By Meg Finney, Endangered Bodies member
The Italian government recently banned plastic surgery for anyone under 18 years old, and they are not the only country to consider such precautions. In Italy, this legislation has been talked about for several years, specifically in terms of breast augmentation. Recently after a recall in France for breast implants containing carcinogens, Italy passed the ban as reported on Televisia.com (2012). Officially, the law bans plastic surgery for aesthetic purposes for anyone under 18, unless needed for medical purposes. Any surgeons found in violation of the law will face a fine of 20,000 euros and a three-month suspension.
According to the Italian Society of Plastic Surgery, each year thousands of girls receive plastic surgery with the aim of improving their appearance. In 2009, Francesca Martini, an undersecretary within Italy’s welfare ministry described the situation in The Telegraph as “a Wild West, cowboy style system of plastic surgery.” She explained the ban hopes to address, “the growing number of girls under 18 who have breast enhancement surgery purely for fashion reasons and have no idea of the risk involved.” From 2009 to 2012, the situation did not seem to improve as many young girls continued to ask for plastic surgery for their birthdays. As of 2012, The Daily Times reports that 30% of 16 and 17 year old Italian girls are unsatisfied with their bodies and 14% would consider having breast enhancement surgery. The Italian government hopes this new legislation will work toward remedying the influx of teens seeking treatment.
In no way is this an isolated issue. According to People’s Daily Online (2012), in China, three million people each year have plastic surgery for aesthetic purposes, and officials in Guangzhou city have begun to draw up rules to address and protect minors. Reports suggest that in Shanghai minors comprise 10-20% of plastic surgery patients and that this number has been rising at a 10-15% rate annually.
As of 2012, the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) indicated that plastic surgery among youths is on the rise with the number of teenage clients receiving treatments today at more than five times the number it was fifteen years ago. [See infographic on right.] In the US, as well as South Korea and Germany, informed parental consent is already required for minors to receive plastic surgery according to NEWSGD.com (2012).
This begs the question: what in society is fueling teens with the desire to go under the knife? Televisa.com hypothesizes that in Italy many are trying to emulate the full-breasted celebrities rampant in the media. This longing to match up to a certain societal standard rings true in China and the United States as well. ASPS states that one of the primary motivations for those under 18 seeking plastic surgery is “to improve physical characteristics they feel are awkward or flawed...to fit in with peers, to look similar.” It seems that there is a general discomfort among teens concerning body image.
While one could argue that this discomfort is simply a part of growing up, it seems the youth of today are dealing with a different playing field when it comes to body image than generations in the past. Firstly, with the shift from film to digital platforms over the past ten to fifteen years, the number of images the average teenager receives has multiplied enormously. With these new digital platforms has come the rise of Photoshop which has enabled images to be altered to the upmost level of “perfection,” regardless of whether the final image is feasibly achievable through natural means or not. In addition, as articulated in Alice Marwick’s “There’s a beautiful girl under all of this: Performing hegemonic femininity in reality television" (2010), there are many reality shows, such as The Swan, Extreme Makeover, I Want A Famous Face, and Dr. 90210 that highlight plastic surgery with a discourse of “self-empowerment,” promoting the sentiment that if one can achieve a certain level of physical perfections, all other problems will magically be fixed.
Anyone who has turned on the television, flipped through a magazine, or glanced at the tabloid headlines in the grocery store has noted the overbearing focus on appearance in today’s society. Now to a certain extent admiring appearance and fashionable style can be fun and creative. But when it becomes so thoroughly absorbed as a priority in society—to the point that governments are intervening on minor plastic surgery operations—then there is a problem.
So while it is a step in the right direction for the Italian government to ban plastic surgery for minors, the causes that are fueling teens’ desire for plastic surgery are still present; therefore, the root cause is not being addressed. If the majority of female images teens see embody an unrealistic female beauty standard, it is no wonder they think they need enhancements to meet the “standard” of what is socially acceptable. Perhaps if the media could begin to embrace a range of beauty—in all its sizes, ages, and ethnicities—and celebrate women for their accomplishments rather than their appearances, teens might view plastic surgery as less of a necessity. This is obviously not going to happen overnight. Still, if step by step, those working positions of power in the media started making conscious choices to include diversity or the story about the female politician’s accomplishments rather than the celebrity who lost ten pounds, perhaps fewer countries’ governments would need to intervene to protect minors from the surgeon’s knife.
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