Jodi Mailander Farrell, Knight Ridder Newspapers: December 07, 2004
Melissa Gonzalez knew her family intended to give her enough money to buy a new car when she turned 18. But she had her heart set on something else: Bigger breasts.
After convincing her mother she was serious, Gonzalez spent about $5,000 augmenting her breasts in April, one month shy of her 18th birthday. She grew from what she calls a ”flat-as-a-wall” double-A bra to a small C-cup. She spent the rest of her birthday money on a used 1999 Mercury Cougar.
‘At first, everybody was like, `Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ ” says Gonzalez, a sophomore at Florida International University. She says she ”was always super-self-conscious” and had been determined to get implants since she was 14. “I wore a padded bra underneath a sport bra just to give myself a little bump. I didn’t have cleavage; I didn’t have anything, no matter how much I squished. This is something I did for myself. I just wanted to look like a girl. Girls have boobs and hips, you know what I mean?”
Gonzalez is not alone. In just one year, the number of girls 18 and younger getting breast implants jumped nearly threefold — from 3,872 in 2002 to 11,326 in 2003, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports.
A LARGER TREND
With financing making plastic surgery more accessible than ever, it’s not just teenage girls getting implants. The increase in young women undergoing procedures mirrors a larger trend in our Nip ‘N Tuck nation. Among all age groups, cosmetic implants have skyrocketed in popularity, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Last year, the group reports, about 247,000 women got breast implants, compared with 32,000 in 1992.
By comparison, teens are still a small percentage of those receiving implants, points out Dr. Barry Schwartz, a Weston plastic surgeon. Schwartz says about 15 percent to 20 percent of his breast augmentation patients are under 21.
”Young women are more conscious of their bodies in this day and age, especially with South Florida fashions,” Schwartz says. “The more you expose, the more you want to look good.”
Dr. Jose M. Soler-Baillo, a South Miami plastic surgeon who performed Gonzalez’s augmentation, says getting implants has become a ”coming-of-age type of thing” for many young women, “especially here in Miami.”
”I’ve definitely seen a steep increase in 18- and even 17-year-olds coming in,” says Dr. Lenny Roudner, who is so popular among women seeking implants that his nickname is ”Dr. Boobner.” The Miami doctor performs an average of five implant surgeries a day.
”These girls are really well-informed,” says Roudner, who has worked on some young patients’ mothers and grandmothers. ‘When the mother has had it, she knows what it did for her, so these women are quite fine with their daughters doing it. It’s a big boost to some girls’ self-esteem. It’s becoming quite the graduation gift: It’s cheaper than a car and better than a fountain pen.”
Critics say the timing couldn’t be worse for adolescent girls, who are often unhappy with their looks. They say teenagers are too young and shortsighted to comprehend the long-term affects of surgery, particularly the risks, which include the possibility of rupture or permanent scarring, the need for periodic operations to replace or remove the implants and the potential problems with breast-feeding and mammography. Also, little is known about the implants’ long-term safety; no studies have been done on females this young.
”It might feel to a 17-year-old like it’s the end of the world to wait a few years, but their bodies are still changing,” says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families. ‘Those breasts are likely to get larger, especially when they go off to school and gain the `freshman 15,’ the pounds girls often put on between ages 18 and 21. Their whole body begins to look more voluptuous.”
The nonprofit research and education group is so concerned about the trend that it has created a website, www.breastimplantinfo.org. The site includes details of surgery risks, graphic FDA photos of women whose procedures have gone awry and an online hotline –email@example.com — for girls to e-mail questions.
Among the young women featured on the site: Kacey Long, who got D-sized implants three years ago at 19. A few weeks after her surgery, Long says she began experiencing shooting pain in her arms, followed by intense joint pain and crushing fatigue. Last year, her parents took out a $6,400 loan to pay for removal surgery, a procedure documented on MTV’s I Want a Famous Face.
There is no law forbidding implants in patients younger than 18, but the FDA advises against it. In the past 15 years, implants have been the subject of furious controversy over their safety. The FDA has banned silicone-gel implants because of unanswered questions about their safety, but it permits the use of saline-filled implants, which have a silicone shell. Both types are the subject of ongoing FDA studies.
SOME GET TURNED AWAY
Zuckerman, the mother of two teenagers, says girls should wait until they are 21 to consider breast surgery.
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Copyright 2004 The Miami Herald. All rights reserved.