Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Julie Z on 08/16/2010

Teen Botox Epidemic? What That Really Means.

Charice Pempengco

Charice Pempengco

After reading reports that Charice Pempengco, an 18-year-old singer who recently landed a part on Glee, got Botox treatments for her TV debut, I proceeded to bang my head against a wall–ironically achieving the same goal of altering the shape of my face through frustrated self-inflicted violence that Charice accomplished with poisonous injections.

No, in reality I am a nonviolent, non-masochistic person, so instead of head-banging I started compiling a mental list of teens I know that have had cosmetic procedures. The classic “Happy-16th-Birthday-Honey-Here’s-A-New-Nose” bit is probably the one I hear of most frequently. While I am currently unaware of any who have had Botox (despite The New York Times claim that teen Botox is becoming an epidemic, with 12,000 injections performed on Americans teens last year), I do know that a local dermatologist who solely peddles Botox has a thriving business–and don’t think that Mom coming home with a new face goes unnoticed by her daughter.

But here’s the thing: The epidemic that is plaguing teens is not the use of Botox or other cosmetic procedures. That is just a symptom of the disease–the disease of nonexistent self-esteem.

This disease is spreading amongst my peers via a one-two punch: constant saturation with images of bodies we can never achieve, and the resulting inability to believe we have the right to love ourselves. In addition to the fact that the average person is exposed to 3,000 advertisements every day–many in the form of a brutally Photoshopped, or just plain starving, model–the paparazzi has gone into overdrive in the past few decades, inundating us with images of bodies that definitely do not represent the norm, or in many cases, what’s healthy.

And while we blame the media, celebrities and advertisements, often overlooked is the body competition the Internet enables. Many teens will spend hours on Facebook scanning through profiles of girls they think are prettier than them, relentlessly making unfair comparisons and criticizing themselves. That goes hand in hand with our new hobby of spending hours taking photos of ourselves, especially in poses we think enhance our features (try listing that under ‘extracurricular activities’ on a college app). We’ve entered an era that makes it impossible not to compare ourselves to others at all times, and more often than not we come out on the other side completely defeated.

In light of this culture of self-criticism, the idea that we could love our bodies, that we even have the right to love our bodies is almost unthinkable to teens. That’s why, no matter how many times our friends or mothers tell us we’re beautiful, we’re still not going to believe it. Often, we won’t believe it until there is a self-inflicted change we can see. Enter crash-dieting, manic exercising, plastic surgery, and now, Botox. This is also why when girls who do have self esteem come along (they are not yet extinct), and know that they have the right to love themselves, girls with low self-esteem label them bitches who are full of themselves–because the alternative, the reality, is seemingly impossible.

It’s frustrating to me that the media would take a case of an 18-year-old having a cosmetic procedure that she doesn’t “need” and frame what is clearly a symptom as the problem. But there is hope! As a teen myself, I must admit there are days I struggle to not look at myself and think, “I really hate my [insert body part here].” But I also know that I deserve be comfortable in my own skin, and that is thanks to the feminist movement. Reading books like The Body Project and Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters helped me realize what I was buying into, which allowed me to opt out. While that might not be the answer for all girls, one fact remains certain: Change will not come from refusing teen girls their diet pills or Botox fixes. It’s going to have to be much deeper than that.

Originally posted at Ms. Magazine

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  • The Raisin Girl @ at 3:31 pm, August 16th, 2010

    Oh, and let’s not forget that right along side the glorification of bodies only attainable through Photoshop, we have un-photoshopped images of celebrities outside of their poses, looking like normal people, with headlines screaming about how they’ve let themselves go. Tyra Banks, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Simpson, Hillary Duff. I’ve seen before and after pictures of celebrities where the before looked like a normal person and the after looked like an airbrushed plastic sex-doll, and it’s ALWAYS that second one that is lauded as preferrable.

  • Brenna @ at 5:05 pm, August 16th, 2010

    While this may be true, for some reason I felt really uncomfortable reading it. All that I could think when I was looking at it was, “Why do we keep playing the blame game?” I’m not saying that it’s not the media’s fault that people have low self confidence, but I am saying you can’t place all the blame on it. I love my body, I love the way I am, and believe me- I’m not at all what people call slender. But I didn’t get that way from reading feminist books, or even turning off the tv and logging out of facebook. I got that way by telling myself that I love myself, and by remembering that no one’s opinion but my own matters. What I’m trying to say is, anyone is capable of deciding how much the media pokes into their lives. The last time I checked, no one forced us to watch TV and read magazines.

  • Sukiwoyaxul @ at 8:01 pm, August 16th, 2010

    Does that 12,000 include teens getting botox injected in the back of the neck for migraines?

    I had a doctor recommend that course of treatment, telling me “it works, but we don’t know why.” Which I think may have been code for “it dulls some of the nerves, because it’s poison, and it’s all very complicated and your ladybrain couldn’t understand.”

  • Mollie @ at 5:52 am, August 17th, 2010

    Brenna, even if you don’t read these BS magazines or watch TV, you still SEE this crap out and about, and chances are your friends are influenced by it so even if you try and avoid it you’re still exposed to it, albeit indirectly.

    It’s great you’ve convinced yourself there’s nothing wrong with the way you look but sadly most people haven’t. I’m totally fine with the way I look also, then again I’m a tall, thin, decent looking white girl so I’ve kind of concluded I can’t complain.

    The whole issue of young people getting cosmetic surgery is sad but unsurprising. Most people I know are almost completely desensitized to it and just accept it as “the way it is”. Doesn’t do much for the way you feel about your appearance if you’re indirectly being told you can’t achieve “perfection” without getting sliced or injected with some variety of poison, and that’s leaving out the narrow weight idea (literally narrow).

  • blakerivers @ at 7:59 am, August 18th, 2010

    Yes, it’s important to stop the beauty mania and put far more emphasis on the fact that it is not one’s outside qualities that are most important for happiness. As I believe, it’s not just about making girls feel beautiful the way they are, but perhaps even more important is to instill the value that spending your time thinking about beauty is vain and superficial.

    By even reasonable societal standards, a lot of people are just not pretty. Genetics, disease, injury – not everyone’s body/face is a sight for sore eyes. Trying to make them feel beautiful is noble, but convincing them that their physical appearance is trivial compared to what they can achieve in their lives is a far more valuable endeavor. The same lesson holds true regardless of how attractive one is.

    Brenna, how do we get more people to hold your kind of conviction?

  • Natasha @ at 6:51 pm, September 2nd, 2010

    Thank you so much for posting this! I know dozens of girls who got nose jobs in high school (one girl in middle school). While I don’t know of anyone under thirty who’s had botox (except one girl under her arms to counteract a sweating issue) I feel that it’s important to address this issue before hundreds more teenage girls begin putting chemicals into their bodies that they don’t need. By the way, wonderful book recommendations. Two of my favorites. The Body Project helped me recover from some serious self-hate-starving.

  • Leila Garibaldo @ at 3:55 pm, January 28th, 2011

    Your surgeon will decide exactly where to administer the botox injections. He or she will make several tiny injections to achieve the best results. The entire treatment typically takes no longer than ten minutes.

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