Boob boosting, tummy tucks, nose jobs. There is no stopping the quest for better looks. The ageing process must be fought back as much as possible, as long as possible. Of that western women seem to be convinced.
And here comes a picture book by a certified US plastic surgeon, explaining to kids why their mothers might opt for such procedures.
Some are aghast, but mostly it is well-received. Only psychologists are worried what kind of an impact such books will have on impressionable minds and what values they promote.
Dr. Michael Salzhauer's "My Beautiful Mommy" (Big Tent Books), released last fortnight tries to "calm the fears of kids with parents getting tummy tucks, breast enhancement procedures and nose jobs."
Illustrations show a crook-nosed mom with loose tummy skin under her half shirt picking up her young daughter early from school one day and taking her to a strapping and handsome "Dr. Michael."
Mom explains she's going to have operations on her nose and tummy and may have to take it easy for a week or so. The girl asks if the operations will hurt, and mom replies, "Maybe a little," warning she'll look different after the bandages come off.
The girl asks: "Why are you going to look different?"
Mom responds: "Not just different, my dear — prettier!"
The text doesn't mention the breast augmentation, but the illustrations intentionally show Mom's breasts to be fuller and higher. "I tried to skirt that issue in the text itself," says Dr.Salzhauer, a Florida surgeon. "The tummy lends itself to an easy explanation to the children: extra skin and can't fit into your clothes. The breasts might be a stretch for a six-year-old."
Gabriela Acosta is delighted with the book. Since February, when she had breast augmentation and a tummy tuck done by Salzhauer, she and her son Junior have read the book a half dozen times, and she says it helped him feel excited rather than scared, writes Karen Springen in a Newsweek web exclusive.
"I didn't want him to think [the surgery] was because I was hurting. It was to make me feel good," Acosta says. Her son actually spoke up about it at a big party. "Did you see her new belly button? It's so pretty!" he said of his mom. "I think he was proud," she says.
According to the latest numbers from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, breast augmentation was the most popular cosmetic surgery procedure last year, with 348,000 performed (up 6 percent over 2006). Of those, about one-third were for women over 40 who often opt for implants to restore lost volume in their breasts due to aging or pregnancy weight gain. There were 148,000 tummy tucks—up 1 percent from the previous year.
These are serious surgeries with potential complications that can require additional procedures—and disruption for kids. With breast augmentation, for example, the initial operation is not likely to be the last. Implants may last 10 or more years, but they do not last a lifetime, according to the FDA. About a quarter of all implant patients have to have another operation within five years due to problems like leaking, breast asymmetry and encapsulation of the implants, Karen Springen notes.
All the same many seem to take a positive view of the book, belying the surgeon's own apprehensions. "There are people who are going to read this and say you're indoctrinating kids and idealizing beauty. That's not the intention of the book at all," he said. "The intention is to allow parents who are going through this process anyway to have a vehicle to explain it to their kids," he said in an interview.
But look at how a radio commentator gushes: "What are children to think when their mother's nose suddenly gets smaller, her breasts bigger, or her belly flatter? How should parents explain the changes?
Some prefer fantasy — "it was a mysterious gift from Santa Claus" — or lies — "Mommy needed a smaller nose in order to breathe better, Honey."
But Dr. Michael Alexander Salzhauer, a plastic surgeon from Florida, is a fan of honesty. He has written a children's book, My Beautiful Mommy
, that bluntly explains it all."
"It's a narrow niche, but there is a need for it," said N.Y.-based plastic surgeon Dr. Darrick Antell, who said he had considered writing a similar book before he heard about Salzhauer's. "There are patients who frequently will ask what they should tell their kids when they're bruised for a few days."
"Plastic surgery today is much more out of the closet than it was years ago, people are much more open about it," said Antell, who said he isn't concerned the book will send the wrong message to children. "While it's clearly not for everyone, when a person has decided they want to go ahead and improve their appearance, they want to introduce it into the family setting so the child won't be concerned."
There are of course some voices of dissent.
"What exactly are we telling our young girls? That in order to be beautiful in this world, you better nip, tuck, plump and lift everything that nature put there? Are we telling our daughters that women who are not plastic are not perfect? That natural curves, age induced gravity and slight imperfections on a woman will therefore cause her to lack beauty? That without fixing these things she will not be "better" that her nip/tucked counterparts?
It is a disgusting look at the way we warp our daughters into thinking they will never be good enough or pretty enough in our society without surgery to enhance their natural beauty. And, therein, lies the horror of this story," slams Jennifer Satterwhite. But she seems to be in a minority.