The Mirror Column 2: Teenage Plastic Surgery

Jenna Wilson ('15)/ Eastside News/Features Editor

While most first graders were comparing themselves to Cinderella, Nadia Ilse was comparing herself to another Disney character: Dumbo the elephant.

Classmates would taunt Ilse, telling her that she had “the biggest ears [they’ve] ever seen.” Now at 14, Ilse says that the constant teasing “hurts so much” and has intensified over the years. The name calling, the teasing and the harassment had turned a beautiful, social girl into a shy recluse.

Ilse was only 10 when she asked her mother if she could get her ears pinned back so that her classmates would stop bullying her. Her mother found the Little Baby Face Foundation, a non-profit organization that, according to its website, provides free corrective surgery to children born with facial deformities — such as cleft lips, palsies, tumors and malformations — who cannot afford the surgeries.

The organization intends to lessen the trauma that children with facial deformities go through.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported Ilse’s story and followed her as she underwent surgery. During her consultation, the doctor who would be performing the surgery also told her that he was going to correct her nose and chin to make her face more symmetrical. The surgeries totaled around 40,000 dollars, but were free to Ilse. She now says she “feels beautiful,” but I believe she was beautiful before the surgery, too.

Ilse has not seen her classmates since undergoing the surgery, and I won’t lie… I am afraid for when she does. If these kids were cruel enough to taunt her for seven years about her ears, who says that they won’t tease her for undergoing the surgery? What if they replace the taunts of “Dumbo” with taunts of “plastic”?                   

While I think that when applied to the right person, the Baby Face Foundation is doing great work—they are helping children with actual facial deformities, as well as bullied children—I believe that for Ilse, this was not the answer. Am I happy that she has tons more self-esteem? Yes. Do I believe that by fixing her ears (and her nose and her chin) she has solved her problem? No.

Ilse was beautiful before the surgery—to be quite honest I am not sure how or why her application to the Baby Face Foundation was accepted—and her mother should have placed her in a program that would help her believe in her beauty and ignore her bullies. I feel that plastic surgery is too extreme and not the right solution. I wonder why her mother chose to go that route. I understand her daughter’s perspective completely; I know what it is like to be a self-loathing teenager. But when I was feeling down, my mother reassured me that I was the beautiful one, that society was ugly. By allowing her the plastic surgery, isn’t Nadia’s mother doing the equivalent of telling an anorexic she’s fat?

Ilse should not have needed to get plastic surgery—those who taunted her are the ones who need to change.