Teenagers: cosmetic surgery cuts like a knife

Actress Millie Perkins Making Faces at Herself in Mirror While Getting Hair Done in Beauty Salon

There was a young female journalist on breakfast TV news yesterday, talking about the number of teenage girls wanting to have plastic surgery by the time they are 16. She was talking about wanting to see tougher guidelines for clinics to follow, such as a six-month cooling off period between initial consultation and deciding to go through with surgery.

The whole thing makes me so sad. It also makes me so glad that I hit my teen years in the 1980s, which now seems like a comparatively innocent decade. Oh the irony. On the flipside, I worry about what things will be like when the Tinkerous Toddler reaches her teens.

I remember oh so well the angst of being a teenage girl and amongst other things, the immense focus on how I looked. I can remember borrowing my mum’s sewing box tape measure, to measure my waist and hips on a regular basis. Nothing ever changed much, but it was a ritual.

I also used to do that thing where you hold up a hand mirror so you can see your profile in a big mirror. I’d push up my nose and wonder if it’d look better shorter. I’d study my chin and wonder if it would look better slightly bigger!

Back then, luckily for me, I’d never heard of plastic surgery. If I had tuned into any discussions on it, they would probably have revolved around older women, ageing actresses and the like, having facelifts to try and stem the tide of ageing.

The most radical thing I ever did to change my appearance – other than crazy stuff like wearing two colours of nail polish at the same time – was to be an early adopter of fake tan.

It all happened after a holiday to Greece when I was 16. I had had a glorious time and came back feeling on top of the world. Only to have a friend me why I didn’t have a tan. Like it was some kind of a crime.

The correct answer to that question was – and still is – I’m a redhead. My skin doesn’t do tanning!  Of course her question wasn’t really about tanned skin. It was actually a put-down, designed to ensure she felt she had one up on me. For me, it was a cue to do something to cover up the ‘hideousness’ of my pale skin.

From that moment on and for the next few years, I would scope out and then cake on whatever the latest fake tanning product was. Be it a more permanent one that invariably turned my palms orange, or a temporary one, that would stain my clothes sludge brown.

I’m not looking for sympathy here. It was a stage. I got through it. My point is this. My fake tan years are now safely behind me. The fake tan came off. It didn’t leave my body permanently changed.

My concern today is that we don’t just live in a world where young girls are increasingly concerned with their appearance. We live in a world where it is so easy for them to do something drastic about it and feel like it’s the normal thing to do.

As the journalist on breakfast news said yesterday, “young girls don’t realise when they sign up for a boob-job, that they are actually signing up for around five major breast operations over the course of their lives”. Who in their right mind chooses to undergo major surgery?!

I’ve been known to tune into that long-standing ITV2 comedy series, The Only Way Is Essex. Every big flashy get-together they have is like a Halloween party. The amount of fakery is eye-popping.

But what is brain-popping is that most of those women probably looked a damn sight more beautiful before they started tweaking their appearances with Botox, fillers, veneers, breast implants, lipo, or nose jobs and whatever else they’ve shelled out for.

I hope that by the time the Tinkerous Toddler becomes a teenager there has been a massive backlash against plastic-fantastic and natural beauty is where it’s at. In the meantime, I will do my best to instil in her that beauty is more than skin deep – because let’s face it, trot that line out to a teenager ridden with angst about her looks and you might as well be saying “stick a bag over yer head”.

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