Jenna Franklin wanted a birthday present. She asked her parents. They said OK.

Jenna was about to turn 16.

She wanted new breasts.

“You’ve got to have breasts to be successful,” she told a British tabloid.

Her mother, who already had breast enlargement, liposuction, a nose job and a cheek job, agreed.

“There are so many young girls who are depressed about the way they look,” she said, “if you can do something about it, that’s great.”

So, like car owners dragging the family vehicle in for repairs, Jenna’s parents took her to a plastic surgeon. Fix her up, doc.

Fortunately the doctor said no.

“She wasn’t ready,” Dr. Anthony Erian told me last week. “At 16, girls are not prepared physically or emotionally for breast surgery. For one thing, in many cases, they’re not even done developing.

“But I will say I see it more and more, teenagers seeking cosmetic surgery. And there are doctors who will do it.

“It seems that we’ve picked up something from you American chaps.”

Great. Nothing like exporting our best products.

Bombarded by cleavage

Now, the notion of a 16-year-old seeking a breast job may strike you as grotesque. And Jenna’s sad declaration that “you’ve got to have breasts to be successful” may inspire the paternal part of you to respond, “Oh, no, sweetheart, it’s what’s inside that truly counts.”

But consider the world viewed through the eyes of a 16-year-old girl today. She sees her pop singers — like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child — writhing around on the screen, skintight outfits and pushed-up bosoms. And they’re successful.

She sees TV shows in which the good-looking characters are distinguishable from the ugly characters” by their cleavage.

She sees ads for Wonder Bras that make your breasts seem bigger. She sees clothes designed with plunging necklines. She sees female TV sportscasters wearing tank tops to interview football players.

And there’s not a flat-chested one in the bunch.

Now. You tell me. Does the sentence “You need breasts to be successful” sound like ego — or observation?

I was on a plane last week. They showed a movie. I didn’t listen to it, but I watched it on the screen. Every time I saw a woman, she was in something low-cut. I swear there were 15 actresses in this movie, and the camera was aimed chest-high at every one.

Even in silence, we are bombarded by cleavage — in print ads, in billboards, walking through a shopping mall. Is it any wonder a teenager, who is going through the whole “how can I be more popular?” thing, comes to the conclusion that being a boom or a bust depends on, well, the bust?

Silicon vs. Kleenex

When you’re 16, popularity is heaven. You don’t know the difference between loving and leering. You don’t know the heartache of boys who are only interested in your looks.

All you know is who has the most friends and who gets the most phone calls. And the more we send signals that a big chest and a small butt are the keys to the kingdom, the more we’ll keep pushing our kids in that direction.

I know this is not new. Back in the ’50s and ’60s, teens stuffed their bras with Kleenex to appear larger. The difference is, you could always throw the Kleenex out when you came to your senses.

Today’s teens — and their parents — are so quick to go under the knife that later they need another operation to undo the damage. And what pattern are you establishing for your child when the answer to “How do I become more successful?” is to run to a surgeon?

I don’t know which I find sadder in the Jenna Franklin story, her blind belief that breasts make the woman or her parents’ willingness to concur with it.

But I do know she is not alone. Fix this, be happy. New wheels, new chassis. The problem with viewing a body the way you view a car is that eventually, when a car can’t take more fix-ups, you dump it as useless.

Any wonder why nobody wants to get old?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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