Contrary to what the writers on "Nip/Tuck" would have you believe, teenagers aren’t racing to have breast implants to fill out their prom dresses.
"That’s just not happening," said Scottsdale plastic surgeon Dr. John Corey.
"Teens that come in are not the run-of-the-mill cosmetic surgery patients. They are more likely to have prominent ears or bumps on their noses.
"The only time a girl under 18 gets implants is if one breast is huge and the other one is not there at all. In that case, we just want symmetry, not an increase in size."
But the number of teens undergoing plastic surgery is increasing. Almost 81,000 teens went under the scalpel in 2002, an increase of 24 percent since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
While that number represents just 3 percent of teens, it represents 5 percent of the total number of procedures performed — up from 1.4 percent in 1997.
Why the increase? Credit typical teen concerns.
"I did it for girl reasons: I wasn’t getting any of them," said Mike Taylor (not his real name), a 17-year-old Scottsdale teen. His family asked that his real name not be used because of the "stigma" attached to teen plastic surgery.
Taylor said his protruding ears never caused any taunts or teasing, but it bothered him every time he looked into the mirror. So after a year of discussions with his parents, side-by-side Internet research with his father and interviews with four different surgeons, the then-13-year-old underwent otoplasty the summer before starting high school.
"All you have to do is look on TV to see that our society places an emphasis on beauty," Taylor said. "The surgery has given me a lot more selfconfidence. It’s a lot easier for me to talk to people now."
The ASPS has no formal position on cosmetic plastic surgery for teenagers, but some local plastic surgeons are against it.
"I don’t think elective cosmetic surgery in anyone younger than 19 in appropriate," said Dr. N. Bradly Meland, a Scottsdale plastic surgeon.
Other experts said surgery on teens can have a dramatic impact on their self-esteem, socialization and selfconfidence. To make sure the results are positive, parents must assess the teenagers’ physical and emotional maturity before committing to cosmetic surgery, ASPS spokeswoman LaSandra Cooper said.
Doctors, too, should thoroughly interview patients and parents, and assess the teenagers’ mental health status, said Tempe plastic surgeon Dr. Richard Pavese.
"An ethical surgeon will want to see something real," he said. "If someone comes in to have their nose fixed, doctors want there to be a real deformity with the nose, not just a bump that can barely be seen."
An ethical surgeon will turn away patients such as the overweight girl who wants liposuction because she doesn’t have any friends, or the boy who wants a small bump on his nose fixed because no one in class will talk to him.
"I can fix the bump on his nose, but he might have other problems," Pavese said. "And plastic surgery can’t fix those social problems."
Another red flag is when a parent tries to solve their child’s problems surgically.
"Nobody wants to hear their kid get teased, but the parent may be more horrified and more anxious than the teen is," Corey said. "If I ask the child a question and the parent butts in and answers for them, that’s a bad sign. It means the parent is driving the whole interview and the kid might be having the surgery for a reason other than themself."
Parents should be understanding and not dismiss a child who comes to them with a problem that could be erased with a nip or a tuck.
"I’m always dumfounded by some parents who say it’s stupid to give teenagers cosmetic surgery, but will put braces on their teeth for three years," Corey said. "They’ll crank the wires and let the kid’s gums bleed so they can have straight teeth. Yet, their kid can be called Dumbo at school and they won’t do anything about it."
Taylor’s father made him wait a year before committing to surgery.
"Children are impulsive and what they want today they have no interest in next month," the father said. "It’s important to give the child a long time to think about it and have many discussions.
"But the schoolyard is a place where you’re tortured for your weaknesses," he said. "His ears concerned him and it was something we could handle with modern technology. So it was a no-brainer. And the benefits last a lifetime."
Contact the experts
• Dr. John Corey, Scottsdale: (480) 767-7700 or
• Dr. Richard Pavese, Tempe: (480) 838-7788 or www.shapely.com
• The American Society of Plastic Surgeons: (888) 475-2784 or