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More Teens Going Under the Knife

More Teens Going Under the Knife

Striving for society’s ideal of perfection, more and more teens are going under the knife.

After several weeks wrapped in bandages, covered in black-and-blues, and hidden behind puffy eyes, the moment finally arrived. My sister, a 19-year-old with deep-rooted insecurities about her nose, sat in the medical chair, patiently waiting for Dr. Leigh J. Lachman, a board certified facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon, to unravel and free the 10 years of mental suffering associated with her self-described “flaw.”

With scissors in one hand and a glove on the other, Lachman began to remove each bandage piece by piece, as he warned her about the potential swelling remaining from the surgery.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#fca78a” class=”” size=”25″]”I finally received the nose I was meant to have.” –A happy patient [/pullquote]

My sister attempted to smile under the pile of bandages, and nodded her head, as if to hurry the procedure along. She quickly grabbed the mirror, and smiled with a sigh of relief. For the first time in a decade, after the development of her nasal bump, my sister finally felt satisfied with what she saw in the mirror.

Zatorski-Before Surgery-1
Zatorski-Post Surgery-1 Alexandra Zatorski, pre and post-nose job

“When I was younger, I hated looking at myself in the mirror, and even hated taking pictures,” she said. “I was insecure about my nose for so long that I felt it was not even my own. Once I saw the results, I finally felt as if I received a nose that was made for me; I finally received the nose I was meant to have.”

My sister, Alexandra Zatorski, is among the increasing number of teenagers seeking cosmetic procedures. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 224,079 cosmetic procedures were performed on Americans aged 13 to 19 in 2014, 4,515 more than in 2013. Though that’s up just 2 percent, cosmetic surgery has risen dramatically in recent decades. The number of procedures performed on teenagers gradually grew from 59,890 in 1997, to 145,094 in 2000, and then to 224,079 in 2014.

The Pressure’s On

Subjected to the heightened pressures of beauty, as well as a culture enveloped in social media, photoshopped advertisements and reality TV, teens have turned to cosmetic procedures to modify their flawed features, and to help them better fit into today’s society. The increase reflects changing views of plastic surgery, and how those values are projected onto teenagers. But is consumer media culture entirely responsible?

According to board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Joseph Fodero, the impact of the media culture’s superficial standard of beauty and the pressure associated with it is only one of the more significant reasons for the expansion of cosmetic surgery. During 21 years as a plastic surgeon, Fodero has witnessed the social acceptance and emergence of facial cosmetic procedures among teens into mainstream culture, as celebrities and the entertainment industry became more open about surgery.

“People love these reality television shows,” Fodero said. “They love watching shows like ‘Botched’ and ‘Extreme Makeover.’ Plastic surgery has become popular culture and more sensationalized.”

As reality shows follow the journeys of individuals receiving both cosmetic and revision-based plastic surgery, they project a superficial and often unnatural ideal of beauty. As teens are more susceptible to self-esteem issues and insecurities about their flaws, they come to idolize these celebrities and desire the results that make people more beautiful and more “normal.”

The desire of looking like a celebrity has gone as far as males and females featured on these shows receiving thousands of procedures to reconstruct their faces, in order to look more like Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian, and even Barbie’s Ken doll.

“I have also received requests to look like famous singers,” Fodero said. “However, it’s extremely rare. It’s more about fitting in.”

The fashion industry also commands influence. Fodero suggests that there is a growing problem associated with the glorification of supermodel beauty, as the gap between the number of supermodels and the number of average humans remains extremely wide.

“If there are 12 supermodels and 7 billion people on this earth, and the “norm” is the supermodel, that’s not right,” he said. “We are creating a ridiculously high standard.”

Growing up in a society consumed by these images of thin models with flawless faces, this standard is constantly being reinforced in the minds of most of today’s teens. “Pretty” is successful and normal; “ugly” is not. According to Fodero, the teenage desire to fit into society’s norm has intensified over the years, along with their assumption that prettier people do better in life.

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#fca78a” class=”” size=”25″]”Fixing someone’s nose or removing excess fat after weight loss could change the trajectory of their life in a positive way.” — Plastic surgeon Joseph Fodero[/pullquote]

Kylie (Not that) Jenner

As a 17-year-old living under the spotlight of the media industry, as well as thousands of fans, Keeping up with the Kardashians’ star Kylie Jenner turned to cosmetic procedures last year for that same reason; merely to fit in and feel more secure. Living her life in front of the cameras since she was 10, Jenner has been subjected to the critical judgment of society and its constant pressure to live up to the high standard of beauty. In a recent episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Jenner revealed the psychological effects produced by the endless comparisons to her sisters.

“We have all eyes on us all the time,” she Jenner explained in the episode. “Especially for me at my age, trying to find myself — its hard to not let it affect you.”

After much speculation by the media industry, and scrutiny by thousands of fans, Jenner also admitted that she had had cosmetic surgery to alter her mouth.

“I have temporary lip fillers,” Jenner explained. “It is just an insecurity of mine and it was what I wanted to do.”

For Fodero, Jenner’s determination to reach perfection positively correlates with the intentions of the patients seeking cosmetic surgery, as most of his procedures on teens involve rhinoplasty, surgery of the nose, and the removal of excess fat after weight loss.

Similar to my sister, the majority of his teenage patients merely want to feel comfortable in their own skin. Fodero described the weight loss journey of a recent patient who craved body aesthetic surgery to fulfill his desire of simply feeling content shirtless on the beach. Another one of his patients had even greater aspirations, of becoming a body builder. However, his full potential and confidence could not be achieved until the excess skin, resulting from losing such a large amount of weight, had been removed.

“It’s all about fitting in, and trying to get to a normal contour and appearance for teens,” Fodero said. “Fixing someone’s nose or removing excess fat after weight loss could change the trajectory of their life in a positive way and give them their youth back. They could finally experience what teenagers experience without being self-conscious.”

Although she agrees that fitting in remains a primary incentive for teenagers who seek plastic surgery, Rutgers’ School of Communications and Information’s doctoral student Katie McCollough believes the vast commodification of society, and the self-improvement ideology sold by advertisers, are also significant reasons for the increase in teenage cosmetic surgery. According to McCollough, consumer culture is increasingly turning everything into a commodity — into objects that can be bought or sold. As recent generations witness these processes of commodification and are bombarded with the ideals of perfection in every aspect of their lives, they too are subjected to becoming commodities, especially their bodies.

“Through advertisements, there is this growing understanding of the self as an object and a commodity,” she explained. “We are constantly seeing the body as something that can be manipulated and modified by engaging in the consumer industry.”

However, this representation of the self in ads, as an object to be manipulated is not entirely new, according to McCollough, who specializes in gender, race, and class studies within the media culture. For decades, the advertising industry sold the idea of fantasy and perfection in lifestyles, beauty, and careers as well as through the commodities that would allow one to achieve that fantasy. With perfection often depicted through the images of women in advertisements, women themselves were largely thought of as flawed objects to be worked on and improved. More importantly, the actual product promoted in the advertisement served as the instrument to improve the flawed individual.

What is new, therefore, is the increased presence of such ideology into the everyday lives of individuals. According to McCollough, teens, immersed in a world of marketing, are bombarded with the idea that they are flawed in some way, and that buying products can make them better. Plastic surgery is just one example of the many things being transformed into commodities and normalized as a means of self-improvement.

Christopher’s Dilemma

Remley before surgery-1
Christopher Renley, pre and post-surgery

Remley post surgery-1


But Christopher Remley Jr., a senior at Union County’s Cranford High School, remains hesitant about receiving cosmetic surgery.

“I like the thought of the results,” Remley said. “But I don’t like the thought of getting another surgery.”

Born as a twin in 1998, with underdevelopment of the left side of his face as well as cleft lip and palate deformities, Remley has received 17 reconstructive plastic surgeries since the second day of his birth. Beginning with closing his cleft lip and palate, his ongoing procedures ranged from bone reconstruction in his head to canalplasty, which includes surgery of the ear canal, as the teen only has 30-percent hearing in his left ear.

[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”#fca78a” class=”” size=”25″]”We are constantly seeing the body as something that can be manipulated and modified by engaging in the consumer industry.” — Doctoral student Katie McCollough[/pullquote]

After a five hour-long procedure last summer, the 17-year-old received his final reconstructive operation involving the correction of his jaw alignment and structure. According to his father, Christopher Remley Sr., his son’s front teeth were positioned on the side of his mouth rather than the front. The procedure was aimed to set his jaw into place and align his teeth to their proper positioning. However, what lasted only five hours required further treatment for over two months. With a metal plate extending from his upper lip, behind his nose, and to his eyebrows as well as a second plate extending from his lower lip down to his chin, Remley was virtually left with his mouth wired shut for his summer vacation in order to maintain his jaw’s position.

“He could not really speak or eat much during that time. He had to drink everything, from blended smoothies to soft foods,” his father said. “For two whole months, he lacked solid foods, and lost about 10 to 15 pounds.”

Unlike many cosmetic procedures performed on teenagers today, Remley had no choice in whether or not to undergo the surgery. According to his father, the family was aware that this procedure had to be completed from the very beginning, and was determined to follow the path the doctors established from the day he was born. But Remley Jr. had to wait until his jaw finally stopped growing in order to proceed with the operation. While awaiting this long anticipated procedure for 17 years, his physical deformities simply became accepted as who he was and as part of his life. Not only did he and his family accept them, but his friends paid little regard to them as well. Remley Jr.’s father attributes this acceptance largely the fact that the deformities and surgeries became a way of life from the second he was born.

“I thought I looked different growing up,” Remley Jr. said. “But it never affected my self-esteem. It was not something I was self-conscious about.”

That is where a line is drawn to both divide and unite most teenagers who seek cosmetic surgery, and those who require reconstructive surgery. Though intentions are often vastly different, in both cases surgery is intended to correct flaws, and produce a similar reaction among most patients: a boost of confidence and a positive change in one’s self-worth.

After 17 reconstructive procedures, the high school senior continues to weigh the positives and negatives of future cosmetic surgeries. According to Remley Jr., he has considered undergoing a rhinoplasty operation in order to correct his uneven nostrils that remain from his birth defect. However, apprehensive about going under the knife for an 18th time, as well as tempted by the result of thousands of other teenage patients and the self-satisfaction of having a more natural nose, the idea of cosmetic surgery weighs heavy on his mind.

With the improvement of the technology for certain procedures that have been around for decades, such as surgery of the nose, eyelid, face, and stomach, have maintained their popularity and are increasingly being modified by these new devices to improve the surgeries overall, Fodero pointed out. Even more significant is the way in which these technologies allow for new cosmetic procedures.

“It used to be that there was surgery, or there was nothing to fix flaws,” Fodero said. “Now, there has been a massive growth between the two and what we can do.”

Filling in the gap between surgery and nothing are a variety of minimally invasive procedures or non-surgical procedures like Botox, laser skin resurfacing, and non-surgical tightening of the skin. In fact, out of the 224,079 total cosmetic procedures performed on teenagers in 2014, approximately 160,541 consisted of minimally-invasive procedures, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Now that plastic surgeons are equipped to carry out procedures they couldn’t undertake 20 years ago, Fodero reflected surgeons’ past inability to perform surgical buttock augmentation. Now, however, there are various options, such as fat transfer procedures. Gone are the days of turning patients away, as new frontiers have opened, and plastic surgeons have more options to offer.

“The industry experienced a massive growth in non-surgical procedures,” he said. “There are so many more opportunities for our clients.”

As plastic surgeons continue to add new devices and equipment into the industry’s vast arsenal, the practice continues to grow, and surgeons continue to market their expertise. Fodero noted that there was a time when plastic surgeons were not permitted to advertise their own practices; when plastic surgery remained a concealed feature of society. That’s all changed.

“Every day we are selling surgery, as every day some new device is touted as the next big thing,” Fodero said. “And these new devices are being promoted by both surgeons and their manufacturers.”

Plastic surgery has also become more available and affordable. From certified plastic surgeons to dentists, the cosmetic surgery industry has become so lucrative that many kinds of practitioners are looking for ways in. That’s also made surgeries less expensive. Teens, attracted to the affordability, are increasingly falling into the traps set by plastic surgeons and manufacturers.

However, as evident in the journeys of both my sister and Remley Jr., the advertising of plastic surgery remains a success, and the pain associated with receiving the procedures can be well worth it. Whether Remley Jr. follows through with future cosmetic procedures, one thing remains true, in Fodero’s view: fixing teenagers’ perceived flaws reduces a lot of suffering. This may be the primary reason cosmetic surgery has gained such popularity among teenagers: Going under the knife corrects their flaws, and also transforms their lives.


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Hometown: Rahway, New Jersey Professor: Karyn Collins Class: Reviews and Criticism Takeaway: As the driving force influencing consumers' thoughts and decisions, advertising drew divisions between the desirable and undesirable, the credible and the deceptive, and more importantly, the ideology that governed society. Ads have played on classic stereotypes of what was meant by "masculine" and "feminine" in ways that we often fail to notice. In recent years, though, several rebellious brands have challenged the traditional gender schism, by portraying gender as a fluid ideology. Through writing this piece, I learned that gender fluidity has yet to become a general phenomenon across the fashion industry, the boundaries that once divided genders continue to be pushed.


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