Dealing with the body image issues of a teenage girl is no picnic. We all want our children to be happy and confident in their appearance and it can be easy to fall into the trap of doing whatever you can to help them achieve that. However, it is important to weigh the emotional pull of wanting your child to feel good in their own skin against the potential dangers of more drastic measures, such as plastic surgery. In particular, breast implants. With the way teenagers are still growing, it is ill-advised to make such a huge change at that age.
A mother wrote in to Dear Prudence recently telling of her concern over her teen daughter’s small chest and wondering if she should offer her the chance to get breast implants. She tells how she was very flat-chested growing up and that she got implants after she was done having children in her mid-30’s. She says she has not explicitly discussed this topic with her daughter but has a feeling she is self-conscious about the small chest she inherited from her and wants to help:
I’m thinking about offering her the option of augmentation surgery before she goes to college. She doesn’t know I have implants, and we’re not generally an image-centric or proplastic surgery kind of family. But I’m worried that if I suggest this, I might create the very self-consciousness that I’m aiming to help her relieve. I don’t want her to think that I think there’s anything wrong with her body. Is this a terrible idea? And if I’m not crazy, how do I bring this up in a way that doesn’t imply that I think there’s something wrong with her?
You don’t bring it up. That’s what you do. If her daughter hasn’t said anything, why in the world would she introduce the idea out of nowhere? If her daughter is merely self-conscious and not tortured over her breast size, she obviously risks making a big deal out of what might not be an issue at all. Not to mention, the myriad risks of getting breast implants at such a young age (the girl is 18). Implants can interfere with the accuracy of mammography, cause numbness in the breast that never goes away or require additional surgeries over the coming years to repair or replace implants. Not to mention, the risk of infection from the surgery and the fact that it could impede her daughter’s future ability to breastfeed if she wanted to. This is a huge decision that could affect her life for several years. It does not seem like something a teen should be allowed to do.
That said, it is technically legal for an 18-year old to have breast implants and if her daughter wants them, she could find a doctor to do it. Prudence advises the mother to start the conversation by telling the girl about her own breast augmentation taking care to note that she was done breastfeeding by then, which I think would be fine. It would be over the line, however, to suggest that she go that same route at only half the age her mother was when she had it done. She needs to at least get through college first and possibly, give some thought to the future and what it would mean for her body to get breast implants. This is not a choice to throw in front of a self-conscious teenage girl. It’s a choice a grown woman should have when the time is right.