November 22, 2006

Guilt-tripping parents into getting plastic surgery for their kids.

I just heard a radio commercial for a local plastic surgeon. Over tinkly, sentimental music, we hear a concerned woman agonizing about how her little daughter is picked on at school and how she can see the girl's self-esteem spiraling downward. So she looked into it, and she discovered how plastic surgery can correct ears that stick out. Blah, blah, blah. Now, her daughter is brimming with self-esteem. Her whole life is back on track.

The implication is that if your child has some physical imperfection, you're a negligent parent if you don't get plastic surgery. The day is coming -- if the surgeons get to your mind they way they're trying to -- when your response to a child with, say, a big nose will be What is wrong with her parents? Don't they care?

ADDED: Discussion in the comments convinces me that the real subtext of the ad is breasts. I was going to say that it's odd that the mother is upset about her daughter's ears. Traditionally, only a boy is seen as unfortunate if he has ears that stick out. Girls can hide bad ears with hair. (It's not very polite, but I've heard people say, when they look at a baby's ears: "Good thing she's a girl.") So why is the mother fretting about a girl? And what's all this "self-esteem" business about ears? Are kids really mean to other kids about ears?

We would be outraged by an ad that directly pushed a mother to get her daughter breast implants to help her become more popular. The ear business is a ruse. Those ears are a path into the mother's head. In a more general way, she is made to feel responsible for taking advantage of what plastic surgery has to offer. She will have to make the final leap, but presumably many daughters will make the demand, and the ad will have primed the mother to believe that buying the surgery is a crucial component of tending to the child's self-esteem.

41 comments:

Gahrie said...

The day is coming -- if the surgeons get to your mind they way they're trying to -- when your response to a child with, say, a big nose will be What is wrong with her parents? Don't they care?

I'll go you one better. The day is coming when it won't be the surgeons who will be doing this, it will be the geneticists, and you will be condemned for not paying to have your child designed in a petri dish.

Tim said...

"The day is coming -- if the surgeons get to your mind they way they're trying to -- when your response to a child with, say, a big nose will be What is wrong with her parents? Don't they care?"

This isn't surprising, in light of the fact the day is already here in which parents are aborting their children due to prenatal tests indicating abnormalities. I suppose parents who actually let their children be born so they have the chance to see a plastic surgeon should be congratulated given the alternatives.

Paddy O. said...

Outrageous!

This is conflicting advertising. Now I had no idea if my kids need plastic surgery or a Hummer to boost their self-esteem.

Tim said...

A Hummer would sure boost my self esteem.

Pogo said...

The dopey thing about plastic surgery on the under-20 set is that, barring serious deformities, how things will end up with is unclear.

Some homely kids blossom in their 20s. Some beauties become so-so. Impossible to predict. Worse, the skeletal and muscle changes arising with maturation will have unpredictable results on any plastic surgery performed before adolescence is completed.

Unless it's a harelip, burn injury, or the like, best to leave it alone, and see what your actual final hand is.

Another thing: a kid can't really consent for cosmetic surgery, so it's totally a parental judgement. I suppose it's fine to demand they dress a certain way, but permanent physical alterations?

Yeesh; talk about the excessively controlling parent.

P.S. Our healthcare system must be really terrible if people can buy $600 PS3s, and splurge for a Nip&Tuck at will.

Ann Althouse said...

Pogo: The ad's response to your argument is that you must help the child during the psychologically formative years. Even if the problem goes away, her character, life goals, etc., will all be formed from the disadvantageous position of low self-esteem.

MadisonMan said...

A better tack for parents, I think, is to teach the child the skills they need to identify attacks on things they can't control and to treat them as that: beyond their control. And the attackers? Not worth your time. Also, Life isn't fair.

Of course, that requires time, which a (cough) parent might not have.

Surgery to pin back ears, though, is nothing new. I'd be more concerned to hear an ad touting surgical enhancement for the teen set. I'm sure that's out there.

I'm sensing a theme in today's topics.

Dave said...

Given that Spock is smarter than all the other Star Trek people, I would think it would enhance one's self-esteem if one's ears stuck out...

What am I missing here?

In any event, the real issue is: teenage girls with underdeveloped breasts clearly need breast implants. You know, for self esteem.

Bissage said...

It seems like every day there's some reminder of how the times have left me behind. Somewhere deep in my childhood brain I still think of physicians as if they are all like kindly Dr. Herring, who lived across the street, at the end of the block, behind the Acme supermarket, and whose kids went to the same public schools as me.

My father took me to Dr. Herring to see about getting my ears pinned back. Dr. Herring talked him out of it.

Dr. Herring was right.

Goesh said...

Gahrie's comment says it all...

Pogo said...

Ann, Madison's right.
I hate modern 'self-esteem'.
Florence King once described that the only successful way to get real self-esteem was to complete tasks, and perform them well.

For parents, teaching "Life ain't fair" raises self-esteem immeasurably, permitting one to focus on useful stuff, rather than what I happen to feel about myself every day.

We need less navel-gazing (and mirror-gazing), not more. I know you're not arguing otherwise, Ann. But plastic surgeons who advise elective procedures for self-esteem are charlatans.

vnjagvet said...

That's why parenthood is so tough. It used to be in the day that children's psychological heartstrings were tugged on such things as cereal and the "toy of the month".

Then, as kids grew it became the right brand of clothing and the latest hit songs. When my girls were teenagers, it escalated to ear piercing, contacts, and expensive, esoteric cars for sixteen year olds.

Now this. Talk about slippery slopes.

word verification: Gobbb[ler]

Happy Thanksgiving

Anonymous said...

That which is possible becomes mandatory.

Brent said...

7 years ago, when my oldest daughter was a sophomore at her Private Christian School, I dropped her off one morning. I did notice one thing different from when I was in high school - it seemed that every girl on the campus was well endowed, even the short, thin freshmen. At dinner that night, I told the family my observation. My oldest said "Oh, that's cause parents buy 'em for a lot of the girls." My wife and I were flabbergasted.

At a parent's gathering at the school a week later, my wife brought up the comment in a small group we were standing in. One mother immediately said "I want my daughters to always be able to compete, then proceeded to tell how all 3 of her daughters had breast enlargements by the age of 19(!) When I asked if that could be safe, the mother answered "completely - we only use the best surgeon."

I do see the point of noses and ears on a younger person - after all, we straighten teeth for often merely cosmetic reasons. But I also think that we are headed towards every teen at some point having to have some form of facial surgery, no matter how minor, to stay "cool" - like an ipod or cell.

reader_iam said...

I want my daughters to always be able to compete

OK, now I'm completely nauseated.

Joseph Hovsep said...

Ugly, poorly-endowed people really shouldn't be having kids.

altoids1306 said...

I want my daughters to always be able to compete [etc, etc...]

Can you blame them though? I'm a 20-something male, I treat better-looking women better. Biology is what it is.

I'd be worried about giving plastic surgery to a still growing kid, but after the bone and tissue structure have stabilized, and there are no other health issues...why not?

Yes, there was once a time when people didn't inflate their boobs, and getting plastic surgery gives girls a pretty shaky (and ultimately, temporary) foundation for their self-esteem, and we're too damned worried about self-esteem anyways...but isn't plastic surgery just the next step after cosmetics? And genetic modification the next step after that?

We don't give a damn about moral virtue anymore, the very idea is considered laughably naive, so what's left but physical beauty? We get what we deserve.

altoids1306 said...

getting plastic surgery gives girls a pretty shaky (and ultimately, temporary) foundation for their self-esteem

Oooh, I punned without realizing it!

Bissage said...

Does anybody remember "Number 12 Looks Just Like You"?

P.S. Mike Meyers copped "Dr. Rex" for the pinky-to-mouth thing for Dr. Evil. FWIW.

Synova said...

My cousin had his ears done more than 30 years ago. (Girls could wear hair over sticky-out ears but boys had really short hair cuts... he looked like that Mad Magazine kid.)

My daughter needs braces (or maybe even surgery, who knows).

People do, and have done, corrective stuff for their kids for a very long time. Getting rid of bad scars, hairlips or different sorts of reconstructive stuff... happened to mention in conversation today, in fact, that I knew someone who's baby had six fingers and toes, apparently it's not that unusual. They were removed even though they couldn't have been an actual medical problem. My sister had my nephew's belly-button fixed.

If there is something *unusual* a pediatrician will probably talk to the parents if it can be corrected.

An advertisement for plastic surgery for children seems obviously about fixing things that aren't really wrong to begin with.

Synova said...

Oh, as for boobs.

I can't see getting implants, but I most definately approve of reductions for the poor souls who need them.

Anonymous said...

Sad as it seems this is just the latest manifestation of the “My Child is More Perfect Than Yours” Syndrome.

Coaching for better grades, involvement in extra-curricular activities that are beyond the point of reason; making APPOINTMENTS to play with other, socially acceptable children- now this.

Do the children need the surgery for their self esteem, or do the parents need it for their own? (I can’t go bragging on little Johnnie with those ears of his- that neighbor next door’s kid’s ears are nearly as big- I’ll need to see the plastic surgeon before he starts preschool.)

As Pogo posted: I hate modern 'self-esteem'. Florence King once described that the only successful way to get real self-esteem was to complete tasks, and perform them well.

You can get handed self esteem; it needs to be earned to be SELF- esteem.

Revenant said...

The day is coming when it won't be the surgeons who will be doing this, it will be the geneticists, and you will be condemned for not paying to have your child designed in a petri dish.

If physical and mental defects could be eliminated from your child before he or she was even conceived, and for an affordable price, then it seems to me the failure to do so WOULD be worthy of condemnation. I'd certainly have appreciated not being born with whatever genetic or congenital defects gave made me asthmatic and allergy-plagued. I can accept that such things were (and are) impossible, and that I was born with defects due to bad luck. I don't know that I could accept being born with defects because my parents thought "natural is better" or some such nonsensical crap.

Anonymous said...

Revenant said...I don't know that I could accept being born with defects because my parents thought "natural is better" or some such nonsensical crap.

I have a hard time accepting that you would rather be perfect than being born. I feel it is the imperfections that make us who we are, both physically and psychologically, an di don’t think I could live in a world full of cookie cutter people.

That’s what we would wind up wit isn’t it? A world full of gingerbread men? How can there be more than one ideal of perfect?

I know too many folks who have succumbed to fatal cases of ‘while we’re at it’-itis, and made changes in designs on homes and car repairs to trust that they would only change the serious problems while engineering a new child. (Hey doc, while your correcting the astigmatism, go ahead and make those blue eyes while you at, okay?)

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t make everyone’s life as comfortable and whole as possible, but how much meddling should we do in the way a life develops?

Ann Althouse said...

I think one of the reasons I stopped going to the movies is that no one looks like anyone anymore.

(And I very much do remember that "Twilight Zone.")

GPE said...

Shouldn't this guilt thing go the other way given the effects on the parent's bodies from having had children? This is especially true of women. How's your self-esteem holding up, Ann, post-parenthood? Any lingering issues a nip-n-tuck on your kid's dime would fix?

altoids1306: Can you blame them though? I'm a 20-something male, I treat better-looking women better. Biology is what it is.

The implication is you treat less attractive women worse. You're a troglodyte, altoids1306. Treat all women with respect and dignity, that is if you ever want to consider yourself a gentleman. Select the perfect 10 for your mate, by all means. More power to you. But know that age is less kind to women, something I'm inclined to think you're unaware of at 20-something in light of your fantasy about the existence of "stabilized tissue structures." Talk to Michael Jackson about stabilized tissue structures.

[Sidebar: "Stabilized Tissue Structures" would be an excellent name for a band.]

altoids1306: We don't give a damn about moral virtue anymore, the very idea is considered laughably naive...

Probably true for the rank evolutionary pool in which you flap around. I truly hope one day, soon, a neuro-impulse breaks free of your brain stem and opens your eyes to seeing past a person's external presentation and into what they offer as humans. Then you will know beauty. As it is, your moving down the path of women-as-cat-meat.

altoids1306: getting plastic surgery gives girls a pretty shaky (and ultimately, temporary) foundation for their self-esteem

Oooh, I punned without realizing it!


Oh, never mind. Forget everything I just wrote. You're too cleaver for me.

Revenant said...

I have a hard time accepting that you would rather be perfect than being born.

That's a pretty severe misreading of what I said. Obviously I'd rather be born, but I'd still blame my parents for being horrible parents -- just as I'd blame them if, for example, I suffered from chronic illnesses because they believed prayer was better than medical care. Your argument is akin to saying that there's nothing wrong with letting kids play in traffic because it is better than not having kids in the first place. Sure, the typical person would rather have shitty parents than to never have been born at all, but that doesn't excuse shitty parenting.

I feel it is the imperfections that make us who we are, both physically and psychologically, an d I don’t think I could live in a world full of cookie cutter people.

That's a straw man -- a world with no mental or physical defects would not be a world of "cookie cutter people", just as a world with no rot or foundation cracking wouldn't be a world of cookie-cutter houses. It is silly to think that people who don't have anything mentally or physically defective about them aren't interesting. My physical defects don't make me more interesting -- they just make me more sickly and unhappy. If there's ever been a person in the history of the world who has expressed thanks for needing occasional medical assistance to avoid suffocating, and thanks that they weren't so "unfortunate" as to have been born with healthy immune and respiratory systems... well, I'd like to meet that person, if only so I could smack some sense into him. :)

Revenant said...

The implication is you treat less attractive women worse. You're a troglodyte, altoids1306. Treat all women with respect and dignity, that is if you ever want to consider yourself a gentleman.

Altoids was simply observing the fact that basically everyone treats attractive people better than they treat ugly people. While there is a remote chance you are not such a person, it is much more likely that you are simply deluding yourself about it. We're wired to recognize and respond to physical beauty. Simply put -- if you think the average woman reacts to a fat, acne-ridden short guy with oily skin as positively as she reacts to a Brad Pitt type, or the average man reacts to a similarly ugly woman the way he'd react to Keira Knightley, you're nuts.

The difference between a gentleman and a "troglodyte" isn't that the former respects women and the latter doesn't. It is that the former is tactful and circumspect about preferring good-looking women to ugly ones.

AJ Lynch said...

I think a causal factor is small families / fewer kids per family.

When families had 4 or more kids, these issues were not even on the radar- hell then you had 6-7 people in one family and all had big ears/ or noses. It was the norm.

Now, as Edjumicated Redneck said,kids today absolutely must have the perfect life. That includes ludicrouly no more nicknames (call him Robert not Bob or James not Jimbo) unless he is a budding rapper and we will do anything to guarantee little Robert's perfection including attending 100% of his little league games, practices, hockey, play dates, etc. It's become crazy- I can't believe kids can still breathe on their own. That's the bad news.

The good news is I am surprised that despite all that parental meddling / supervision, most kids today are turning out pretty damn good.

I don't think the parents will do as well once little Robert leaves home and a gigantic void moves in.

AJ Lynch said...

Ann said:

"I think one of the reasons I stopped going to the movies is that no one looks like anyone anymore. "

Ann- this is an interesting comment but I don't know what you mean. Can you explain further? Thanks.

ARF said...

There are radio ads on most of the commercial-radio stations in my town for laser-hair removal. And they're targeted to MEN.

The one I find most appalling is the one where two women are discussing how they both like their boyfriends, but one starts to complain that his stubble roughs up her face. So the second recommends the first send her boyfriend off to get his facial hair surgically removed.

I find most elective cosmetic surgery repulsive, but I'm completely disinterested in emasculating my boyfriend, as much as he's disinterested in my being surgically altered.

reader_iam said...

AJ Lynch:

I think Ann as at least alluded to this several times, but I couldn't quickly find the one specific instance for which I was looking. (Now I'm thinking that maybe it was from one of the podcasts, perhaps one of the earlier ones.)

Anyway, here's one comment she made one day last year in the comments thread of one of her posts:

Ann Althouse said...

The number one movie experience, it seems to me, is gazing at a closeup of a face, and it just isn't well done anymore. I realize I am going all "We had faces then," but really, today's faces -- maybe because of color -- are much less grand. But I've never seen Angelina Jolie in a movie. (For some reason.) A big problem for me is that, with plastic surgery, so many of the actresses look alike. The standard beauty has become so ordinary.
3:55 PM, September 18, 2005


[Emphasis added]

Kathy said...

The one I find most appalling is the one where two women are discussing how they both like their boyfriends, but one starts to complain that his stubble roughs up her face. So the second recommends the first send her boyfriend off to get his facial hair surgically removed.

My husband has a beard for this reason. Once the facial hair grows out, it isn't scratchy anymore. For a time he couldn't have a beard because of his job requirements. When he changed jobs, the first thing he did was grow his beard back. So no fancy medical treatments necessary and problem solved! Why do I want him to have a face like a girl?

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't really blame altoids1306 for being a 20 something male and reacting the way that he has been wired to act after millions of years of evolution.

The appreciation of beauty, esp. female beauty by males, has a significant evolutionary component - what males are unconsciously looking for are good health and good genes. Symmetry, which is one of the requirements for real beauty, has typically been one of the most visible indications of both good health and good genes.

And, of course, these are important visible indications of breeding worth - whether the woman can have kids, whether they will be healthy, and whether she will survive to raise them.

But what a lot of these girls need to understand about breasts in particular, is that the timeless standard, across cultures, is the 3:2:3 ratio that we see in 36-24-36. It took me a long time to realize that the reason that greatly enhanced breasts don't look good to me is that they are invariably asymetrical with the rest of the body, including the shoulders, waist, and hips.

I also agree with Revenant that the mark of a gentleman is to treat all women well, regardless of looks. I try to live up to the ideal, but, since I am only human, occasionally fail. Nevertheless, when I am out where there is dancing, and a woman asks me to dance, regardless of her looks or age, and if I am not dancing, I will always dance one dance with her. I also find myself anymore opening the door a lot more for the less attractive and older members of the female gender than I do for the best looking members. The later take it for granted, while the former appreciate it. And, yes, I know I am petty with regard to the later...

What is unsettling to me right now is watching the women of my generation going through the discovery that if their self-worth was based on their looks, it is invariably stolen by age. I watched a former girlfriend maybe double the amount of makeup she wore out, through her 40s. I wonder what is she going to be doing at 60.

Bruce Hayden said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

It can't be good for 19 year old girls to be getting breast surgery. Have they even finished growing yet? Also, every medical intervention has risks. It doesn't seem worth it and I'd call it irresponsible parenting.

As for the comparison to the genetic engineering of babies, the guy with ashthma needs to cowboy up. Don't blame your asthma for your unhappiness. I was born with CF and it's made my life more difficult but it's also made me a better, stronger and more interesting person. From our imperfections come our challenges. Would I genetically engineer CF out of my own kids? That would be a tough choice. But I can see it's a dangerous choice.

There was a great article in The Atlantic a few months ago about how Abraham Lincoln's severe depression actually made him the great man that he was. What kind of people do we risk losing if we genetically engineer perfect people?

GPE said...

Bruce Hayden: I don't really blame altoids1306 for being a 20 something male and reacting the way that he has been wired to act after millions of years of evolution.

Neither do I and understand his desire to find a beautiful mate. I read David Buss, too, and understand the dynamic. Far too frequently, however, I see Buss' conclusions used to justify rather base behavior toward women, accentuated by the expectation that women should accept this because, as altoids1306 says, "Biology is what it is." This is what I reject, that because it's biology it's all there is so deal with it. We are rational beings, too. Homo sapiens, right? We are not confined to one way of behaving like moths around a candle.

Reading Buss answered for me why it is the Hollywood/Super Model figure wasn't attractive to me. Frankly, some resemble cartoons more than people, what with the inflated breasts, lips and cinched waist lines. You, like me, have come to the same realization regarding the effects of breast enhancement on overall body symmetry.

I try to conduct myself as a gentleman on principle (also not always successful). So I'll open a door for a woman regardless of where she measures on my attractiveness scale out of respect for her person. After all, it's just a door, not a marriage proposal. Neither do I think she is weak or incapable of opening the door herself. This opening-the-door thing is just one of hundreds of ways we used to measure a person's character in social settings, at least in Western cultures. It's symbolic more than anything.

I regret the disappearance of these cultural markers and memes. The increasing emphasis on perfect physical appearance, in my opinion, will not add to the longevity of relationships. After the initial physical attraction has lost its shininess (keep in mind Buss' characterization of the male role here), it is the character of each partner that carries the relationship forward. And this is something no amount of plastic surgery or genetic engineering can "fix."

Thanks for your other comments, Mr. Hayden. They're spot on.

Bruce Hayden: I also agree with Revenant that the mark of a gentleman is to treat all women well, regardless of looks.

This was my point which Revenant was quoting and responding to. To which...

Revenant: Altoids was simply observing the fact that basically everyone treats attractive people better than they treat ugly people. While there is a remote chance you are not such a person, it is much more likely that you are simply deluding yourself about it.

From a statistical perspective, your point is well made: that a person would treat attractive and ugly people the same is "remote."

Your assertion that I am deluding myself in regards to my own behavior, however, speaks to me as an individual and in this regard your assumptions are about as accurate as a ping pong game in space. When I married my wife, before I had any clue about Buss and similar authors, she matched all my criteria for physical beauty. She was gorgeous. When she died after fighting breast cancer for 10 years - 55 chemotherapy treatments, double mastectomy (no reconstruction), 34 radiation treatments, numerous painful treatments for recurrent pleural effusion - she had a body that was scared, bruised and misshaped by hormone replacement therapy. To my eye, she was more beautiful after all that than she was the day I met her. I was with her for every one of her treatments and surgeries. Not only did I open doors for her, I often carried her through them. No sir. There is no delusion here. It was this depth of beauty I had hoped altoids1306 would come to know.

Revenant: The difference between a gentleman and a "troglodyte" isn't that the former respects women and the latter doesn't. It is that the former is tactful and circumspect about preferring good-looking women to ugly ones.

I wasn't speaking in absolutes - all or none. But you still make my point. If the former is tactful and circumspect than the latter, which you don't address, is less tactful and circumspect, i.e. less respectful. The laws of relativity apply, unless you live in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average.

Kev said...

"[Sidebar: "Stabilized Tissue Structures" would be an excellent name for a band.]"

Wait a minute--is this Althouse or Dave Barry's Blog? (I love them both, and the comment sections thereof probably account for 99% of my time-wasting online.)

"There are radio ads on most of the commercial-radio stations in my town for laser-hair removal. And they're targeted to MEN."

Surely, save for the commercial you describe that had to do with removal of facial stubble, I'd think that the reason most men would visit a laser hair-removal place would have to do with neck and back hair, wouldn't it?

Revenant said...

I'd think that the reason most men would visit a laser hair-removal place would have to do with neck and back hair, wouldn't it?

Not necessarily. A lot of men look their best clean-shaven, and most women aren't fans of stubble. To people like us facial hair is just an annoyance that has to be dealt with every morning. Never having to shave again sounds pretty damned good to me.

Anonymous said...

Bruce Hayden:

I don't really blame altoids1306 for being a 20 something male and reacting the way that he has been wired to act after millions of years of evolution.

The appreciation of beauty, esp. female beauty by males, has a significant evolutionary component [etc...]


I infer from this that you think that critics of altoids1306's comment don't know that men are naturally drawn to beautiful women. That strikes me as a truly bizarre assumption to make about the state of knowledge of any normally observant or self-reflective adult. But it does partly explain how criticisms of bad manners come to be so oddly misconstrued as states of denial regarding natural, obvious sexual preferences.

But what a lot of these girls need to understand about breasts in particular, is that the timeless standard, across cultures, is the 3:2:3 ratio that we see in 36-24-36.

Yeah, excellent advice. I'll tell my teenage daughter, when she goes to the plastic surgeon in a few years, to be sure to tell him to carve her up to conform to the field-tested, statistically more alluring Darwinian specs, rather than some other misguided standard.

Seriously, Bruce, yet more yammering, from any source, about how unacceptably their own bodies deviate from the preferred dimensions, evolutionarily certified or not, is way, way, way down on the list of "what a lot of these girls need to understand". (It's not as if it's going to escape their notice that what they look like is all that matters to a lot of people.) What they really need to get through their heads is more along the lines of what madisonman had to say above.

Jacob said...

No one's brought up Uglies?

(Science Fiction trilogy set in the future where plastic surgery is mandatory for teenagers)