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Cosmetic surgery carries multiple risks

By John W. Kennedy and Jennifer McClure

The glorification of plastic surgery on TV programs such as Fox’s The Swan, ABC’s Extreme Makeover, MTV’s I Want a Famous Face and My Super Sweet 16, and E! Entertainment’s Dr. 90210 has many people — including minors — lining up to get a nip and tuck, lift or augmentation of one kind or another.

Last year, for the first time, breast augmentation became the most common cosmetic procedure for women, with 383,885 operations according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. That represents a 279 percent jump from the 101,176 surgeries performed in 1997.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports 9,104 teens had cosmetic breast augmentations in 2006, a 12 percent hike from the year before. The reasons teens go under the knife vary from person to person, but some undoubtedly do it to be a part of the in-crowd among their peers. This worries some experts.

 “What [often] drives women into getting plastic surgery is the false premise ‘if I just alter this part of my body that I’m convinced is making me unhappy, then I will find contentment and finally be accepted,’” says Michelle Graham, 36, author of Wanting to Be Her: Body Image Secrets Victoria Won’t Tell You. “It doesn’t deal with the heart issue that caused the insecurity in the first place.”

Therapist Linda Mintle, 52, author of Making Peace with Your Thighs and resident health expert on ABC Family’s Living the Life, agrees anxieties aren’t automatically resolved by paying for a bigger bust.

“I’ve heard a lot of teens say getting the procedure didn’t cure their unhappiness,” she says.

 But TV reality and talk shows rarely discuss the painful recovery period and long-range health risks associated with breast augmentation surgery.

Breast implants for a patient of any age can hinder breast-feeding and they make detection of breast cancer more difficult. Although mammography can be performed in ways to minimize implant interference, some 55 percent of breast tumors will be obscured.

Half a dozen studies show those with implants are twice as likely to commit suicide as those who haven’t had an operation. In addition, implants can eventually shift or break open and need to be removed or replaced.

Women with implants have complained of a variety of cognitive problems, including memory loss and difficulty concentrating. FDA analysis of industry data supports these concerns, but the connection with breast implants has not been adequately researched.

One of the immediate reasons teenage girls should not have the surgery is that breasts don’t fully develop until around age 25. Despite the risks, some parents believe they are sparing their daughter the pain of rejection by agreeing to requests to alter her appearance.

But doing so, warns Graham, can send a message to girls that their bodies aren’t good enough. That is one reason, says Mintle, that mothers must be careful what they say about their own bodies in front of the daughters.  

“Mothers who are satisfied with their bodies raise girls who are satisfied with their own bodies,” says Mintle. “Mothers shouldn’t project angst onto their daughters.”

For Renee Bledsoe, her decision to have breast augmentation surgery began to foment early in her teen life when two older sisters made remarks about her “pancake chest.”

As an adult, Bledsoe kept in shape by eating right and working out regularly in a fitness club. Even so, she didn’t feel as though she measured up to society’s perception of beauty.

“What I saw in the gym — my body was not that,” says Bledsoe, of Austin, Texas. “Everything had to be perfect. I felt like I was missing something.”

So three years ago, at age 35, Bledsoe underwent plastic surgery.

After the operation, Bledsoe didn’t sense perfection. Earlier this year, as she led a class at her church based on Graham’s book Wanting to Be Her, she began to question the deeper issues behind her decision.

“Why didn’t I understand God loves me just the way He made me?” Bledsoe asks.

Admonitions such as “Thou shall not have a nose job” don’t exist in Scripture. But Graham says biblical principles are involved when it’s a matter of cosmetic surgery, which is not intended to include medically necessary reconstruction.

“God made our bodies precisely,” Graham says. “Is it really wise to use God’s money to surgically change them unnecessarily?”

In overcoming insecurities, Bledsoe says a biblical perspective is vital.

“You have to understand you are wonderfully made,” she says. “I now realize it’s not all about me. My focus was on being perfect — it was about me, my body, everything about me had to be perfect.

“The more I stay in the Word the more I understand that I am who Christ wants me to be.”

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor and JENNIFER McCLURE is assistant editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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