Teens turn to plastic surgery to fix "flaws"

Bridget Andrews had surgery to have her ears pinned.
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Experts are weighing in on the risks and benefits of plastic surgery for teenagers.

When you look in the mirror, are you happy or unhappy with what you see? Two teens spoke to Eyewitness News are looking for a surgical fix for what they call "flaws."

For girls in sports, ponytails are part of the uniform. But it's the hairstyle Bridget Andrews actively avoided. The Plainfield eighth grader spent years hiding her ears.

"I just didn't like how they stuck out when I had my hair up and I didn't feel comfy with my hair up, sometimes even when it was down, they would stick out through my hair," Andrews said.

"I tried telling her she's beautiful just the way she is, nothing needs to be done. I don't notice it. But it started really affecting her confidence.," said Bridget's mother, Kristin.

For options, they went to see Carmel plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Perkins. Through computer imaging, Perkins was able to show what Bridget would look like if she had her ears pinned back.

"Pictures are worth a thousand words and when they can see it, I mean, you can talk in front of the mirror and show them this and that, but when they see themselves on a screen and that's what they like, that's the profile they want, well that really is helpful," Perkins said.

Otoplasty, or "ear pinning," was the number one plastic surgery for teens under the age of 18 in the United States last year. The issue is often evident from birth and, since ears develop early, a surgical fix could start as early as age five.

The surgery costs $3,000-5,000 and can be covered by insurance.

"Surgically, we make a small incision behind the ear and we use sutures to recreate the fold," Perkins said.

The back of Bridget's ear is now healed and, even when she pulls it forward, you would have to have a trained eye to see that she had plastic surgery. But from the front, the before and after pictures are dramatic.

Still, her mother believes the biggest change is confidence.

"I could tell, especially after they took the bandages off the next day, she was like a different kid," Kristin Andrews said.

The transformation was more subtle for Lauren Jacobs, who convinced her mother to schedule a rhinoplasty, or nose job, for summer break.

"I was mostly concerned about rumors going around my high school," Jacobs said.

"About age 12, she was developing a particular bump on her nose, almost an abnormal-looking bump, but there was definitely some heredity involved," Perkins said.

Since your nose grows until you are in your mid-teens, it may be an issue that you first notice in middle or high school. Rhinoplasty is the second-most common procedure for teens under 18.

It cost Lauren's parents nearly $8,000 to remove the bump and lift and narrow the tip of her nose. It was not covered by insurance.

"She is so happy. So happy," said Lauren's mother, Kim.

"Obviously, I cut my hair short, so I'm not afraid to show my face anymore, so it's definitely helped me with my confidence," Lauren said.

With all patients and teens, especially, Perkins requires a consultation to see if the parent and patient expectations are realistic.

"We definitely turn people away," Perkins said.

Teenage plastic surgery can be controversial.

Are teens really mature enough to understand surgery, the risks and the emotional impact?

"This is surgery. There is intense pain, there is healing that goes along with it and so are their expectations realistic? If you are going to go in for a rhinoplasty, a nose job isn't going to make you more popular. It's not going to make you more desirable or wanted or accepted in your peer group," said psychologist Beth Buckingham.

Buckingham says the key question is, "Who's idea is this?"

"I think the word of caution would be to make sure that motivation that desire comes directly from the teen," Buckingham said. "I had one family who expressed concerns, they were giving a breast augmentation as a high school graduation gift to their daughter and it wasn't something that her daughter necessarily wanted."

Bridget initiated conversations about surgery years before her mother consented.

"With her having her ears done, her inner beauty shines through more. She's more passionate about everything," Kristin Andrews said.

This year, Bridget got out of the chorus and accepted a solo for swing choir.

"It boost my self confidence up a lot more. I wasn't afraid to be on stage anymore, I didn't have to worry about people just staring at my ears," she said.