Twenty-year-olds Mike and Matt believed the only thing holding them back from Hollywood were their faces. They thought if they looked like Brad Pitt, they’d be able to make it big and women would desire them. On an episode of the 2005 reality television program “I Want a Famous Face” (MTV) they both got rhinoplasties, chin implants and porcelain veneers. Mike got cheek implants. The show featured young adults who underwent plastic surgery with the goal of looking like a famous person…and teens all over America are following in their footsteps.

When I started researching this trend, I knew I had to share the information with my youth ministry colleagues. Reports indicate the widespread availability of plastic surgery and the pervasive influence of reality shows focused on surgical makeovers are having a profound effect on the self-worth of young people, especially girls.

Many Christian teens find themselves engrossed in reality television. In her quest for a better body image, 23-year-old reality star Heidi Montag unveiled on MTV’s “The Hills” sixth season premiere the effect of plastic surgery addiction. Obsessed with perfect, Heidi had 10 procedures done on one day, all in an effort to convert herself into a real, live Barbie doll. In the Huffington Post, Heidi said, “I was made fun of when I was younger, and so I had insecurities.”

This story crowded the Obamas off the cover of People magazine. No doubt this type of programming encourages teen viewers to pursue cosmetic surgery as thousands of ultra-self-conscious teens consider it each year. More young people are considering cosmetic procedures to fulfill their dreams because most media coverage about plastic surgery is very flattering. Consider this:

• Plastic surgery in teens more than tripled between 1997 and 2007.
• Nearly 210,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed on 13- to 19-year-olds in 2009 (American Society of Plastic Surgeons).
• The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, who christened the craze, the “teen toxing trend,” reported that almost 4,000 more Botox procedures were performed on teens 18 and under in 2009 than in 2008.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the most common procedure performed on people 18 and younger was rhinoplasty (a nose job), but liposuction procedures and breast augmentations have greatly increased. A research study performed by GoodSurgeonGuide.co.uk said that 41 percent of girls between the ages of 13 and 16 are already considering a cosmetic procedure. That’s more than two in every five girls. The study asked 1,012 girls in this age group about their views on cosmetic procedures:

• 62 percent said they wanted bigger breasts.
• 55 percent wanted to change their teeth.
• 49 percent wanted some form of weight loss surgery, such as liposuction.
• 33 percent wanted rhinoplasty.
• 49 percent wanted to have the procedure now; while 7 percent had already had some plastic surgery done.
• 11 percent said the decision to consider a cosmetic procedure was based on the fact that their celebrity role model had some plastic surgery done.

Why do teens seek plastic surgery? Unlike adults who undergo plastic surgery to turn back the clock, many teens desire it in order to fit in. They believe it will make them popular. When asked about what issues are compelling young girls to consider plastic surgery, they overwhelmingly answered, as Heidi Montag eluded to, “being picked on at school about a physical appearance attribute.” One in four indicated they would change their appearance so they would no longer be bullied about their defect.

Kids can be cruel! They don’t think about how their comments hurt someone else. “Hey, baseball nose!” “Check out pancake chest!” A constant barrage of cruel remarks often drives teens to take surgical action. The pressure to conform and live in a pre-programmed box gives youth the message it is not OK to truly look like or express their real selves.

Many teens report that their self-image and confidence improves when their perceived physical shortcomings are corrected. What they do not realize is that despite cutting-edge cosmetic procedures, there is no guarantee of a perfect result or happiness.

Unrealistic expectations about plastic surgery and its effects on their lives can set teens up for major disappointment. One year after Heidi Montag’s drastic plastic surgeries, the former reality star came forward to show the world her battle wounds and to express her deep regrets. “Parts of my body definitely look worse than they did presurgery…This is not what I signed up for,” 24-year-old Heidi told Life Style. Inside the magazine, she revealed the gruesome scars, lumps and bald spots her 10 plastic surgery procedures left behind.

Many psychologists say it’s a myth that how you feel about yourself is related to how you actually look. Often counseling, encouragement and some lessons in makeup and beauty is all they need. Many teens still carry baby fat, so exercise is the preferred choice over liposuction. The important thing is to work with a teen if she or he is consistently unhappy.

While it is generally not necessary for a teenager to undergo plastic surgery or acquire expensive cosmetic treatments, there may be cases when it is justified. While each case should be judged individually, perceived flaws such as crooked teeth, bad skin, a bigger than normal nose or ears, overly large breasts, can be devastating to a teen causing emotional pain.

Doctors say some cosmetic surgery procedures may be appropriate for teens. Others, such as breast enlargement, may not be. Different parts of the body mature at different ages. For example, rhinoplasty should be considered only after the nose has finished developing. Typically this occurs by age 14 in females and 16 in males. The breasts are still developing, so breast augmentation should not be performed until they reach 21. A teenager, like anybody else, needs to be fully aware of the risks and knowledgeable about the procedure and recovery before thinking of any surgery.

How do you respond when a healthy child insists she needs liposuction because she’s too fat? “It’s important to realize you can’t argue with an adolescent’s reality,” says Dr. David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child. He advises, “Present your position in a nonconfrontational way. “You may be right, but that’s not the way I see it. What makes you think that? Tell me more about your thoughts on the issue.” Help them think through their reality and in the process, help them gain a more objective perspective.”

Appearance is important, especially to teenagers who are building their identity and confidence. I believe the amount of emotion and energy poured into desiring plastic surgery is a way that person is tempting to fill that soul-hole which can only be filled by God. I speak from experience. I had rhinoplasty surgery…three times! The second two were to fix the first. Actress Jennifer Grey, best known for receiving a first place title in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and for her role as Baby in Dirty Dancing (1987), chose rhinoplasty. What many people don’t know is she needed a second surgery to correct the first one. She commented in an interview that having rhinoplasty was the worst mistake she ever made. Some would agree her bridge was a bit long and had a hump, but it was her. It cost her her career. Other stars who received the same type of negative comments after having plastic surgery call it the Jennifer Grey syndrome.

The Bible says, “It’s your life that must change, not your skin…What counts is your life?” (Luke 3:8-9). The book You’re Born an Original, Don’t Die a Copy by John Mason says it all. God Almighty only creates originals—not duplicates.

Every teen needs to know God has given each one of them immense value and a unique puepose. Jesus said, “All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers” (Matthew 6:28).

Jesus didn’t want His listeners to stress out and focus on personal worries and problems. He wanted them to focus on God the Father. When you look into a field of colored wildflowers, they all look the same. Get up close, you will see real subtle differences in each flower. Some have more leaves. Some are taller. Some are more vibrant and the hue is faintly different in each petal.

Teens must accept that God took great care in designing every person ever born. No one can ever duplicate what God created and purposed. We must help them to learn to listen to God by making a commitment to study the Bible so they can see for themselves that real beauty and excellence comes from deep inside, from God Himself.

Excerpted with permission from Torn Between Two Masters: Encouraging Teens to Live Authentically in a Celebrity-Obsessed World.

Kimberly received her M.A. in specialized ministry from Western Seminary, Portland, Oregon. She is a pastoral counselor, personal life coach, speaker and founder of Olive Branch Outreach—a ministry dedicated to bringing hope and restoration to those struggling with eating disorders and body image. Kimberly volunteers in youth ministry and youth education outreach. She is the author of four books: Torn Between Two Masters: Encouraging Teens to Live Authentically in a Celebrity-Obsessed World, Breaking the Cover Girl Mask: Toss Out Toxic Thoughts, I’m God’s Girl? Why Can’t I Feel It? and I’m Beautiful? Why Can’t I See It?

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