Real versus ideal: Talking to your tween about plastic surgery

Chloe Schneider
Chloe Schneider
Chloe is a writer and content strategist with bylines in mindbodygreen, Mashable, Ageless by Rescu, and more. She's a mum to one-year-old Felix, and believes that you can have it all, you just can't have it all at once
Created on May 29, 2024 · 6 mins read

Most parents reading this will be all too aware of how filtered and altered images flooding social media feeds can lead to self-esteem issues, unrealistic standards of beauty, and body dysmorphia.

But what about the altered faces and bodies they see in real life?

In this article, we explore how to navigate the complicated topic of plastic surgery with your tween or teen by chatting with a plastic surgeon (who’s also a dad of four daughters) – Dr. Pouria Moradi. 

Cosmetic surgery is on the rise

According to a 2023 study from the University of South Australia, “Young women who regularly engage with social media were excessively self-judgemental and more likely to consider cosmetic surgery.” 

The numbers reflect this too — as social media usage increases, so do cosmetic procedures and surgeries.  From 2010 to 2018, cosmetic procedures and surgeries almost doubled from 117,000 to 225,000 and in 2023, it was found that over 7 million (38% of the adult population) are considering having work done in the next 10 years. 

Today, people who undergo cosmetic procedures and surgeries are more likely to discuss them openly — overall, a positive step. But it does mean that teens and tweens are more likely to encounter chatter around plastic surgery and cosmetic enhancements online, and may start to wonder if they, too, should undergo surgery to change their appearance. 

The path to self-acceptance

As a plastic surgeon and father to daughters, Dr. Pouria Moradi sees every side of the story. He works every day with women or girls who hate something about their appearance. He’s seen the life-changing effect of reconstructive surgery, and he’s lamented how he can reassure his three young daughters they are perfectly fine as they are in a world that is filled with unrealistic images.

It’s a dilemma that inspired him to write the book Normal, a letter to his daughters about body image and a guide for any parent struggling to navigate conversations around self-love, acceptance, and what’s normal. 

“One of the takeaway messages to my daughters and to the readers of this book is ‘love thyself’. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that makes you proud, self-assured, and accepting of your flaws. The kindness you show yourself sets the bar for how others treat you.” 

As for parents, raising kids who are proud, self-assured, and accepting of their flaws can feel impossible when the world is so full of altered bodies and images. The tough truth is that you might not be able to protect them from these images, all you can do is speak openly about the many shades of normal and continually remind your kids of the many things you love about them.

‘If you are a parent, it never hurts to remind your daughters that they are far more than their looks,” Dr. Moradi says. “The self-criticism that comes from their reflection in the mirror or what they see in social media can be mitigated by a simple ‘I love you as you are.’’

Talking to your teen about cosmetic enhancements

They want to change something about their appearance

You might jump to the conclusion that they are just chasing an aesthetic ideal or want to look like an influencer or celebrity they love, but, as Dr. Moradi says, “For most people, it’s not about looking flawlessly beautiful, it’s about fitting in.” 

Remind them that plastic surgery will not change who they are, how they view themselves, or how they relate to others — that takes internal work that you can do together.  

You suspect they have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) 

If you suspect your kid truly believes they have a body defect that isn’t there, and they are experiencing shame or anxiety that is preventing them from living their life, visit a psychologist who can help identify whether they have BDD. 

Whether or not that is the diagnosis, you will have the help of a professional who can help you and your child navigate these feelings. 

They are aware someone in the family has had or is having plastic surgery

If you, another caregiver, or another adult close to your kid has had or is having plastic surgery, don’t shy away from the conversation with your tween or teen. Remember – they are exposed to plenty of information about cosmetic enhancements on the internet every day, so they are likely going to see right through any attempts you make to cover up your surgery.

Instead, Dr. Moradi says, “It’s such a personal decision that there isn’t a right or wrong way to discuss this. Nor do children usually get involved with a parent’s decision process.”

One common example is mums getting breast augmentation. “Many mums who shower with their daughters comment about how they will explain their breast post-op to their daughters. The majority of mums just want to restore what they had pre-kids, making the discussion easier.” 

They want to correct a developmental abnormality 

In some cases, surgery can become part of the conversation because your tween or teen wants to correct a developmental abnormality. This is where, as a parent, you might consider cosmetic surgery as an option. 

“Plastic surgery for teens is never purely cosmetic, but rather reconstructive,” Dr. Moradi says. “For example, breast reduction for a condition called gigantomastia or breast augmentation or reconstruction for a developmental condition called tuberous breast deformity.” 

These are two examples of abnormalities that can leave teens feeling incredibly uncomfortable and self-conscious. Dr. Moradi likens cosmetic surgery in these cases to getting braces. 

“These are all developmental anomalies that can’t be corrected with medicines or therapy, but rather surgery – similar to braces if your child had uneven teeth. You would never think twice when seeking an orthodontist’s opinion in that case. Using that same, analogy a tween would never get teeth whitening or cosmetic changes to their teeth but would get braces for an uneven bite.”

If your child has a condition related to a developmental anomaly, Dr. Moradi recommends doing as much research as possible about the condition and the various options available. He cautions that with specialised conditions like plastic surgery, a GP isn’t the best portal of information. Instead, “Choose a surgeon who is a specialist with a great catalogue of before and afters, and good reviews on forums and Google. I would always recommend seeing two and at most three surgeons to get their opinions.”

Once the surgery is locked in, Dr. Moradi recommends that “All children under the age of 16 should see a psychologist prior to and after surgery.” 

Real versus ideal

It’s important to help your tween or teen understand what’s real and what’s an ideal. This requires you to have open discussions about the images seen in the media, to avoid speaking negatively about your own appearance or the appearance of others, and to embrace differences. 

None of this is easy, there may be some slip ups along the way especially for mums who have their own body image anxieties to work through. As always, don’t pressure yourself to be perfect and remember there’s no linear path to self-acceptance — together, you and your tween or teen can talk, bond, and learn to embrace yourselves as you are.

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