Earlier this year, American model Bella Hadid confessed that she regrets getting a nose job done when she was merely 14. Closer home, child actor Riva Arora’s family has been at the end of trolling and criticism for allegedly giving her hormonal injections and sexualising her at a very young age.
Is it okay for minors – especially teenagers – to undergo cosmetic surgery, even if they have their parent’s consent for the same? As much as it might be a personal choice for adults, is surgery something minors should indulge in? FIT spoke to cosmetic surgeons and a psychiatrist to find out.
An Emerging Trend: Surgeries as a School Graduation Gift
Whether doctors like it or not, they've seen a rise in the number of teenage patients coming in for cosmetic surgeries over the past few years.
Dr Chandni Jain Gupta, Departments of Dermatology, Venereology, and Cosmetology, Elantis Healthcare, New Delhi, shares that a huge number of her patients are teenage girls who are in high school or just entering college. She says, “They opt for surgery to compete with their peer groups.”
She adds that a lot of parents have also started gifting cosmetic surgeries to their kids upon passing out from school.
Most of these teenagers either come in for lip augmentation (fillers for fatter lips), breast augmentation (bigger breasts), or breast reduction surgeries.
Dr Sitaram Prasad, Consultant, Plastic Surgery, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, echoes what Dr Gupta says, adding that most teenagers aged 16-17 who come to him often want:
Gynecomastia or male breast tissue reduction
Rhinoplasty or nose reshaping
However, in Dr Prasad’s experience, a majority of his patients have also wanted reconstructive surgeries – one that corrects any congenital defects or is used to hide scars from injuries – with few actually wanting to undergo surgery to change the way that they look.
But Doctors Don't Recommend This
Cosmetic surgeons aren't particularly happy about minors coming in for consultation or surgeries. Because most of the times, it isn't to fix some body part that isn't functioning smoothly or getting a trauma scar removed, but more about 'fixing' the way they look.
So, cosmetic surgeons recommend waiting till the post-pubertal age (or at least till one turns 18) before undergoing/contemplating surgery. And even after that, they recommend that it is something people should avoid.
Dr Prasad says, “We don’t encourage surgery unless it is functionally very important, for instance, if a person is unable to breathe due to a deviated nose.”
Dr Gupta agrees. She explains:
“Say we perform surgery on someone at the age of 14 or 15, but since development happens till the age of 18, that part of their body might just keep growing or developing and leave life-long side effects of the surgery.”
This is something to think about, especially since a cosmetic surgery might cost anywhere between Rs 50,000 to over Rs 3-4 lakh depending on the procedure one has chosen. But also because surgeries can have many side effects, including, but not limited to, bleeding, infection, and poor healing.
Not As Easy To Reverse a Surgery as One Might Think
There are other reasons too why doctors advise that people wait before rushing to get a cosmetic surgery.
Dr Prasad explains that the effects of any surgery are permanent and that it’s difficult to reverse them a few years down the line if someone changes their mind.
Dr Gupta echoes this sentiment. But she adds that there are a few exceptions. For instance, lip fillers can be reversed up to a year after the surgery.
“But there’s a catch again. Reversing any surgery will give you a structural defect and leave a mark. This might force you to keep getting the surgery again and again just to make it look natural.”Dr Chandni Jain Gupta, Departments of Dermatology, Venereology, and Cosmetology, Elantis Healthcare, New Delhi
Even breast augmentation can be reversed by removing the saline augmentation particles or silicon implants.
So Do Cosmetic Surgeons Just Refuse To Perform Surgery on Patients or Send Them Back?
While parental consent is mandatory, sometimes that is not enough to persuade a doctor to perform surgery on a minor.
Dr Gupta shares that anytime a minor comes in seeking cosmetic surgery, they are first screened to see if the type of surgery they are looking for is something that will benefit them biologically or psychologically.
For instance, teenage boys who come in for gynecomastia are usually operated upon because it not only helps them biologically, but lifts a “psychological and emotional burden” off them as well, says she.
However, a lot of other teenagers opt for cosmetic surgery because of certain insecurities and peer pressure. Dr Gupta shares that all such patients are first counseled by cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists, and also sent to professional counselors for help.
Following this, they’re given a ‘three months cooling-off period’ to decide if they still want to go ahead with the surgery. This is done so that the surgery is either delayed or avoided completely.
Doctors also advise that anyone seeking surgery should have a realistic goal of what they want their body to look like and have a fair idea of all the risks and side effects related to surgery.
Dr Kedar Tilwe, Consultant Psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital Mulund & Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, shares that there are a lot of factors that come into play when someone feels the need to get a surgery. These might include:
Social pressure to appear a certain way
Criticism or bullying from peers
Body image issues
He adds that a lot of people facing these issues might not even reach out for help, and instead isolate themselves, thus entering a cycle of depression, anxiety, worthlessness, hopelessness, and low self-esteem.
But when someone comes in for surgery, and granted that they are receptive to what the doctors suggest, they might actually get the psychological help that they need.
“Cosmetic surgery is a fairly permanent solution, reversing it might not be so easy. So, if you had an actual problem, your insecurity about your body might go down. But if there is no defect to begin with, and it’s just your mind’s interpretation of what your body should look like, then you won’t feel satisfied no matter how many surgeries you go through with.”Dr Kedar Tilwe