ST Scroll Back: Kids as young as 9 ask for 'vagina surgery' to look ‘neater’

General practitioner Paquita de Zulueta said there are girls aged 11 to 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva. “Their perception is the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is there is a huge variat
General practitioner Paquita de Zulueta said there are girls aged 11 to 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva. “Their perception is the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is there is a huge variation.”PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Are social media, children’s game apps and porn to blame for kids wanting the “Barbie” look?

From lips to hips, from hair to down there, they don’t like how they look, so they ask doctors to cut them up, or fill them out.

They’re not yet adults.

Some are not yet teens.

One child in Singapore was just 12, and she had a nose job, liposuction and eyelid surgery.

Young girls wanted surgery on their genitals because they were distressed by how they look, according to BBC.

Plastic surgeons say there has been an increase among teens requesting procedures over the past five years. This is despite warnings there are high risks involved as they are still developing physically.

Read on to come face-to-face with their pretty hopes and ugly fears.

PRIVATE HATE

“Vagina surgery was sought by girls as young as nine”, and British adolescent gynaecologist Naomi Crouch told the BBC she was concerned that GPs were referring rising numbers of girls who wanted an operation. 

Labiaplasty, as the surgery is known, involves the lips of the vagina being shortened or reshaped.

More than 200 

Number of girls under 18 who had labiaplasty on the Britain’s National Health Service in 2015 to 2016. 

More than 150

Number of girls under 15 who had labiaplasty on the NHS in 2015 to 2016. 

Dr Paquita de Zulueta, a general practitioner for more than 30 years, said it was only in the past few years that girls had started coming to her with concerns over the appearance of their labia.

“I’m seeing young girls around 11, 12, 13 thinking there’s something wrong with their vulva… Their perception is the inner lips should be invisible, almost like a Barbie, but the reality is there is a huge variation. It’s very normal for the lips to protrude.”

She blames the unrealistic images girls are being exposed to through pornography and social media.

“I just picked up from somewhere that it wasn’t neat enough or tidy enough and I think I wanted it to be smaller. People around me were watching porn and I just had this idea that it should be symmetrical and not sticking out.” - Anna (not her real name), who considered having labiaplasty from the age of 14. Watch her speak to the BBC in a video.

2cm to 10cm

Length of the labia minora in the 50 women examined for a study published in 2005.

0.7 to 5cm

Width of the labia minora in the 50 women in the study, which found “far greater diversity” in genital shape and size than had ever been documented in scientific literature.

PLASTIC FANTASTIC


Dr Martin Huang, who performed cosmetic surgery on a then 12-year-old girl years ago, said “her parents were supportive and wanted to help her. They believed it would help her become more confident”. PHOTO: MH PLASTIC SURGERY

10 to 30 per cent

Rise in teens requesting procedures over the past five years, mostly from girls in their mid to late teens, according to plastic surgeons here.

1 in 3

Proportion of youth who approve of their peers going for cosmetic treatments. This is according to a survey by a team of doctors and a dentist, who studied more than 1,400 responses from medical and junior college students aged 16 to 21 in Singapore. 

2 in 3

Proportion of youth in Singapore who said they would be embarrassed if people who are not family or close friends found out that they had gone for cosmetic treatments. The survey results were published in the Singapore Medical Journal.

14 out of 1,400 

Number of youth in the survey who admitted to having had cosmetic procedures. The favourite areas for treatment were the nose, eyes and skin. The most common procedure teens here seek is for double eyelids.

230,000

Number of cosmetic procedures performed on patients under 18 years of age in the United States in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Figures like this prompted the start of the Singapore survey.

14,000

Number of cosmetic procedures performed on patients under 18 in the US in 1996.

AYE EYE


People walking along a street in Seoul. One in five South Korean women have had some form of surgery, and this number includes adolescents, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. PHOTO: AFP 

When Charisse was 18, she went under the knife to get double eyelids and to rid herself of her “sleepy eyes”, said a 2011 Sunday Times report. 

Her younger sister, Christel, followed suit when she turned 14. 

Both had their surgery done at a private clinic in Gleneagles Medical Centre for about $1,800 each - paid for by their parents.

“I was not too worried about any medical risks because I know that it is a simple procedure. Seeing my sister go through it also made me less frightened because I knew what to expect,” said Christel.

The sisters were not shy about having gone for plastic surgery, even though they were worried about being taunted by schoolmates initially.

In South Korea, taunting for cosmetic procedures in school is unlikely to be an issue.

Bae Seonghee, then 16 and from an all-girls high school told The Atlantic that “most students want to have a plastic surgery”. 

There is no stigma attached. “Why would there be?” she said. “It’s common to change one’s face in Korea.”

The magazine said that an influence for Korean schoolchildren was their struggle to get ahead. It said of the “knifestyle”: “The attraction of cosmetic surgery lies in the notion of being able to transform yourself, to create an identity that you feel you should have been born with.”

1 in 5

Number of South Korean women have had some form of surgery, and this number includes adolescents, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. 

50 per cent 

Proportion of the East Asian population born with double eyelids. One of the reasons eyelid surgery is prevalent in South Korea is that it is considered on par with beauty treatments, not surgery. People rarely take time off work or studies afterward.

POUT CLOUT


Leading Instagram influencer Kylie Jenner - famous for her enhanced pout - arriving for the 2018 Met Gala in May 2018 in New York. PHOTO: AFP

In the United States, big lips are hip.

A record number of Americans underwent lip augmentation procedures in 2015, making them the second ­fastest growing facial procedure in the US since 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Lip-kit beauty mogul Kylie Jenner revealed in 2015 that she got lip injections at the age of 16.

In an interview with trade journal Women’s Wear Daily, Ms Jenner’s surgeon, Dr Simon Ourian, credited the 20-year-old with empowering a “whole generation” to go under the knife or the needle.

She is reportedly one of the most valuable influencers on Instagram. With over 100 million followers and with each post currently worth more than US$1 million (S$1.3 million) in “ad-equivalent value”, you can say she has quite a few impressionable young people watching her every move.

“When she first talked about her minimal cosmetic procedures, I saw a new trend of younger women who suddenly felt empowered to unapologetically want to look more beautiful. It’s like Kylie single-handedly gave a whole generation the ticket to a more enhanced version of themselves.” - Dr Simon Ourian.

More than 27,000

Number of lip implant procedures that took place in the US in 2015

50 per cent

Growth of lip-enhancement procedures from 2000 to 2015

230,000

Number of cosmetic procedures performed on patients under 18 years of age in the United States in 2011, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

14,000

Number of cosmetic procedures performed on patients under 18 in the US in 1996.

BLAME GAME


The attraction of the cosmetic surgery “knifestyle” lies in the notion of being able to create an identity you feel you should have been born with. ST PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

Parents and activists are still pushing back on plastic surgery game apps being marketed to children.

Kids can simulate procedures such as liposuction, lip fillers and double-eyelid surgery using such apps.

A recent CNN report said that Endangered Bodies, an initiative that confronts the promotion of negative body image, launched a petition calling for tech giants  Amazon, Apple and Google to stop marketing plastic surgery games to children.
According to a member of the initiative, Irish mother of three Andrea Mara, Endangered Bodies joined forces with Twitter account Everyday Sexism in 2014 to ask that Google and Apple remove plastic surgery apps from their stores. 

 

One of the apps featured a smiling cartoon character who was about to go under the knife and users of the app take on the role of a liposuction doctor. It was recommended as being suitable for children aged nine and above.

Within 24 hours, the apps had been removed. But Endangered Bodies said such apps have reappeared and in greater numbers.

“In research investigating the effects of makeover games on eight to 10-year-old girls, Dr Amy Slater at the Centre for Appearance Research found that girls who played these games for just 10 minutes experienced increased body dissatisfaction and a preference for traditionally feminine careers. Dr Slater believes that as these apps share similar properties as cosmetic surgery apps for kids, ‘playing a game that encourages you to more permanently alter a character’s appearance also would not be good for how girls feel about themselves and their appearance’.” - Campaigners for Endangered Bodies Sharon Haywood and Eleanor Higgins wrote in Britain’s The Independent

Alarmist or alarming?

Perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at ourselves and the issue with a magnifying mirror.