May 2, 2014

Under Their Skin: Teens Battle Beauty Barriers

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Beauty is an idea. It’s subjective. It’s the zenith of gossip and is so powerful that society’s definition of being beautiful has the power to introduce flaws and faults within ourselves.

Sometimes, it even destroys us.

When girls lie under the knife, they don’t always return with what they expected. Many have been left disfigured and suffering, and some even paid the ultimate price. Like the 18-year-old Florida cheerleader who died in 2008 after undergoing a reconstructive breast procedure.

Today, specialists say, many teens are choosing cosmetic surgery as a response to the ugly effects of bullying. The mantra hounding them has always been: Beauty is the path to happiness. But there’s not a day in my life that I’ve heard the phrase: Happiness is the path to beauty.

Yet who’s to say what beauty is and how it works?

I polled 25 teen girls, asking them: “How confident are you about your body on a scale of one to 10.” Not a single girl replied with a 10. In fact, it was rare enough to even get an eight.

That kind of sentiment holds true as they get older, too. A study released by the producers of Dove in 2011 found that only four percent of women worldwide consider themselves to be beautiful.

A lot of girls seem to be influenced by the airbrushed images they are fed by modeling agencies, magazine covers, surgeons, friends, family.


Indeed, the pressure to fit the stunning stereotype starts early. The Dove study found that 72 percent of 10-to-17-year-old girls surveyed said they felt a heavy demand to live up to the term beautiful.

No wonder. One 2013 app for phones and tablets that has come under heavy criticism targeted young people with this clumsy come-on to play doctor in a game called “Plastic Surgery for Barbara”:

“Barbara likes to eat a lot of burgers and chocolates and once she found out that she looks ugly. She can’t make it up with this situation any additional second. And today plastic surgeon is going to make operation on her body and face in order to return cute Barbara’s look. She is afraid of all of this, but I know you will check that everything is over normally.”

In the real world, the top two cosmetic surgical procedures nationally in 2012 were breast augmentations (286,000) and nose reshapings (243,000), according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

How many more surgeries and pounds of makeup do we need until we are finally satisfied with what we truly are?

How much farther away from natural beauty can we get?

Many teen girls wonder: “Why can’t they put normal people in ads?”

The instant we fall under society’s expectations – and then under a surgeon’s scalpel — is truly the time we lose both beauty and happiness.

It’s at the point when we are satisfied with our own appearance that we will actually achieve beauty through happiness.

And maybe, for you and me, happiness can be our own path to beauty.

This essay first appeared in the publication Teens in Print.

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