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Last Updated: Friday, 21 November, 2003, 18:13 GMT
Teens going 'under the knife'
Plastic surgery used to be the preserve of aging women who wanted to look younger. Now, increasingly, teenage girls are turning to surgeons to change their bodies.

Thousands of teenage girls are turning to plastic surgery in pursuit of bodily perfection. Increasingly, it's seen as a totally acceptable way of improving their image - and more and more parents are willing to come up the cash. Anything - they say - to make their daughter happy.

There are no official statistics but many cosmetic surgeons and clinics, interviewed for the Five Live report on Sunday, say they're seeing ever greater numbers of young ladies under the age of 20 asking for procedures ranging from bigger breasts to better noses.

The average price of a "boob job" is around 3,000. A nose op or liposuction costs slightly less. Some teenagers go into debt to finance the surgery by taking out a bank loan or other credit, but it's no surprise that most of them want mummy or daddy to come up with the money.

Pay-off for pain

One Belfast teenager, who wanted to remain anonymous, got silicone gel implants just days after her 18th birthday - five weeks on, she's still nursing the scars but is delighted with her new bust.

I was a 34A and now I'm a 34D - it's life-changing
Belfast teenager
"When I went out shopping I could never find anything nice to wear," she says, "because there was nothing to put in them, so I decided to remedy it and have my breasts enlarged. I was a 34A and now I'm a 34D. It's made me much happier. I don't consider it life-saving. It's life-changing."

The pursuit of happiness is one reason why so many teenagers like her are prepared to go under the knife and put up with the pain.

Low self-esteem is another. Clinical psychologist Eileen Bradbury's work takes her to Harley Street in London once a month, as well as to various clinics in the North West. Her patients include teenagers with physical deformities and accident scars.

She says she's seen a huge rise in the numbers of girls undergoing surgery for purely cosmetic reasons, one recently as young as 11.

Identikit celebrities

"It's not unusual to get people aged 15 or 16 nowadays," says Ms Bradbury. "They believe having cosmetic surgery will make them happy and they hold that belief with a passion. They say 'If only I can get breast implants I'll be more confident and I'll get the good-looking boy'."

Definitely people are judged by how they look at my college and it does stimulate one into looking good
Rebecca Francis, 16
Bombarded with images of identikit celebrities, famous just for looking good, teenagers say they're constantly being reminded of their own perceived imperfections.

Sixteen-year-old Rebecca Francis wants to be a corporate lawyer. She's also set on getting a new nose which involves actually breaking it and scraping off excess cartilage. Rebecca, who's a pupil at Esher College in Middlesex, says young girls feel huge pressure to conform to a certain image.

"It's a very image-driven college," she says, "and you have to fit into a certain group and things. It's not a really bitchy college but I think definitely people judge people by how they look and it does stimulate one into looking good."

A report carried out by the watchdog group, the National Care Standards Commission in March, found some clinics didn't have proper systems for monitoring the quality of their work. This lack of regulation on cosmetic surgery overall is something which worries Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stilher.

She's lobbying for a complete ban on surgery for under 18s except in medical cases. Under current UK law, anyone over the age of 16 can consent to cosmetic surgery, and even under-16s can have it done, provided the surgeon feels they fully understand what is involved.

But what's at issue for a lot of people isn't so much that teenage girls are willing to go to such lengths to create the perfect image, but the fact that many parents are willing to pay for the treatment at such a young age.

Five Live Report, Buying Beauty, was broadcast on Five Live at 1930 GMT on Sunday, 23 November.



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