By Leezel Tanglao and Rocky Salmon
June 13, 2007
It hasn’t exactly replaced part-time jobs or family vacations on the summertime to-do list, but plastic surgery has become more popular among teenagers this time of year, doctors say.
And for the families that can afford it, a nose job or new breasts are showing up on graduation-gift lists that have traditionally included a car, computer or a trip to Hawaii.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that nearly 94,000 teenagers, ages 19 and under, underwent some kind of cosmetic surgical procedure in 2006, not including minimally invasive treatments like Botox or chemical peels. In 1996, about 11,500 cosmetic surgeries were performed on patients 18 and under. In 2002, the number had grown to nearly 81,000.
The most common plastic surgeries among young people are nose reshaping, male breast reductions, breast implants and lifts, and liposuction.
And those operations can run anywhere from $3,000 to $12,000. Dr. Kelly Gallego, a plastic surgeon with offices in Irvine and Corona, said each summer he sees a spike in young patients. They have more time available for surgery and recovery, he said, and while he doesn’t ask his patients specifically, he says he thinks some of them are being rewarded for graduation.
Danielle Kinsley, 18, of Temecula, will be undergoing surgery to even out her breasts as a graduation gift. “It’s not a huge spike,” said Gallego, who has operated his Corona office for four years. “But it is noticeable.” Child psychologists, women’s rights activists and plastic surgeons all agree that surgery among teenagers is on the rise, especially at graduation time.
“In many families, the kids get whatever they want,” said Diane Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families, a nonprofit group that studies trends among American families. “They got the clothes, the car, the vacation … what’s left? How about new breasts?”
Some plastic surgeons warn that parents and plastic-surgery bound teens have to weigh medical risks, future costs and the emotional impact.
‘Not Reversible Options’
“Your teen is still growing and these are not reversible options, or gifts you can easily return to Tiffany’s,” said Dr. James Wells, past president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the California Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Supporters say plastic surgery builds self-esteem at a perfect time in the patient’s lives — just as they’re going off to college or starting something new.
Neyra Puente, who is graduating from Centennial High School in Corona, said she is self-conscious about her size A chest. Family members always told her she would develop but at age 18, it still hasn’t happened.
“I think I have some insecurities because of it,” she said. “Surgery has been something in the back of my mind.” When her parents asked what she wanted for graduation, Puente requested a breast augmentation. “I had good grades so I could get a car or take a trip,” said the honor roll student bound for UC Irvine next fall. “I had a lot of options. But I wanted the surgery.”
She waited until graduation to give her body time to develop. She also thinks of this time as a turning point in her life.
“I’m going to a new city, a new school,” Puente said. “It’s kind of like I am starting a new life. And I want to start it without those old insecurities.”
Her parents will pay $4,800 for the surgery to be done by Dr. Gallego six days after Puente collects her diploma.
Parents and graduates may not be aware of the ongoing costs involved in plastic surgery, Zuckerman said. Implants must be replaced or removed after several years and there always is the risk of leakage and infection. A teenage breast implant patient may spend up to $50,000 over a lifetime.
“When parents pay for these implants they are giving a lifetime of financial responsibility,” she said. “It’s a lifetime cost that could send them to college.”
For Danielle Kinsley, who graduated from Temecula’s Eagles Peak Charter School in January, plastic surgery is a way of fixing a problem she has had throughout her teenage years.
Her parents will spend about $10,500 for the surgery next month at Coastal Plastic Surgeons in La Jolla. “I’m trying to build my self-confidence and feel better about myself,” said Kinsley, 18, of Temecula. She will undergo breast augmentation surgery prior to her enrollment this fall at the National Institute in Dallas, where she will study ministry work.
“They just never grew normally,” Natalie Kinsley said of her daughter’s breasts. “One is like a child. The other is like an 80-year-old’s.”
The surgery is expected to take about three hours, followed by six weeks for recovery. Danielle Kinsley said she hopes it will improve her overall outlook on life, even for things that seem as simple as buying a shirt that fits. Her parents have encouraged her to make the surgical change and have been with her for every step in consulting her doctor.
“It’s a hard decision to make,” Natalie Kinsley said. “People want to do it for other reasons — cosmetic. This is just different.”
‘Wanted to Be Cool’
Cosmetic surgery is more what Kris Jones, 21, had in mind when he went under the knife about three years ago. The Corona resident had implants in his calves to give him a more muscular look.
“It seems silly now,” Jones said, slapping his surgically sculpted calves. “But my parents were willing to pay for it.”
Jones said he grew up skinny, without definition and with low self-esteem. At 6-feet, 1-inch, he was on his high school football team but rarely played.
“I worked out all the time and took every store supplement you can think of,” Jones said. “I couldn’t put on muscle or weight. I would see the other guys getting stronger and wondered, ‘Why not me?’ ”
By his junior year, Jones’ body started to fill out but his parents had already been talking to him about plastic surgery. By the time he graduated, he opted for the calf implants.
“At the time I just wanted to be cool,” Jones said. “I realize now that wanting the implants was about my self-esteem.”
Jones admitted he was inspired by television shows that highlighted plastic surgeons working on boys his age. He thought it would work for him, too. A year ago, about 256,000 plastic surgeries were performed on men.
One of the most popular surgeries is male breast reduction, of which nearly 14,000 were done last year. Liposuction also can address the condition known as gynecomastia, or the abnormal enlargement of breasts in men.
Wells said more and more men are aware of the breast-reduction options to fix the condition and are taking advantage. “Most males wouldn’t want to keep something that’s female-oriented. They just want to look normal,” he said.
“We live in a society where everyone wants a perfect body,” Zuckerman said. “They see actors, singers and celebrities who have large breasts, toned bodies, and perfect faces. These are the role models girls have and unfortunately there is a reason why those women have perfect bodies — because they had (plastic surgery) done on themselves.”
Child psychologists say chasing perfection through surgery is not a sure way to boost a young person’s self-perception.
“If a person ties too much of his or her problem into, ‘Everything will be better if I just look more attractive’ they will soon find that this is not the case,” said L. Kris Gowen, a researcher at Portland State University whose specialty is adolescent health and development.
“After surgery, you are still the same person, just with a slightly smaller nose, or a bigger chest,” Gowen said. “The problems they had before will still be there.”
Reach Leezel Tanglao at 951-375-3728 or at ltanglao@PE.com
Reach Rocky Salmon at 951-375-3739 or at rsalmon@PE.com
TEENS AND COSMETIC SURGERY
Statistics do not include nonsurgical procedures such as Botox injections and chemical peels.
1996: 11,447 teens ages 18 and under
2002: 80,971 teens ages 18 and under
2006: 93,966 teens ages 19 and under
Source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons