With cosmetic surgery becoming more readily accepted as 'normal' in today's society, younger and younger children are being influenced by the possibility of altering their natural appearance. But the question remains, how young is too young?
A recent article on Reveal.co.uk, entitled 'I spent £25k on surgery before my 25th birthday', revealed that the lady in question underwent a procedure to have her ears pinned back at only six years old. She commented that, after seeing the results of the surgery, she "got a taste for altering my body. I didn't see why you had to accept the way you looked when there were so many treatments and surgeries available to tweak every part of you." She has already undergone numerous cosmetic procedures and intends to have further work done in the future to maintain her looks, commenting: "When I'm older, I'll have Botox. Why not? A nip here, a tuck there, I don't see what the big deal is."
She is a 21st century phenomenon and member of a generation who has grown up seeing cosmetic surgery on television, in the news and magazines and are heavily influenced by the pressure to look 'perfect'. Even in January 2005, when cosmetic surgery was by no means as popular as it is now, a survey by Bliss magazine, whose average reader age is 14, found that 40% of teens had considered having plastic surgery.
Mr Nick Parkhouse, consultant plastic surgeon, commenting for the BBC, explained that there are "a small number of teenagers for whom plastic surgery would be appropriate. For instance, operations to correct prominent ears or a nose would bring benefit." However, he told the BBC that "plastic surgery was inappropriate for the vast majority of teenagers. Plastic surgery carries a risk of complications, side effects such as scarring, and the risk of disappointment with the results. All these things need to be taken very carefully into account. Cosmetic surgery to correct disfigurement should not be discounted but the idea of using it as a cosmetic social enhancement, such as ear piercing, is inappropriate."
More and more extreme procedures are appealing to young women. Last year, The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) suggested restrictions on labiaplasty procedures due to concerns about an increasing number of teenage girls having the operation for cosmetic reasons.
Sarah Gubbins, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, specialising in cosmetic surgery claims, comments: "We agree with Mr Parkhouse. Reconstructive and plastic surgery can have a real benefit for youngsters, including procedures to correct cleft palates or prominent ears. However, while we understand that is a personal choice whether or not to have elective cosmetic surgery, our concern is that younger and younger girls are considering surgery before their bodies have matured. They are also not considering the associated complications and risks, long term physical effects and psychological implications and do not understand that surgery will not necessarily resolve underlying social or confidence issues.
“We believe that psychological assessment is particularly important for teenagers to ensure that they are mature enough to make such a life-changing decision and that they fully understand all the associated risks. When beautiful young girls are changing themselves beyond recognition to become 'Barbie' or to look like their favourite celebrity, surgeons need to question their motivations and make them fully aware of what can go wrong, rather than simply focusing on the 'shiny' results they see on the celebrity pages of magazines.”