Thursday, July 28, 2016

In this 'fix-it' surgical world, neither insecurity nor anxiety can be allowed to exist

Dr Thangasamy Sankar wouldn’t last a week in Hollywood. They’re not big on ethically minded plastic surgeons out there, and the British consultant for Ramsay Healthcare has been so concerned by the influx of young girls – many still under 16 – coming to see him for breast reductions, lip fillers and liposuction that he took the surprising step of publishing an infographic yesterday detailing the optimum ages to have some of the most popular surgical procedures done. Not one of them, you won’t be surprised to hear, is advisable for the under-18s.

I, on the other hand, am apparently an ideal candidate for breast implants, a spot of lipo and a whole smorgasbord of injectables – all of which sound considerably less appealing than weeping-willow breasts, thighs the size of South America and a giant crevasse where my face should be.

At 13, however, I could have drawn up a shopping list of physical inadequacies I simply “couldn’t live with”. Because fixing yourself wasn’t either such a big industry or a respectable life philosophy back then, and because my mother isn’t Kris Jenner, I did end up living and making peace with most of them.

But now that young girls (and boys) have affordable solutions at their fingertips and we live in a culture in which we are all encouraged to wage war against our physical idiosyncrasies – beating them into submission until they fall in line with the accepted look of the day – making peace or making do seems laughably old-fashioned.

It may be putting both the roof extension and that fortnight’s break in Bora Bora at risk, but I would have urged Mr Sankar to take things a step further and call for a law to be implemented banning any form of vanity-related surgery in those under 18 – even with parental consent. Because parents can’t always be trusted to behave responsibly in these matters.

Under current UK law, anyone over the age of 16 can consent to cosmetic surgery, and even those under 16 can have procedures, provided the surgeon “feels they fully understand what is involved” – a get-out for the more ethically ambiguous members of Mr Sankar’s profession if ever I heard one.

I once travelled down eight floors in an LA lift with a sobbing girl of 13 fresh from a full rhinoplasty. With the blood from her nostrils collecting in a tray adhered to the base of her nose with surgical tape, she had just caught sight of her disfigured face in the mirror. Had she “fully understood” what was involved? Can anyone at that age?

As one of the most outspoken advocates of female body confidence in Hollywood, the actress Chloe Moretz, whom I have interviewed for the September issue of Glamour magazine, agrees that surgery “shouldn’t be allowed before you’re an adult”.

At 16, Moretz told me she begged her mother to let her have “a boob job, the fat pad beneath my chin removed and a butt reduction. But luckily, my mum and my brothers never let me get caught up in all that. Because if I had done any of those things I wanted back then, I wouldn’t know who I am today.”

Sticking to that #LoveWhoYouAre philosophy will have been additionally hard for a child star who was told at a young age by Hollywood industry players that she needed to fix a number of things about herself in order to succeed. “I used to get told to change my teeth all the time, because I had a gap,” she says, “and I was told that to help give me more of a waistline, they could take out some ribs.”

Just how far have we come from 13th-century Chinese foot binding and the wearing of corsets if the young women that girls admire and emulate – women who, by the way, have talents beyond their looks – are being advised to have ribs removed in order to propagate some absurd ideal of beauty? And yet our freedom to toy with surgical excess from a young age is championed by some as a form of emancipation. They’re our bodies and we’ll do what we like with them.

Teen reality star Kylie Jenner was only 16 when she had her lips inflated to Toontown proportions – something she says she now regrets. “It’s an insecurity of mine,” she explained when she revealed that she’d been having filler injected for years. And, of course, in our new “fix-it” world, neither insecurity nor anxiety can be allowed to exist.

Only here’s the thing: stamp out one rampant physical insecurity through artificial means and another will spring up either elsewhere or in its place – hence poor little Kylie cheerfully declaring that getting her lips deflated “was a crazy process. Thank God I didn’t end up on Botched!” –  a US reality television series about plastic surgeons remedying extreme plastic surgeries that went wrong.

Give it time and she may. Because start on the fixing mania too soon and all you, your parents and the attending surgeon are really doing is indulging the insecurity. Yes, thin lips are your problem, you’re basically saying, but once that’s resolved… ta-dah! Then when it doesn’t quite work out that way, you’re back to chasing the dragon – until finally one day you wind up looking like one.

Celia Walden

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