Thursday, April 26, 2007

Teen Surgery

And who said this? "I loved how I looked. I'm not an insecure person, nor was I before. It's a personal choice. I believe if somebody chooses to do plastic surgery, it [should be] for yourself, not anyone else."

Twenty-two-year-old Ashlee Simpson. And who is listening? Her fan base, the ashlee rocks she's the best i am a big fan if i could ever say any thing 2 ashlee it would be keep goin cuz ur good at wut u do crowd.

It's a quote in this month's Harper's Bazaar profile featuring "Ashlee Simpson's New Look" and "chic new image." It gushes on: "gone is the girl with the heavy black eyeliner, punky clothes, and teen angst. In her place is a 22-year-old woman who finally feels comfortable in her own skin." Gone also is the hump on her nose, the thin lips, and underdeveloped jawline.

She looks remade in an oddly Paris Hilton way.

Yet the July 2006 edition of Marie Claire featured a pre-rhinoplasty & -genioplasty Simpson saying, "everyone is made differently, and that is what makes us beautiful and unique. I want girls to look in the mirror and feel confident." While the magazine cover was on the presses, Simpson underwent a hump reduction rhinoplasty and acquired a more defined mandibular angle via implants (April 2006). And do you really think this nose job was her first foray into plastic surgery? Anything catch your eye in this youthful handstand?

What do you think speaks the loudest to teen fans: action or words?

In fact, there has been a jump in teenage consumers of cosmetic surgery. Overall, American teens opt most often for the nonsurgical procedures of laser hair removal and microdermabrasion, followed by rhinoplastic surgery in third place. However, teen breast augmentation has greatly increased in recent years as a result of widespread societal influences.

Overall, the US consumes nearly double the number of cosmetic procedures of the next nearest competitor (Mexico) at a price tag of $12.4 billion dollars.

Are children emotionally scarred by physical variations considered normal a mere generation ago? Most teens desire cosmetic surgery in order to "fit in." Self-esteem and confidence hinge more on this social peer factor than on appearance per se. Yet critics of elective aesthetic surgery focus on the immaturity risk for teenagers: their bodies are still growing, changing, and developing as are their motivations. Far less is said or written about the possibly that cosmetic surgery may distort their emotional growth into adulthood.

Apologists always trot out the example of a young male with breast tissue or gynecomastia caused by puberty, rationalizing that a surgeon can remove the tissue before the teen reaches a blighted adulthood (when it generally resolves on its own). For this reason it's rarely performed on teenagers. Otoplasty (ear pinning) is another old warhorse, but generally this procedure is done early, well before the teenage years.

In reality, elective asthetic teenage surgery is by and large the domain of girls. And what happens to the psyche of the female child who undergoes cosmetic surgery? Is all the adult blather about loving yourself and it's-what's-on-the-inside-that-counts just that: a lie? Make no doubt about it, this surgical trend is intimately tied up with how women and girls are treated in American society. Very few teenage boys make the request or profess the need for cosmetic surgery.

The ASPS's published but informal position is that cosmetic surgery is appropriate with parental consent if the teenager: 1) "initiates the request," 2) "possesses realistic goals," and 3) "has sufficient maturity." As parents, what are we to make of this? Teens universally master the art of pestering for what they want loooong before age 18. What about the other two criteria? Is any child of 16 or 17 capable of making a permanent choice about their nose? How many of us adults wear the fashions we once loved at that age? What if those tie-dyed bell bottomed jeans were surgically affixed to our aging ass for the next 50 years? Would we congratulate ourselves on our teen-aged wisdom and foresight?

And is 18 even a magic number? Most of us make fairly significant mistakes well into the age of emancipation without undergoing surgery. The issue of parental consent is fraught with emotional baggage. Is the "yes" based on wanting to please the child? Or a rationalization of what's good for the goose (mother) is good for the gosling? Or a leftover parental longing to "fit in" with the cool crowd? Why would a responsible parent say yes?

So, back to Ashlee Simpson and her answer to teenage angst: is surgically conforming to a transient aesthetic norm really what it means to mature into a woman who feels comfortable in her own skin? Tell us what you think.

Hear Anne live on the Kevyn Burger show Thursdays featuring Knifestyles of the Rich & Famous.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Darker Side of Tanning

Here's the myth: it is overexposure, or sunburn, that might be the cause for any of the negative things you read about sunlight and health. Overexposure and sunburn are not synonymous! In reality, tanning is an art that converts animal skins into leather. Exposure to UV light turns on the melanocyte color producing cells as a response to injury to the epidermis. This is the opposite of vitiligo, the skin disease Michael Jackson suffers from, in which those same cells lose the ability to produce pigment of any kind.

Historically, a tanned body belonged to the working classes who labored out-of-doors, while fashionable pale skin belonged exclusively to the upper classes and aristocracy. For many centuries and well into the nineteenth, a whitening agent for the face was used, composed of carbonate, hydroxide, and lead oxide. Arsenic was commonly employed starting in the mid-tenth century. It brings a whole new meaning to the idiom "suffering for beauty."

Who single-handedly changed this? Designer Coco Chanel inadvertently gave the Paris fashion world the tan after cruising from Paris to Cannes on the second Duke of Westminster's yacht early in the 20s. (She liked his clothes.) The suntan had arrived as the symbol of wealth and leisure. A tan in the winter meant the bearer had enough money and status to vacation in an exotic, warm climate.

The search for the perfect tan has led to basking in the sun, wipe-ons pioneered by Coppertone, tanning beds, and now spray-on airbrushed tans. The first greased Little Miss Coppertone was not Jodie Foster, but rather a 3-year-old girl in pigtails named Cheri Brand, daughter of the Bronxville illustrator who sketched the original 1959 ad campaign: Don't be a Paleface!

And Hollywood jumped in, too, glamorizing a tan with technicolor film in the late 30s. The perennial tanning idol of the screen was immortalized by Doonesbury's Zonker and his entry into the George Hamilton Cocoa Butter Open. The current rage for Paris Hilton-types is the sunless tan, again pioneered by our orange friends at Coppertone. DHA (dihydroxyacetone) is a chemical refined from sugar cane which temporarily colors the skin by reacting with the keratin protein found in the top layer. DHA is considered completely safe, but it gives no protection from sun damage: it doesn't stop UV light.

Speaking of ultraviolet light– both UVA and UVB rays are harmful to the skin. Tanning beds employ UVA radiation, which actually penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB. The research unequivocally points to UV exposure as the source of common skin cancers. The rate is rising by leaps and bounds. At highest risk are those with light eyes/skin/hair or a family history of skin cancer, but anyone can move into the high risk category just by tanning. Basal cell (affecting deepest layer of the epidermis) and squamous cell (middle layer of epidermis) carcinomas are the most common of all cancers. Malignant melanoma, though less common, is the most dangerous, the leading cause of skin disease death. If you get one, you will get more.

In the end, tanning early on makes for a hagged-out look later in life: sagging skin, deep wrinkles, uneven tone, broken blood vessels, and age spots (macules and solar lentigines). Take a good look at the hands, decollete, and neck of any tanned woman over 40. It isn't pretty up close. Plastic surgeons delicately refer to it as "photoaging."

Lest you think baking in the sun is done and over, just think of how many Hollywood stars are photographed on the beach in bikinis. Do you think they've got on their SPF 40?

Tanning the old-fashioned way invites paparazzi. It's easy to find popular stars on the internet wearing not much more than their sunglasses: Jennifer Aniston, Sharon Stone, Elizabeth Hurley, Natalie Portman, Janet Jackson, etc. (But you never did really think of them as role models, now did you?)

Children and adolescents are thought to be the most vulnerable because their skin cells are dividing and changing more rapidly than those of an adult. One blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's lifetime chances of developing a melanoma. And, as the ozone layer thins, exposure to natural UV radiation exponentially increases. So learn to love your sunscreen.

And all you prom kids? Go ahead, slap on a tan and have fun– just don't do it via a tanning booth.

Hear Anne live on the Kevyn Burger show 11:00 to noon every Thursday featuring Knifestyles of the Rich & Famous.