Should Minors be Allowed to Have Plastic Surgery?

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We know it happens: Teenagers are given the gift of breast implants for graduation. Girls receive nose jobs for their Bat Mitzvah. Even children, sometimes as young as the age of six, have prominent ears pinned back to stop teasing. The youth of our nation are going under the knife, but at what point is plastic surgery for minors appropriate or not appropriate, and should the government have a say in the matter?

In the Chinese city of Guangzhou, government officials are concerned that the trend of plastic surgery is harmful for its youth. That’s why lawmakers in the region have proposed a ban on cosmetic procedures, for minors, that makes it illegal for them to go under the knife unless it's performed for medical purposes.

"If approved, the regulation will be the first rule that has addressed the issue of plastic surgery for under-18s in China," medical lawyer Zhao Yin told the New York Daily News.

While it's relatively uncommon for young people to have plastic surgery in America—only 1.4 percent of plastic surgery procedures performed in 2011 were done on minors according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery—it still happens, and for a multitude of reasons, says Reston, VA, plastic surgeon Byron Poindexter, MD. "There is actually a significant history for operating on children for cosmetic reasons." 

The doctor explains that culturally, certain procedures like ear pinning, rhinoplasty and breast augmentation (reduction or implants) for teenage girls, are considered normal and acceptable in the right circumstances. "For instance, we see young women with significant breast asymmetry or extremely large breasts for their body who feel insecure. It makes an emotional impact on them. For these cases, it’s appropriate to operate."

Many young celebrities have been very open about receiving rhinoplasty, perhaps leading the way for everyday teenage girls to consider the change. "It is one of the most common surgical procedures in teens and twenty-somethings," says Beverly Hills, CA, plastic surgeon Leslie Stevens, MD. "If a young actress at the start of her career wants to fine tune her looks for the big or small screen, that is the time to do it," he says.

So when is plastic surgery not appropriate for minors? "It's a shifting line that the surgeon needs to decide on a case-by-case basis," says Dr. Poindexter. Liposuction might be totally inappropriate for an overweight teenage girl who is being pressured by her mother, but might be an acceptable option for a teenage male with fatty breast tissue that causes him emotional discomfort, he says. Bottom line: "The patient needs to be emotionally mature enough to make the decision for themselves and to really understand the short and long-term consequences," says Dr. Poindexter.

Do you think teenagers are emotionally capable of making such a big decision about their bodies?

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