Is cosmetic surgery the answer to bullying?
Nadia Ilse, 14, had been taunted since Grade 1: “Dumbo” and “elephant ears” were the cruel refrains of bullies who took issue with her ears.
By age 10, the Georgia girl was begging her mother for an operation, so Mom did some digging online and found the Little Baby Face Foundation, a non-profit that delivers free surgery to children born with “facial deformities,” kids who in some cases have been bullied.
Mother and daughter flew to New York for an otoplasty, which involves pinning back the ears. Disturbingly, the organization’s founder, Thomas Romo III, decided Nadia needed plenty of work besides her ears, going to town on her entire face.
“I love thin chins, but I don’t want it as pointy as that chin,” Dr. Romo announced. He also gave her a nose job, ostensibly for the purpose of symmetry.
When CNN’s Sanjay Gupta asked the doctor why he decided to operate on facial features neither Nadia or her bullies ever took issue with, Dr. Romo replied, “She didn’t recognize that.”
The four hours worth of surgery cost approximately $40,000 (U.S.).
“I look beautiful. This is exactly what I wanted. I love it,” Nadia said after gazing into a mirror.
Several elements perplex in the story. The teen’s mother opted for surgery ahead of talk therapy, which the girl says she will now begin. The newly sculpted teen returns to school this September with hopes of dodging future bullying – even as the CNN appearance all but ensures she will encounter unprecedented scrutiny among her high-school peers.
Nadia, of course, is not the first teen to go under the knife to evade bullies. Last October, 13-year-old Nicolette Taylor of New York got a nose job after cyberbullies hijacked her Facebook wall with “big nose” taunts.
“That made me pick up the phone and make an appointment for a consultation,” her mother told ABC. Nicolette’s father compared the nose job to braces and even a pair of shoes bought in anticipation of the new school year.
Bullying-preventative surgery is skewing even younger: Last April, seven-year-old Samantha Shaw of South Dakota drew the glare of news media when she, like Nadia, had her ears pinned back to escape schoolyard harassment.
In the United States, nearly 219,000 cosmetic plastic-surgery procedures were performed on teens aged 13 to 19 in 2010, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Teens tend to have plastic surgery to fit in with peers, to look similar,” reads one of the society’s briefings, which urges doctors to operate only on teens who “demonstrate emotional maturity” – pretty subjective stuff.
As for Nadia, her only advice to parents of suffering teens is: “Give your children a lot of love and affection and tell them that they’re beautiful every single day.”
Do you think children should get surgery to silence their tormentors at school? Or should they be counselled to stand up for themselves and their quirky features?
Editor's note: An earlier version of this blog contained an incorrect spelling of Nadia Ilse's name.