Cosmetic surgery for middle-schoolers?

What mother would urge her 12-year-old daughter to undergo cosmetic surgery?

Far more than you would imagine, according to my school textbook.

Throughout history, people have decorated, manipulated, and mutilated their bodies for religious reasons, social prestige, and beauty. However, over the past 30 years, the number of cosmetic surgeries have skyrocketed. As of 1991, the industry was taking in $300 million per year; I’m sure that number has only risen over the past three decades.

The chapter I wish to discuss is entitled Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian-American Women and Cosmetic Surgery, written by Eugenia Kaw (from Sex, Self, and Society by Tracey L. Steele). The author addresses how many Asian women feel that their features make them seem more stereotypically Asian, e.g. slanted eyes, eyelids without a crease, and a flat nose indicate “sleepiness,” “dullness,” and “passivity” in one’s character.

All women interviewed in the study consider themselves proud of their Asian decent; however, most feel they are not naturally beautiful, that they cannot leave their home without makeup. Several of the women underwent cosmetic surgery for double eyelids and nose bridges at a very young age – many between the ages of fourteen and sixteen, and several more in their early twenties.

What kind of mother would allow their little girl to undergo such a frivolous and seemingly unnecessary surgery? It is not clear in the chapter whether the adolescents ask for the procedure, or whether the option is presented by the mother; either way, I don’t think it’s right. The procedure takes 90 minutes, the scars take over a year to heal, and there are several risks involved (as with any medical procedure).


In nearly every case, the women claim to have pursued the surgery to overcome stereotypes based on their features (such as sleepy, nerdy, and no fun). They opt for cosmetic surgery in hopes of becoming more employable,  more well-liked, and more successful.

Doctors often agree to perform the procedure without question. Disturbingly, the doctors often describe the Asian features as abnormal and perpetuate the link between those characteristics and negative stereotypes when talking to their clients.

 Cosmetic surgery among Asian-American women for nose bridges and double eyelids seems to be heavily influenced by gender and racial ideologies. The standards of Western beauty are strong and influential, often making minorities – in this example Asians – feel inferior and less attractive than the American ideal. On top of that, the medical community enforces this standard and classifies the typical Asian characteristics as abnormal and something that needs to be fixed.

I found this article to be extremely disheartening. Society’s standards of beauty seem to be so skewed and unrealistic. I believe that each individual is beautiful, that everyone has something unique to offer the world, and that it’s what’s inside that really counts. It saddens me that society, in general, doesn’t seem to hold the same philosophy.

I wish I could go stand outside a cosmetic surgery clinic and plead with these people to listen to me, to believe that that truly are beautiful, regardless of how much they deviate from what they perceive to be “normal.”

Each of us needs to come to a place where we can see ourselves as beautiful. People rely so heavily on others’ opinions and I believe that it does more harm than good. It could be argued that those who created the stereotypes – let’s say, for example, white Americans – are going to hire and befriend those who look and act like they do. However, I would argue that someone who is confident and happy with themselves is going to radiate a positive and attractive energy, especially if they have reaching this state without altering their body. I would imagine this particular group – those with a healthy self-concept and self-love – are going to be most attractive to anyone looking for a new employee or friend.

Who cares if you have slanted eyes, a flat nose, big hips, or wrinkles? I’m disgusted that a woman would encourage her 12-year-old daughter to undergo such procedures to “help her in the future getting jobs”.

Teach her to love herself. Suggesting that she needs to change what she looks like to be successful is only going to hurt her self-esteem and perpetuate these harmful stereotypes. People need to learn to love themselves. If parents neither teach nor encourage their child to love themselves, just as they are, then who will?


8 thoughts on “Cosmetic surgery for middle-schoolers?

  1. Agree.

    Trouble is – you are pitting social activism against a multi-million dollar industry that thrives on unfair stereotypes. And a lot of people blindly subscribe to these stereotypes.

    In India, we tend to favour fair-skinned people. In spite of the fact that it’s stupid and unnatural to have fair skin a standard of beauty – considering that our racial features comprise overwhelmingly dark skinned people – people unabashedly admire a Kate Moss over a Naomi Campbell. (Size zero is a different topic altogether :D)

    As a result, almost every object of toiletry in the market – from soaps, creams, oils, you name it! – talks about how using it will give you fair-as-cream skin 😀

    Probably what we need to do is – have Disney and Pixar remake Grimm’s fairy tales and other stories to create an alternative reality for the stereotypically disadvantaged. Have Rose Red marry the prince instead of Snow White, for example. This might help in NOT getting our kids to think that a blonde-fair-young girl is in some undefined way better than one who doesn’t possess that combination of physical features.

    I picked fairy tales because stereotypes are schema formed and nurtured in our minds from the nursery. I only wish Disney’s listening!

  2. It is such a shame that society has gotten to where we cannot accept natural beauty and accept ourselves the way we are. It is disturbing to see young girls go through cosmetic surgery before they have had time to bloom naturally. Yet, there are times when cosmetic surgery is necessary for a medical reason ie, birth defect, accident…

  3. So basically you are trying to say… Bruno Mars – Just the Way You Are…

    But I totally agree, it’s a huge problem and media plays a HUGE role in defining this, and of course people wonder why girls have so many self esteem issues! But that’s a whole other can of worms that I won’t open up right now… =)

  4. I do agree that people should accept their ethnicity. I could not imagine changing my features because they spoke of some part of my ethinicy. On the overall subject of cosmetic surgery however, I do not feel all people can just “accept who they are” and love all that they are born with. While we all find this quite disturbing, lets be honest; most of us writing on here are probably average or above in appearance. My brother and I had this very same debate. I don’t know if you remember that show “Extreme Makeover”, but my brother said: “These people should just accept who they are and go on with life.” I had to expain that he is fortunate to not only be an intelligent and caring person, but he also happens to be attractive. It is easier to say these statements when you are not considered extremely unattractive. However, what is disturbing about cosmetic surgery and that same show: People are often displeased with something in their appearance (Ex: no matter if they lose that supposed haunting 5 lbs, now they need to lose 5 more), it usually becomes an obssession and people do so much cosmetic surgery that they no longer look like themselves!

  5. Very informative article, Erin.

    I agree. Love and acceptance of oneself starts on the inside.

    Sampurna is right, it’s all about money and greed and unfortunately society is controlled by multi-million dollar industries.

  6. It’s funny that I was just searching for tips on how to enhance a “flat nose” with make-up/cosmetics for my glamour photography when I came across this article. lol It was the “before and after” image of a chinky-eyed girl that I found in google images. XD

    Anyway, I agree on this article. Yes, I am asian, a Filipino-Chinese, to be exact. I used to wear lipstick, because I feel like I look pale and boring. Until one person made me realize that women DO NOT NEED make up or any other procedures that can make them “more attractive”. Why? Because everyone can be appreciated with REAL people who know how to appreciate the natural beauty of life.

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