Why Are Parents Buying Their Girls the Gift of Surgery?

This story originally aired June 24, 2005.

Lulu Diaz was excited to show her friends the high school graduation present she got from her parents -- her new breasts.

At Lulu's high school and at the beauty school she attended on New York's Long Island, she said the talk among her friends is about how they look, and getting breast implants. Some of Lulu's friends have gotten them.

"It just made me want to get them done right there. And then when I graduated, my parents were like, all right, congratulations, you got a boob job."

When she was 18, her parents had bought her a Jaguar for graduation. She didn't want a car. They told her: "OK, you can trade it in for new breasts." She did.

When "20/20" met Lulu's friend Jennifer O'Brien, she was self-conscious about having smaller breasts. It showed in her body language. She covered up her breasts and padded her bra.

Jennifer envied Lulu's new look. "Look how much confidence she has. Like, look at my shirt and look at her shirt, like, you know," she said.

Jennifer thought she could get Lulu's confidence by getting breast implants herself. So, she did. Six months later, Jennifer said her new breasts have changed her personality.

"I am a loving and caring person, and I'm outgoing, but the way I used to dress and my body language didn't say that. And now it does," she said. "I feel like a different person. I have so much confidence, I like, do and say as I want, like, I don't hold anything back anymore."

Who paid for Jennifer's new look? Her parents.

"This is a gift of love from us, and we see a difference in her," Jennifer's mom, Doreen O'Brien, said.

The gift of breast implants costs about $7,000. "But I don't think you can put really a price on your child's happiness," she said.

Nineteen-year-old Catherine Houtrids wanted implants too. She was about to have the implant surgery when I interviewed her.

"I'm nervous of the pain afterward, just like any human, I think, would be. But I'm more excited, you know? Like I said, it's something that I've wanted and today I get to go have it," she said.

I don't get it. Maybe Catherine has a body image problem? I told her she looks fine.

"If I didn't get them and I was in the circumstances where I can't afford them or it just wasn't possible, I would be fine with my body," she said.

But Catherine could afford it because it was her parents writing the check.

Catherine's mom wanted Catherine to be happy. "I think she looks fine the way she is but it's not my choice and ... if it makes her happy, I'm happy for her," she said.

Catherine's parents also wanted to give her a car, but Catherine preferred the breast implants.

Of course, cars can be dangerous. But so can breast enhancement surgery. The Food and Drug Administration lists 25 complications, including pain, inflammation, calcification, chest wall deformity, toxic shock syndrome, wrinkling and scarring. Most patients later have to have second or even third operations because the implants do things like move or break open. The surgery can later interfere with mammography, increasing the chance that a tumor will go undetected. And women who have the surgery are less likely to have enough milk for breast-feeding.

The FDA says about 40 percent of augmentation patients have at least one serious complication within three years.

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