December 26, 2004 in Nation/World

Nips, tucks make holiday wish lists

Connie Midey Arizona Republic

PHOENIX – Even the fondly remembered inline skates she found under the tree when she was 7 and the CD player three years later can’t compete with this year’s gift.

A grown-up Jennifer Scott is getting new breasts for Christmas, a gift she has wanted since steroids prescribed for ulcerative colitis stunted her overall growth at age 12.

“This is the best,” Scott, 19, of Glendale, Ariz., says of the breast augmentation surgery, a gift from her mom. “We’ve been discussing it for a long time.

“The treatment (for ulcerative colitis) is almost worse than the problem, and it happened right when I would have been starting to develop.”

Although exact numbers are not kept, Scott won’t be the only person getting cosmetic surgery for Christmas.

Thirty-five percent of members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery last year operated on patients who received surgery as a gift, for occasions from Valentine’s Day to Christmas. That’s up from 31 percent in 2002, according to the academy.

With “The Swan” and other TV makeover shows fueling interest in cosmetic surgery and with winter break allowing plenty of recuperation time, a “gift of lift” can be a popular choice for the holidays, the academy says.

Desperate to find the right little something for the person who has everything? In a news release, the academy suggests that a microdermabrasion skin-revitalizing treatment, for example, “could serve as a great gift for a loved one.”

At least two physicians in the Phoenix area have run ads in the Arizona Republic in the past two months offering gift certificates.

“Looking for a unique holiday gift?” asks the ad placed by cosmetic surgeon Richard D. Anderson of Scottsdale, Ariz. “Gift certificates for improved self image are a wonderful investment.”

Anderson, who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, says the ad is his way of spreading the word about new gift options, specifically the minimally invasive procedures he performs.

From responses to the ad, he has scheduled consultations for patients receiving gifts of breast augmentation, liposuction, face lifts, and nose and eyelid surgery.

“We like to make sure the individual is getting the surgery because she wants it,” Anderson says, “not because the boyfriend or husband wants it.”

If the gift recipient is not a good candidate for surgery, Anderson says, he will refund the money.

Still, gifts of cosmetic surgery raise concerns among some observers from the standpoint of medical ethics and body image issues.

“You wouldn’t give someone heart surgery for a lark,” says Elizabeth Haiken, author of “Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).

“Yet we’ve seen this trend over the 20th and now the 21st century toward merchandising cosmetic surgery as if it’s just like getting your hair done or getting a manicure. This is a medical procedure.”

That fact is underlined by the code of ethics for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, another professional organization, which forbids its members from performing procedures without an evaluation for people who have received a gift or won a prize of surgery.

“A certificate for a consultation (to judge whether surgery is medically appropriate) or for non-medical skin care, for instance, would be fine,” says Deborah Bash of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, a member of the organization. “A lot of people forget that cosmetic surgery is two words, and the second word is ‘surgery.’ ”

During her eight years in private practice and nearly five years at the Mayo Clinic, Bash has never been asked to perform surgery as a gift, she says.

Ronald Caniglia of Scottsdale hasn’t been overwhelmed with requests for gift cosmetic procedures, just one or two a year. Usually it’s the husband who wants something done for his wife, he says.

He recommends that gift-givers choose spa services instead of surprising a loved one with a certificate for surgery.

“The last thing you want,” Caniglia says, “is to operate on someone because someone else said they need it.”

Scott, a 4-foot-11 college student who’s often mistaken for a 12-year-old, has looked forward for years to the day later this month when Anderson performs surgery to increase her size from an A cup to a C.

“But I think my boyfriend’s more excited about this than I am,” she says with a laugh.

Nationally, surgeons charge an average of $3,400 to perform breast augmentation, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says.

“She (her mother) just sold our old house and has a little extra money,” Scott says.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email