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Cosmetic Surgery (4/12/06)

Dear Zelda,

My step-daughter, who is beautiful, has informed her dad and me that all she wants for graduation (from high school) is a bigger set of breasts. I admit that she isn't the biggest of the bunch, but they're not the smallest either. Mine are about the same size and I've done just fine all these years. It's not the money that concerns me (her dad and I promised her a trip that costs about that much), but more the fact that I would be condoning something that I personally don't believe in. She will be 18 and able to start making those decisions without our consent. Her mother died 10 years ago and I feel like the evil step-mother who isn't "cool." Any words of wisdom?

Topsy Turvy

Dear Topsy Turvy,

Your step-daughter is the unfortunate victim of a culture that bombards us with messages and bad role models suggesting that bustiness is next to godliness. Between the movies, the music videos, and the reality television, it's no wonder that every girl, starting at the age of ten, starts hoping to look like Pam Anderson, or thinking Dolly Parton would look great if she just had a bit more cleavage. Big breasts are EVERYWHERE these days, and while big can definitely be beautiful (as can small!), the national obsession with over-inflated chests is just a little too much hot air. Let's just hope cup size doesn't start "popping up" on resumes any time soon or for that matter, in latte sizes...”I’d like a double mocha latte in a size D cup please.”

As you say, though, your step-daughter is technically an adult now, and legally she can make her own decisions. Furthermore, you don't want to come off as the wicked-witch-of-a-step-mom. But the bottom line is you're still her parents, and more importantly, you're still the underwriters of this extreme makeover, so you DEFINITELY have final say in what your money is used for. You SHOULDN'T feel obliged to support something you don't agree with and think could be dangerous. Your step-daughter is still young (even though she doesn't think so), and her body has probably not finished changing and developing yet.  Even IF she decides, in the long run, that she'd like to have a little more heavage in her cleavage, now is NOT the time to undertake this kind of drastic change, no matter how many other girls at school are doing it. Aside from the psychological impact of doing that to your body at such a young age, it just doesn't make sense physically: It can be risky, the changes are permanent, and what seems like a great idea at eighteen may not seem (or look) so hot three or four operations later at age 28, or 38, or 48.

To get more information on the subject of implants, check out (perhaps together with your step-daughter) the FDA's consumer information website at www.fda.gov/cdrh/breastimplants/consumerinfo.html. Use these resources as a starting point to talk with your step-daughter about why you're not going to support her doing this right now, and talk with her about the specific risks of these kind of operations at her age. If you and your husband do want to think about an EVENTUAL compromise, set some benchmarks for her, like, say, not allowing it until she’s at least 21, doing extensive reading and research on the topic, and/or making her volunteer at a plastic surgeon's office to observe a number of the operations in person. If you're going to go down this road, make sure she is allowed to do this only after her body has finished developing, she's had a few years to think about it, and you, your husband, and she are completely ready and informed about the risks and benefits.

You're in a tough position, and I respect your desire to start treating your step-daughter as an adult. Parenting is all about knowing when to let your children go out into the world, make their own mistakes, and learn from them. But some mistakes are permanent, and sometimes it still pays to be the uncool step-mom. She'll thank you in the long run.

Zelda

Dear Zelda,


I'm looking a little droopy in the face these days with crow's feet, wrinkles, etc... My age is catching up with me. I don't want to actually have surgery, but I was wondering what you can tell me about Botox. Is it dangerous? Someone said it was poison. Are there side effects?

Droopy Delores

Dear Droopy Delores,

Hey, wrinkles are my business.  I've got 'em, I flaunt 'em, and occasionally I even find leftover food in them. I think they give me character.  But I understand your feelings, and so I've done a little research on Botox for you. Of course, I'm no doctor (the AMA still isn't responding to my letters), so take this information with a grain of salt, and of course, talk to a real, trustworthy, board-certified doctor before you make any health decisions. As a dog, I'm pushing my luck giving any advice at all, but on health matters I know I'm out of my depth. That said, I'll tell you what I know, and what I think. Botulinum toxin, or Botox for short, is a potent neurotoxin (yes, that's nerve poison) that's produced by Clostridium botulinum, a bacterium that causes lethal food poisoning (botulism), often from improperly canned foods. If you're confused and spooked after reading that... join the club! And before you go raiding your grandmother's stash of questionably canned preserves, read on...

Cosmetic Botox is a purified version of this protein that is injected by a fine needle into the skin on the face around the areas that you want to tighten and smooth. Eyebrows get lifted, crow's feet fly away, and wrinkles are ironed out without the use of steam, heat, or a scalpel. Botox paralyzes your muscles, allowing them to relax and smoothen out. You can actually look younger within days, but this bacterial fountain of youth doesn't last forever (actually about 3-4 months).  If you're happy with the end result, continual touch-ups are necessary to make sure your new you, stays... new. The potential side-effects of Botox apparently include headache, infections, nausea, and short-term facial symptoms like pain, drooping eyelid, redness at the injection site, and muscle weakness. Some people apparently also experience restricted movement of muscles in the injected area, causing stiffened facial expressions. Sounds fun, doesn't it?

That said, this stuff is amazingly popular, and since it was approval by the FDA in 2002, it's become the number one non-surgical cosmetic procedure in the US. So they must be doing something right. Whatever you decide, do your homework, choose a doctor carefully, and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and not because everyone else expects you to look younger. As I always say, "Whatever makes you happy!"

Zelda

Dear Zelda,

It really irks me when dog owners choose to cut off their dog's tails or ears. You're a dog, you tell me. What do you think about surgically altering a dog for cosmetic reasons alone? I own a beautiful Doberman, and he has floppy ears and a long tail. He hasn't complained yet and they don't seem to get in his way.

De-Tails De-Tails De-Tails

Dear De-Tails De-Tails De-Tails,

Unfortunately for us pets, the decision to cut or not to cut lies solely with our owners, and unless there is an obvious reason to surgically alter a dog's appearance, we are at the mercy of their whims. Of course, there are many breeds that suffer from genetic problems that require surgical correction, and often the line between the two gets blurred: surgery is done initially to fix the problem, but while they're there they also make some nips and tucks to enhance the dog's appearance. Or surgery is done to prevent some hypothetical problem that may come up in the future, like ear infections in floppy-eared dogs. The medical need for such preventive measures has probably declined over the decades as we and our dogs have gotten cleaner, and as our ability to treat any infections that do arise has improved. But the tradition and the breed standards often remain from an earlier time when it was more important to prevent these sort of things.

Heck, even us supermodel bulldogs have had to get a little help once in a while... I, for instance, had to have my tail cropped because it was so twisted it was trying to push its way into an "exit only" location not far from where it was growing (true story, I'm embarrassed to admit). Lucky for me, my owner had the surgery performed on me right after they recognized the problem, and everything came out fabulously in "the end."

For many dogs, however, people continue to surgically alter specific breeds because, for example in the case of the Doberman, a cropped tail and pointed ears have become the standard appearance, and people feel the need to conform to these standards. Is it right? Is it wrong? Only your beloved Doberman could tell you, and unfortunately we speak a different language. Personally, I wouldn't want any of my friends to be altered for purely cosmetic reasons, but then again,  I don't know many who've had it done, so I can't speak from much experience. At the very least, the procedure should be as quick and painless as possible, because the idea of a dog suffering for the benefit of an owner's aesthetics is definitely a hard one to swallow.

To me, a floppy-eared, long-tailed Doberman sounds absolutely fetching! Send us a photo of your dog and we'll put it on my “friends” page.

Keep your floppers flappin' and your tail a-draggin'!

Zelda