Teens looking better; some experts find cause to worry by Patricia Wen
source: Star-Tribune Newspaper of the Twin Cities 01/01/2001
Some trademarks of the teenage face are eternal: the scowl, the eye roll, the smirk. The adolescent appearance has always had a certain rebellious sameness. But look closely at the current crop of teenagers and one indisputable fact becomes clear: They have better-looking faces than their parents did at the same age.
New treatments for acne, crooked teeth and vision problems give today’s teens more options, even cures of sorts, for these scourges of adolescence. The nicknames Pizza Face, Metal Mouth and Four Eyes aren’t entirely things of the past, but new medical devices and drugs give these young people far more control over how they look – even more than they can get from hair gels, blow dryers and designer clothes. “They don’t have to suffer the same kind of growing pains as we did,” said Dr. Robert Doyle, a child psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Rick Howe, a 16-year-old from Medfield, Mass., is virtually cured of his severe acne after taking a drug called Acutane, whereas his mother suffered from serious acne for years as a teen. “Now when I look in the mirror, there’s nothing to remind me of how bad it was.” he said.
Tom Lopez, 53, head football coach at Lincoln-Sudbury (Mass.) High School, said teens today, including his son, look better than he did at the same age. He recalls his awkwardness as a gangling 6-foot-4 teen, with bulky braces and thick glasses. Now, standard braces are on for shorter periods and come off usually by high school, and contact lenses are a popular option as early as middle school. At least in the looks department, “teens today have a smoother run through adolescence,” Lopez said.
Some psychologists and physicians worry, however, that these cosmetic improvements may only heighten the standards of good looks for an age group already preoccupied with looks. “We’re shortening the time from childhood to adulthood,” said Dr. Lynda Young, a pediatrician in Worcester, Mass., . “We’ve also raised the bar. Now, if a teenager has a few pimples, people say, `Why don’t you do something about it?’ It’s not, `Don’t worry. It will be better in a few years.’ ” Instead of buying a tube of Clearasil to attack simple pimples, many of today’s teens think of a dermatologist. As Amy Thebearge, 15, of Medford, Mass., put it: “Now, if you have some bad acne, it really stands out.” Some psychologists say that even if teens today have some advantages over past generations, it’s a drop in the mammoth self- esteem bucket. In this celebrity culture, many teens strive to look like TV stars such as Jennifer Love Hewitt of “Party of Five” or James Van Der Beek of “Dawson’s Creek,” or compare themselves with photos of glamorous models – where blemishes are often air-brushed out of the picture. Attaining a certain look can also be costly. A standard set of braces, for instance, costs about $4,000 to $5,000, with only part potentially covered by insurance. If patients seek the novel invisible braces, the cost goes up by thousands of dollars.
Some physicians worry that treatments for braces or acne are beginning too early or too aggressively. Many drugs have unwanted side effects, and there’s a heated debate in the orthodontic community about the growing practice of putting braces on youngsters before all their adult teeth are in.
Enhancing beauty through surgery is also on the rise in this age group, with 175,000 U.S. teens choosing some kind of aesthetic plastic surgery last year, a tripling of the number from 1997. As part of a more aggressive can-do attitude about physical woes, Young has listened to teenage girls inquire about costly breast augmentation or mole removals.
In the past two years, the greatest rise in teenage cosmetic surgery cases is in the areas of chemical peels, laser hair removal and breast augmentation, according to statistics from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery .