“A ban on cosmetic treatment for children and teens has been suggested after it was revealed that a third of youth here approve of it, according to a survey reported in the Singapore Medical Journal” (Plastic Not Fantastic, The Sunday Times Editorial).
The perspective that cosmetic treatment for children and teenagers should not be banned in Singapore, articulated in a ST editorial (ST, Sept. 7), is reasonable. Based on youth perceptions – that a third of young people approve of such procedures, according to a survey by the Singapore Medical Journal two weeks ago – and growing affluence in the country, it would appear expedient for the government to ban the practice, even though plastic surgeons already report on services to the young, and the risk of the operations are well-documented. Ultimately leaving the decision to the youth and their parents is the right thing to do.
Besides, the prices of plastic and cosmetic surgeries mean they are out of reach for most Singaporeans. While slightly more affordable now, they remain luxury goods.
Blaming the media per se for the growing popularity of cosmetic treatment is convenient, but not necessarily accurate. The desire to go under the knife could also stem from problematic conceptions of body image and self-esteem, which are influenced mostly by everyday interactions: with peers, friends, teachers, and parents. A child with parents who have done such procedures, for instance, is more likely to do so themselves. Taunts, jibes, and careless remarks can affect too. Through this the media appears to be a contributory factor.
The aforementioned – on views of cosmetic surgery and the roles of body image and self-esteem – should encourage frank discourse in school, and at home. Not enough has been discussed about the body. Around themes of objectification, commodification, and sexualisation the body can be discussed, to understand what and how children and teenagers think. Is there pressure to look a certain way? Where is the pressure coming from? What do they feel are “ideal” forms of “beauty” and “perfection”? Who sets these standards?
And these conversations can happen, without looking at plastic surgery through tinted lenses. If one reckons that the procedures are right, then why not? We can make our own choices, and remain accountable for them.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.