Kate McMahon was 10 years old when her mother told her she had “thunder thighs” in a store dressing room. Though her mom comforted her that she’d grow out of the “baby fat,” the damage to her body image was done.
By the time McMahon was 18, she underwent liposuction, but it’s something the now-28-year-old immediately regretted, she wrote in an article for Rookie Magazine called “Out of (My) Body.” The purpose of the article, she told ABCNews.com, was to teach other young girls that they don’t need plastic surgery to love themselves.
“It had been something I was really ashamed of and embarrassed about for a long time,” she told ABCNews.com of getting liposuction. She added that she’s been on a quest to accept her body for the past year and writing the article was part of that process.
“I’m not ashamed of it anymore," she said. "I want to put it out there.”
In the article, McMahon chronicles her fixation on thinness, her decision to have liposuction and her remorse about the surgery. She wrote that the results were nothing like the "Extreme Makeover" scenario she’d envisioned.
“My arms were the same size, but with extra skin flaps, little white stretch marks and oozing scars,” she wrote. “My stomach had loose skin in all new places, and I couldn’t see my belly button unless I moved folds of hanging flesh away from it with my hands.”
Although recovery was painful, McMahon wrote it wasn’t as bad as the realization that liposuction made her feel worse about herself. In the months that followed, she barely saw her mother, who suggested the surgery and offered to pay for it.
Still, McMahon said, she doesn’t want to make her mother out to be a villain. In fact, McMahon reached out to her mother before publishing the essay to make sure she was comfortable with it.
Although McMahon didn’t know whether her mother had read the essay, she said many young women have reached out to thank her for writing it. She said her goal was to help other girls gain some perspective on issues of body image and acceptance and, so far, the feedback has been positive.
According to the American Society for Plastic Surgeons, 236,000 teenagers underwent cosmetic procedures in 2012, increasing by 2 percent from the previous year. Still, teen procedures accounted for only 1.6 percent of the 14.6 million cosmetic procedures performed overall that year. The estimates were derived from an annual opt-in survey of American plastic surgeons.
Claire Mysko, who oversees teen outreach at the National Eating Disorders Association, said plastic surgery is often driven by deeper issues such as depression and low self-esteem.
“There’s this idea that if you fix the surface issue that it’s going to solve this feeling of inadequacy or insecurity that you’re dealing with,” she said. “Fixing the body part that you’ve fixated on is not going to solve the problem.”
Young girls are often bombarded with images of the so-called perfect body in the media, Mysko said, and they’re listening to their parents for cues on what to think of their bodies from young ages. Even a mother scrutinizing herself in a mirror can have a negative impact on her child’s body image, she said.
“We can call a child beautiful, wonderful,” Mysko said. “But if we don’t model that in our own behavior, the way we talk about ourselves, that’s the message that’s going to come through.”