Can't think of what to get your teen this holiday season? Some are forgetting traditional gifts for daughter such as jewelry and new clothes, and jumping on the breast implant bandwagon. Under the guise of giving their daughters a self-esteem lift, these parents may be setting them up for a lifetime of chronic low self-esteem.
Just a few nights ago I watched a tabloid television show that featured a mother who proudly bought her teenage daughter breast implants. I guess it was a sort of grown up mommy-and-me experience as the mother also had implants. I suspect the story I watched was fairly typical. The daughter had been teased in school because of her small breasts, became highly insecure and wanted implants. Her mother obliged. I have no doubt that this mother, like many other parents, was trying to help her daughter build her self-esteem. Sadly, she has likely done the very opposite.
There are 3 main dangers for teens getting breast implants, all of which they are ill-equipped to understand and properly consider at their age: 1. physical 2. financial, and 3. emotional/psychological (see http://www.breastimplantinfo.org/news/teen_implants.html).
1. Physical dangers: breast development can continue into early twenties; breast augmentation has a very high complication rate often requiring additional surgeries; an increased risk of various types of cancer as well as severe depression; risk of infection and even death; breast implants interfere with mammography (obscuring more than half of all breast tumors); less likely to be able to breast feed successfully (which carries health benefits for the child); if they change their mind at any time removal of implants can cause severe sagginess which is likely to cause more body dissatisfaction; and, breast pain and loss of sensation in the nipples is common (as teenage females have not reached their sexual peak yet they may be giving up personal sexual pleasure for life before they have had a chance to understand how their body works and they are objectifying their own body).
2. Financial dangers: corrective treatments and surgical procedures can be very expensive and may occur at a time when they are financially independent (they may not realize the potential medical costs they will incur over time).
3. Emotional/psychological dangers: teenage body image dissatisfaction is likely to lessen or go away with age; parents are validating that there is something "wrong" with their daughter's body; and, possible loss of sexual pleasure has a psychological component as young women learn to prioritize males' viewing pleasure over their own bodily pleasure.
Looking at the preceding list of risks it is clear that these are serious consequences a teenager is unlikely to comprehend on any meaningful level. Putting this list of dangers aside though we can return most simply to the reason the mother I saw gave-in to her daughter's breast implant request-the reason I suspect other parents do too. Young women are often teased by their peers for not measuring up to the media ideal of the body-beautiful and so they develop a poor body concept and parents want to help them. Breast implants are not the answer.
There is no quick-fix for self-esteem; it must be built up internally. Giving in to external pressures will only feed insecurity in the long-run and set our daughters up for a life time of substituting others' judgments for their own. Breasts comes in all shapes and sizes, there are even artificial ones. However, there are no substitutes for real self-confidence and trying to fake it will backfire.
Patricia Leavy, PhD, is an acclaimed pop-feminist author and expert commentator as well as a leading qualitative and arts-based researcher. She is also the author of the new book, Low-Fat Love. For more information, please visit www.patricialeavy.com