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Monday, May 27, 2024

Is surgery the right response to bullying?

I’m tiny. As in, petite.

As in, even if I wore high heels, I would barely be average height.

I can’t reach the tops of shelves, and I get confused for a 12-year-old on the regular.

While I was “growing” up, I don’t remember being terribly teased about my height, though. Even friends who have known me for years still comment on my size. It’s just a part of who I am by this point. I don’t really notice it.

I guess I must be pretty lucky.

Currently, about half of kids in school are bullied by their peers. Childhood bullying can affect the self-image of children as well as their emotional and mental health.

So while that was never my experience, I understand that millions of kids go through bullying at some point in their life. Take, for example, the experiences of Nadia Ilse.

She’s now 14, but she’s been asking for plastic surgery since she was 10. Her peers in school would make fun of her constantly.

They would often call her “Dumbo” or “elephant ears.” After years of this abuse, Ilse asked her mom for help or for plastic surgery. Her mother found the Little Baby Face Foundation.

This nonprofit organization provides “corrective surgery” for children born with a facial disfigurement or who have been bullied about their physical appearance.

During a consultation with her surgeon about a procedure to pin her ears back, he decided she needed more work done than they originally thought. He thought her nose and chin also needed correction. Her total surgery costs were about $40,000; thanks to the Little Baby Face Foundation, Ilse didn’t have to pay a thing.

Should the surgeon have pointed out other things that were “wrong” with this young teenager? It seems extremely unnecessary, almost cruel, to point out other “problems” with such a young girl who already has self-esteem issues.

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Ilse, however, feels better about herself since her surgery.

“I look beautiful, this is exactly what I wanted, I love it,” Ilse said.

Kids should never feel so attacked that they want to change their physical appearance. But should an organization take that a step further and offer to change someone’s entire look to protect him or her from mean children?

There’s been no word on what consequences the bullies of Ilse have faced; her surgery seems like she’s saying “you were right” to her bullies, that she agreed with them about her looks.

It’s great that she has regained her lost self-esteem and can now walk with confidence.

The other kids that Little Baby Face Foundation has helped do appear to have more severe problems than ears that are perhaps slightly larger than normal.

The problem is not with how kids look; it’s with how they act. Ilse’s bullies should be reprimanded and corrected, not her face.

If a child can’t feel comfortable in his or her own skin, it is absolutely not his or her fault. The fault lies with the society and environment that created the unhealthy habits of bullies.

I’ve never been exactly in Ilse’s shoes, so maybe that’s why I don’t fully understand why someone would make this extreme of a decision.

I have been an awkward teenager, though, and I know it can be hard to accept who you are.

Acceptance is tough, but it is necessary.

Sami Main is a journalism senior at UF. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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