As a child, I was frequently teased about the size of my lips. On one particularly memorable occasion in the fourth grade, a girl taunted me in front of a group of classmates at recess calling me “monkey mouth.” I was mortified. I remember coming home that afternoon to sob to my grandma who brushed my tears away and said, “Someday that girl will be jealous of your full lips. You’re going to grow into them. You’ll see.”
As it turns out, she was right, as grandmothers often are. By the time I reached my teenage years, boys and girls alike frequently complimented me on my pouty lips. It is this experience from my childhood I had in mind when I read the story of 14-year-old Nadia Ilse, whose ears have earned her the cruel nickname “Dumbo” from school bullies.
The teen, recently interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta on CNN, has been begging her mother for ortoplasty — surgery to pin back her ears –since age ten. Her mother took to the internet, seeking help for her daughter and found the Little Baby Face Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to “transform the lives of children born with facial deformities through corrective surgery.” The group flew Nadia and her mother from their home in Georgia to New York to meet with the group’s founder and plastic surgeon, Dr. Thomas Romo, III.
Dr. Romo not only agreed to perform the surgery to pin back Isle’s ears, but he also recommended that the teen undergo rhinoplasty to reduce the size of her nose and mentoplasty to alter her chin.
“I love thin chins, but I don’t want them as pointy as that chin,” Romo said, gesturing to Isle’s face in a consultation caught on tape by CNN. The teen appears to accept the plastic surgeon’s assessment of her physical features and later underwent all three surgeries with the Little Baby Face Foundation picking up the $40,000 tab.
Just take a moment and let that sink in. To combat bullying, an adolescent girl, a girl who is likely still going through puberty and is years from maturity both physically and emotionally, underwent a total facial reconstruction.
I’m sorry (no I’m not), but since when do ears that sort of stick out and a pointy chin constitute a “facial deformity” and why are we sending the message to teens that the solution to being tormented by your peers is to take drastic measures to change your appearance?
I realize that being bullied can be traumatic, but what are the odds that Isle’s tormenters will cease to tease her because she has undergone plastic surgery? I’d say pretty slim.
“I look beautiful, this is exactly what I wanted, I love it,” Nadia said, peering into the mirror for the first time at her new face still swollen from surgery. She was beautiful before the surgery, too.
As part of her recovery, Isle will receive counseling to help her overcome the psychological distress brought about by years of bullying. I can’t help but wonder why therapy was an afterthought instead of a solution.