At 14, Sonia Van Burgsteden was unhappy with her body. She would look enviously at her sister’s generous bust and dream about curves of her own. When they never came, she made the decision to one day have cosmetic surgery.
Last May, at the age of 24, Van Burgsteden went under the knife for the first time, getting breast augmentation that turned her 34 As into 34 DDs.
“I’ve always mentioned that I wanted big boobs, with my friends, with my boyfriend, everyone basically. I’m not shy about it,” Van Burgsteden says.
“Ever since I got my plastic surgery, I have been happier with myself — my overall self-esteem and self-confidence has improved. I always felt beautiful on the inside,” she says, “but now I feel beautiful on the outside as well.”
More and more millennials, the generation born after 1980 and now aged 18 to 30, are opting for cosmetic surgery, driving demand for procedures such as breast augmentation, rhinoplasty — known more familiarly as a nose job – and, in males at least, breast reduction.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports in 2011, just under 800,000 cosmetic procedures were performed in the U.S. on people in their 20s, an increase of six per cent from the year before. Since 2000, the total number of cosmetic procedures has risen 87 per cent over all age groups, totalling 13.8 million in 2011.
Even teenagers are going under the knife. In 2011, the ASPS recorded 230,617 operations on Americans aged 13 to 19, accounting for two per cent of all plastic surgeries in the U.S. and an increase of five per cent from the year before (although the numbers are still shy of prerecession highs).
While the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons — unlike its American cousin — does not gather statistics, surgeons on this side of the border say they are seeing the same trend.
Dr. Michael Weinberg of Toronto Plastic Surgery Clinic says the number of patients he sees under 30 has doubled in the past 10 years. He says millennial Canadians are getting plastic surgery younger than previous generations.
The most common procedure among teens and young adults is nose reshaping (rhinoplasty), which starts at $7,500 at one Toronto clinic. Breast reduction in men is the second most common procedure. It costs anywhere from $2,500 to $6,000, but is often covered by health plans. Breast augmentation, which starts at $7,000, is the third most common procedure. Also popular are ear surgeries and liposuction.
But the growth of cosmetic surgery among young Canadians is not without its critics. Dr. Miriam Kaufman, head of adolescent medicine at SickKids — Toronto’s The Hospital for Sick Children — says young bodies change dramatically through their teens, making it a less-than-ideal time to undergo plastic surgery. A child’s body weight doubles from the age of 10 to 18, and growth can occur into the 20s, she adds.
“I think young people, men and women, really feel bad about their bodies and how they look and often have the idea that if they change how they look, their lives are going to be better, which is usually not the case,” says Dr. Kauffman. Through her work, she has met several teenagers who wanted plastic surgery to deal with body image issues.
The younger people are, the more susceptible they are to celebrity images and body types in the media, Dr. Kaufman adds. These images create unrealistic expectations of what a person should look like.
Dr. Frank Lista of The Plastic Surgery Clinic in Toronto, says 40 per cent of his patients are under 30. He adds more operations are being performed on young people simply because there has been an increase in plastic surgery across all age groups.
Both Dr. Lista and Dr. Weinberg say they have experienced ethical dilemmas when dealing with these younger patients. They say they have performed breast augmentations on patients as young as 16 — “special cases” in which the parents were consenting and the girls were each past puberty (though the doctors insist it’s not the norm to operate on people so young).
“I hope we don’t continue to do more and more surgery on younger patients. I hope we all use our good judgement,” Dr. Weinberg says.
After deciding on plastic surgery, Van Burgsteden waited 10 years before having the operation. She said people should take their time when deciding whether cosmetic enhancement is right for them.
“If you’re not comfortable in your skin, I’m not saying don’t love yourself, I’m saying do something that makes you happy,” she adds.
This feature was produced by Carly Thomas, a student in Ryerson University's School of Journalism, in partnership with The Huffington Post Canada.