POSTED AT 2:53 AM EDT    Thursday, June 21 2001
The promise of perfection

From Thursday's Globe and Mail


The desire for bigger breasts first hit Michelle Glauser when she was in Grade 6, after a boy told her she was "flat."

Two years ago, her 19-year-old friend had breast-augmentation surgery — with her mother's sanction. And after her seeing her pal transformed, Ms. Glauser, an 18-year-old Torontonian, rekindled her own breast ambitions.

"She became a lot more confident. . . . She wore tight, low-cut shirts and began to get her hair and makeup done on a regular basis," Ms. Glauser said.

Last week, this country's newest high-gloss quarterly, Elevate magazine, was distributed to spas and salons across Ontario and aimed at women such as Ms. Glauser who are seduced by the "promise of cosmetic enhancement."

In others words, it's all about nips, tucks, peels, lifts, suction and of course, augmentation.

And with its barely postpubescent cover girl leaning so that the camera takes in her bee-stung lips and perfect B-cup breasts, Elevate is certain to appeal to a fast-growing set among cosmetic-surgery customers — women who are not yet 30.

"Yes, the younger women are increasing," Vancouver plastic surgeon Kimit Rai said yesterday. "I've had 14-, 15-year-olds come in for breast augmentation with their parents' consent. (We tell them to come back after they have finished growing.) Some parents give breast implants as a graduation gift."

Dr. Rai said he has 20-year-old clients who want to be rid of frown lines. "I know surgeons who do eyelid lifts and facelifts on women in their late 20s," agreed Toronto plastic surgeon Tim Sproule, who noted that liposuction is also popular with women under 25.

But for some, this haste to beautify before women have even lost the blush of youth is distressing. Elevate's summer, 2001, issue — featuring stories such as Looking for Mr. Goodbod and Sex after Breast Augmentation — makes Leora Pinhas shudder.

"Certainly, our teenagers are the most vulnerable. They have no way of putting this into context," said the Toronto-based psychiatrist and eating-disorders expert. "But it's brilliant marketing . . . if you get them young, you have a customer for life. The trick is to make them insecure about their looks because insecurity makes people buy."

The numbers suggest people are indeed buying. In total, cosmetic-surgery procedures have grown nearly 200 per cent among North Americans between 1992 and 2000, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

The five most popular cosmetic operations last year were liposuction, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery, botox injections — in which a toxin is injected into the brow or face to literally freeze away the furrows — and facelifts.

But it is breast augmentations, the most common procedure among young women, that have experienced the most phenomenal growth. They increased 476 per cent between 1992 and 2000, the society says.

Thirty-year-old Toronto comedienne Jacqueline Bradley had breast implants five years ago after breast-feeding two children left her feeling prematurely robbed of a youthful décolletage. Then she had a scar on her lip touched up with an injected "filler" material.

"It's not just for strippers any more," Ms. Bradley said. " . . . I would have anything done."

Elevate's 29-year-old publisher, former marketing consultant Roberto De Angelo, is capitalizing on this new Zeitgeist: He says his magazine is among a handful of "procedure-packed" publications devoted to cosmetic surgery that have made their first appearance in the United States, Britain, Brazil and Australia all in the last year, independently of one another.

"Eventually, it (cosmetic surgery) will become the equivalent of going to see your dentist to get your teeth cleaned," Mr. De Angelo said.

Better techniques and fewer risks have helped increase the acceptability of cosmetic procedures, said Dr. Sproule, the Toronto surgeon, who asks his clients to bring in photos of how they want to look so he can prepare a digital image of the hoped-for results before operating.

"There's no question that surgery is better," he said.

But cosmetic surgery "normalizes trauma to the body and minimizes it too" said Dr. Pinhas, and that does not get questioned.

She is suspicious of Elevate magazine's promise to give "honest answers to common questions about cosmetic surgery."

And Toronto plastic surgeon Robert Stubbs, who was approached to advertise in Elevate and refused, said he is not sure the information will be all that objective either.

"They [women] may be misled in terms of articles being slanted toward those who have paid for the privilege of being noted in the article," he said.

Still, at downtown Toronto's Salon Fabio, where a pile of Elevate magazines has just arrived, the attitude among a few female customers over a new magazine devoted to cosmetic surgery is blasé.

"Well, it's already pretty normal in today's society," said 47-year-old Ann Jessop, from under her hair dryer. "Having a magazine about it would be no different than advertising a big sale at the Bay."

Su Lucas, a fashionably dressed 38-year-old waiting for her hairdresser, said she and her friends, a few of whom have had liposuction, feel under pressure about their looks.

"The problem with aging gracefully is the aging part," she said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Glauser has so far resisted the urge to have cosmetic enhancements on her young frame. The high-school graduate was talked out of the drastic choice last year by a few close friends and has decided, that for now anyway, she is happy with her appearance.

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