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Mother-Daughter Procedures, And Other Cosmetic Surgery Trends







Numbers, they're everywhere. They shape our world, sometimes they confound us. But often they reveal something larger about how we live our lives. We've been checking in with our numbers expert Mona Chalabi from the data journalism website She has given us this number of the week.


MARTIN: That is the number of American teenagers who got Botox in the year 2013. Mona Chalabi joins us from our studios in New York. Hey, Mona.


MARTIN: So this number has particular resonance this week because of all the chatter about Renee Zellweger's new look, right?

CHALABI: Yes, she turned up at an award ceremony on Monday and looked totally different. So people have been speculating that perhaps she had major plastic surgery, although, she just says that she's been living a healthier lifestyle. In any case, it got me thinking about cosmetic procedures. Who's getting them and why? So I went digging and found this number. About 18,000 American teenagers got Botox last year.

MARTIN: All right, so that number is relatively staggering. But did you find out anything about why they're doing it? I mean, Botox does have some medical applications, right?

CHALABI: Right. Most of the procedures were probably for medical purposes. We know that Botox injections can be used for things like facial muscle spasms, strabismus, which is cross-eyes, or even to treat chronic migraines. But there were still 1,149 Botox procedures that were performed on American children last year for purely cosmetic reasons.

MARTIN: So do we know if this is something that's been happening a lot? Is this part of a trend?

CHALABI: Well, I wanted to find out so spoke to Chris Simmons, a statistical researcher at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. And he said that they're seeing a growth in the popularity of nonsurgical, cosmetic procedures among very young Americans. On average, they take just 30 minutes and cost less than $400. So that also means that they're accessible to lower-income individuals having cosmetic procedures. And that's a trend too. Households with incomes less than $25,000 a year account for 30 percent of cosmetic surgery patients overall.


CHALABI: That said, Botox is nowhere near the most common cosmetic choice among American children. There were over 13,000 ear surgery procedures performed last year on Americans under the age of 18.

MARTIN: Cosmetic ear surgery?

CHALABI: Yep. It's called autoplasty. And it's far more common than rhinoplasty, I've always known as a nose job. It's also really interesting because ear surgery is a procedure that comes the closest to having an even gender split. All other cosmetic surgeries have overwhelmingly female patients.

MARTIN: So it's somewhat shocking that all these children are going under the knife, having cosmetic plastic surgery, Mona. Is there any data that speaks to why it's happening?

CHALABI: Well, it's difficult because, actually, there's very little information about the reasons that children themselves give about why they're having these procedures done. But there is survey data that comes from surgeons themselves about the reasons that children tell them that they're going under the knife. So the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey their surgeons. And last year, two thirds of them said that they thought the children and teenagers they were operating on were getting plastic surgery as a result of bullying. And there's also survey responses about why surgeons say adults are going under the knife as well.

MARTIN: And why is that?

CHALABI: Well, this is where the numbers get pretty weird, for me anyway. So a third of surgeons say they've seen an increase in the number of husbands and wives who both get plastic surgery. And after husbands and wives, the familial relationship that surgeons are seeing more of is mothers and daughters.

MARTIN: So explain that to me. I mean, does that mean that people who are in close, intimate, familial relationships start to change the expectations about what they should look like, and they copy each other? Or what's happening?

CHALABI: Again, it's really hard to say because it's dependent on the wording of those questions in the survey. But what we do know is that, actually, celebrity culture isn't quite playing the role that you might think it does. So earlier this year, another report found that the social media selfie culture was encouraging more people to seek out plastic surgery.

And there's also a really big trend of surgery ahead of weddings, particularly Botox and also nose jobs, which kind of reinforces this idea that, actually, people don't necessarily want to look like an entirely different person, but they want to look like a better version of themselves. And what's quite interesting as well is the way that people seek out surgery. So a quarter of patients just ask their physicians for advice about how to improve the way they look. Another half kind of point to an area that their not happy with and ask for advice. And the rest just ask for specific procedures by name.

MARTIN: So what does all this mean, Mona? I mean, are we living in a world where this is just the expectation in the future, that we all get some kind of cosmetic plastic surgery?

CHALABI: Quite possibly. Six million cosmetic procedures were performed last year. So Zellweger is clearly part of a much bigger, American industry of Botox, lip fillers and fat transfers that's worth $2.5 billion.


CHALABI: And those patients aren't just from a tiny cross-section of America. They come from all racial and age groups and 10 percent of them are men.

MARTIN: OK, men doing this too. Mona Chalabi, a data journalist from the website Thanks so much, Mona.

CHALABI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.