Monday, May 05, 2008

How Long Will it Be Until Parents Force Children to Undergo Plastic Surgery?

You may have heard of the recent hubbub surrounding the release of a new children's book that is intended to help the offspring of those who have had plastic surgery cope with the surgery's transformative effect on their parents. Written by a plastic surgeon, My Beautiful Mommy represents an interesting first in the plastic surgery world--it introduces the process to children.

Which got me wondering--how long until parents subject their children to plastic surgery? We already know that many parents subject their embryos to genetic screening in order that they might avoid having to parent a disabled child (see Dr. Al Mohler for more on this). We also know that many parents subject their children to relentless pressure to fit in and exceed throughout their young lives. See Alexandra Robbins's recent The Overachievers for some background on this phenomenon. In addition, modern America is obsessed with physical beauty. Alex Kucynzki's Beauty Junkies makes just this point. One wonders, then, when these cultural trends will coalesce into a perfect storm and form an impetus for parents to pay for plastic surgery to correct the imperfect features of their children? How far away can such destructively narcissistic practices be?

The line to be crossed here is the direct exhortation of parents to their children to have plastic surgery for supposed defections. Currently, plastic surgery forms a popular and expensive graduation gift for teenage girls in wealthy areas of America. Yet we not our language carefully here--this surgery is not an order but a gift. The comments made by one mother in a story two years old about plastic surgery among teens confirmed my worst fears--parents are increasingly encouraging and exhorting their children to undergo plastic surgery. See this:

Take the case of Katie Underdown of Georgia. Last year, the 17-year-old had a nose job and a chin implant by the same surgeon who did multiple surgeries on her mother, Jan, and several of her mom's friends. Although the teen had a deviated septum, a medical condition that makes it harder to breath, she initially balked at surgery. Her mother urged her on, though.

"I told her, 'It doesn't bother you right now but it may later. Let's just get it fixed.' I had a great surgeon, I was able to pay for it and nurse her back," explains Jan Underdown. "Katie had a recessed chin like me and I said, 'Put the chin implant in.' She did it. It turned out great. I think of it like her braces. You fix what you know is an issue and then you go on and live your life."

Did you catch the verbal nuance here? "Let's just get it fixed." That's what Jan Underdown said to her daughter, a seventeen year-old girl. One can understand surgery for a nasal condition, but the mother in the case also urged her to daughter to get a "chin implant," whatever that is. I'm guessing that we're going to see many more such cases of parental pressure on topics like this. I live in an incredibly posh town in Illinois, and I constantly see middle-aged women attempting to look like teenagers, dressing in the same clothes, bleaching their hair the same color, adopting the same "haughty cool" attitude that one expects to find in teenagers. For these women, beauty is not merely a virtue, it's an obsession. As many of these women turn to cosmetic surgery to keep up in the race to stay young as long as possible, how many of them will encourage their impressionable daughters to do the same? In a society that increasingly turns its back on things that really matter, on traditional principles and virtues, how hard will it really be for parents to push their bucktoothed daughter or large-nosed child to go under the knife in order to look "right"? I don't have any statistics, and I haven't seen any stories on this, but I would cautiously and nervously predict that it will not be long before narcissism, parental pressure, and the beauty culture collide and form a society in which regular children are pressured to be surgically transformed into something they are not.

Some might say that this is nothing new, that beauty has always been an issue for kids and that little will change in this regard. I would respond that this is true, but in our age, we have the means to change our appearances, an ability that prior generations did not. As plastic surgery becomes increasingly inexpensive, and as the culture continues to slide away from a biblical definition of life and of beauty, it only makes sense that parents would desire to correct and shape their children to be that which they believe to be truly important. Our media-saturated culture, after all, drives such an obsession with physical appearance. When your average person watches multiple hours of television and films each week, and takes in the appearance-frenzied environment that television puts forth (the medium is the message, in this case), this person cannot help but end up appearance-crazy. The result, I would predict, will be that those with money will increasingly turn to perfect not simply themselves but their children. Children do, after all, reflect their parents. Whatever their parents prize, then, children will come to look like in a most literal way.

If all this is true, what can Christians do in today's appearance-obsessed culture? Christian parents can teach their children what really matters, and avoid forming a conception of identity in their children that centers around looks. Parents can consciously work against a culture that is obsessed with appearance by themselves avoiding vanity and concentration on physical beauty. Parents should, in my opinion, be very careful about complimenting their children based on beauty and in explicitly delineating amongst attractive and unattractive children. Beyond this, each Christian person in a decadent culture should consider what they can do on a personal level to resist sinful focus on their appearance. We can't singlehandedly turn back the tide of our world, but we can all resist its influence and claim kingdom ground in the war against it. Most importantly, by exalting the gospel in our homes, our churches, and our daily lives, we can teach ourselves and those around us what truly matters and show a watching world that in Christ, we have found true beauty. It is not first and foremost physical attractiveness, but is self-sacrificial love such that the guilty go free and the sinfully ugly become pure. This is beauty. Even as those around us sacrifice their children on an altar of obsession, we can work to train them in believing the message that alone can liberate us, that alone can make us beautiful in the eyes of the only One who matters--God.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen this site where people confess their sins anonymously, online at

8:33 AM  
Anonymous Meredith Shelton said...

I don't mean to be a jerk or anything, but I actually know Katie Underdown. She had a medical condition that caused her to get the nose job: she couldn't breathe. The chin implant was to balance her face out, to avoid ridicule, since they had to change the shape of her nose to allow her to breathe.

You also left out the part where Katie says that she doesn't support needless surgery.

"“I think people should be happy with the way they look and shouldn’t feel obligated to have surgery,” she says. “But I will say also that I look better and breathe better now. So in my case it was a good choice.”"

I don't support needless plastic surgery either, but if you're going to bash it online you should find a more pertinent example.

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Katie Underdown said...

I am Katie Underdown, and I would like to tell you that my mom did not pressure me to get the plastic surgery. The article mentions my deviated septum, but they left out that my nose was broken in THREE places before I got it repaired from two horseback riding accidents. I wasn't going to get surgery at first and just live with my nose as it was, but it hurt and I had a lot of headaches from not being able to breathe properly.

I knew I was going to get my nose fixed eventually, I just didn't know when. And my mom told me that I should do it when I had her to support me instead of waiting until later than life. She did NOT BY ANY MEANS pressure me at all. It was all my decision.

Once again, I don't agree with needless plastic surgery, but this was something I needed on account of my broken nose and deviated septum. Since then my headaches have decreased a large amount (I rarely get them anymore) and I can actually breathe properly.

My plastic surgeon told me that my nose has been among one of the hardest he's ever had to repair. That's how bad it was broken. And if I had gone to a regular surgeon, they would've referred me to a plastic surgeon anyway.

9:50 PM  
Anonymous Katie Underdown said...

later in life***

Oh, and the chin implant was my idea too. The plastic surgeon suggested that I might want one to balance out my face since he was rebuilding my nose. It would've looked awkward if I had not gotten it.
I would've been perfectly fine with not changing anything about my facial features and being proud with the features that God blessed me with, if my nose had not been so messed up. And I don't see what's wrong with balancing out my chin after my nose was rebuilt. God balanced out the face that he gave me to start with. If my nose hadn't had changed due to all the injuries, then it would've still been balanced. But because of the injuries and my new nose, my chin looked like it was really far back in comparison to the rest of my face.
The doctor knew this would happen before my surgery, and suggested that I do it.

I spent a lot of time worrying and contemplating over all of this. And these are the only things I have had done with plastic surgery.

I don't know why I feel the need to defend myself or my mother, but I do think that you should know all the facts.

The news report wasn't fully factual. They left out a lot. Picked and chose what they wanted to say and how they wanted it to sound. I'm overly very disappointed about it. I only agreed to do the interview because I felt I owed my doctor a good word for helping me out with everything. It sounds like it has done the opposite.

Once again, I don't condone most plastic surgery. But, it's really a personal choice. And if you have a medical condition, like a deviated septum or broken nose, why should you have to live with that for the rest of your life?

10:00 PM  

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