By Jeffrey Frentzen

Marketing aesthetic procedures has gone viral. Teen idols take a stand, often in favor of plastic surgery, and the excuse is usually along the lines of, “I felt badly about my body and you too can get yours fixed.” The media propaganda to get kids used to the idea at an early age that cosmetic surgery procedures can get them all fixed up, even later in life, is raging out of control.

Essentially, media-based marketing pushes products and lifestyle changes via several beachheads: magazine articles, TV and radio shows and commercials, and public testimonials by well-known personalities and celebrities are primary fronts. These people lead their fans and others by example, and with children as the target the marketing machine has a very impressionable audience in the palm of its amoral hand.

The latest blast of media attention to children and plastic surgery centers on two areas: surgery to correct physical awkwardness or to resolve medical issues of some sort; and surgery to resolve a child’s self-esteem problems. The former is often couched in news articles that report children seek out plastic surgery to avoid becoming victims of bullying. The latter area, in which children want to “fix” real or imagined “physical problems” in order to feel better about their looks, parallels similar phenomena in adults who seek out plastic surgery.

The difference is there is a better chance an adult is emotionally mature and has a personality suitably developed to understand the underlying emotional problems and self-image issues when she tells a surgeon, “Fix me.” A child’s psyche is undeveloped and immature. Unnecessary procedures may be an attractive alternative for the immature child who can manipulate his or her parents into paying for such procedures.

As mentioned in [removed]this typical article[/removed], surgeons have reported that unnecessary procedures represent a small percentage of teen plastic surgeries. However, the advances being made in aesthetic procedures these days suggest more people are routinely considering procedures to adjust their looks. Plastic surgery as a solution to perceived physical “inadequacies” becomes more accepted in a society that demands instant gratification. Kids whose protruding ears significantly may impair an ability to feel “normal” among his peers. Plastic surgery has provided a solution to those types of problems for decades, and is within reason — as are procedures to correct any deformity. Many children, however, don’t have any deformities at all and simply want the surgery because their have been told by their role models that it is okay.

Still, the marketing hype settles on the solution to self-image problems as external: change your looks and be happier. As any physician can tell you, fixing the external without dealing with the underlying personality issues is a no-win situation.

As physicians, you can put a stop to unnecessary procedures for children in your own office. That will not stop the children, however, or the parents who will continue to seek out a practitioner who will take the money and perform the procedure.

Which takes me back to the media machinery that promotes plastic surgery as a viable solution for children who perceive themselves as “not pretty or handsome enough.” Americans live in a quick-fix culture that demands instant gratification. Also, the shallow media imagery that portrays celebrity plastic surgery as the height of beauty is very convincing to children — less so to adults. When Lady Gaga gives an interview to teen magazines in which she talks about her own physical insecurities and says she is open to plastic surgery as a solution to those insecurities, it makes a huge impression on her preteen fans — mostly girls.

The media latches onto this trend like a vampire and broadcasts its sick message to any child within earshot, using the available pervasive machinery: magazines, TV, radio, the Internet, etc. Children are the best targets for a media and marketing complex that seeks to convince the population to consume more products and services that it doesn’t need, and to feel badly about itself in the process. The propaganda is well-tested, sophisticated, and works on many levels — economically, socially, racially, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

This is what confronts you, the plastic and cosmetic surgeon, when a suitably brainwashed child and her equally anxious parents approach you to fix perceive body image disorders with surgery. It’s already an epidemic problem among adults who come into your office with neurotic self-image issues. Thanks to a hyperbolic media, the unhealthy trend is now being successfully leveled at children. And in a down economy where “just saying no” is sometimes not the first choice in doctors’ offices, it becomes increasingly important to stick to your guns and do more than just say no.

Educate yourself on the why’s and wherefores of this trend, stay up-to-date on which celebrities are promoting plastic surgery to children and denounce the fix-it mentality, and keep an eye on those corporate spokespersons and their firms’ activities in the aesthetic space — attracting new customers at earlier and earlier ages is a related and equally unhealthy trend that needs to be watched closely.