the mirror, we are not looking at ourselves through His eyes. Know that God’s perfect design is at work in every facet of our lives, including our appearance. Patchin perfectly concludes, “A truly beautiful body is one that gives shape to a beautiful soul.”
- American Society of Plastic Surgeons, “2003 Cosmetic Surgery Trends,” Arlington Heights, IL: 2004, as found at www.plasticsurgery.org.
- Boodman, Sandra G., “For More Teenage Girls, Adult Plastic Surgery,” The Washington Post, 26 October 2004, as found at http://www.washingtonpost.com.
- Crouse, Janice Shaw, “Risque’ Business-Selling Sex to Children and Teens,” Concerned Women for America, 9 September 2003, as found at http://www.beverlylahayeinstitute.org.
- Body Image, The National Women’s Health Information Center, as found at www.4woman.gov/bodyimage/bodyimage.cfm.
- Roth, Geneen, “Reality Check,” Prevention magazine, August 2004, Vol.56, Issue 8, p. 83-85.
- “Plastic Surgery and teenagers,” ABC News (Chicago), 1 September 2004, as found at http://abclocal.go.com.
- Patchin, Bethany, “The Eye of the Beholder,” as found at http://www.boundless.org/2000/features/a0000317.html.