Jan 102014

Given the financial means and the opportunity, would you allow your bullied teen to have plastic surgery to correct a problem?

Several teens bullied because of looks were the focus of NBC News stories recently.Dateline spotlighted four teens who sought plastic surgery to repair problems with various facial features.

Dateline shared the story of 15-year-old Renatta, bullied by her peers. Renatta was one of four low-income teenagers who applied for free plastic surgery through the Little Baby Face Foundation. Run by Dr. Thomas Romo, who directs facial, plastic and reconstructive surgery at Lenox Hill and the Manhattan Ear, Eye and Throat hospitals, the nonprofit treated children with deformities globally. Dr. Romo offered the charitable service of the nonprofit to American children.

Renatta, who has been home-schooled for the past three years, told NBC News, “They (bullies) were just calling me that girl with the big nose. It really just hurts. And you can’t get over it.”

Interestingly enough, three of the four children profiled on the show had facial abnormalities, which others might not perceive as such. Turns out that some children with very large noses, small eyes or large ears are outside the clinical norm for physical reasons. According to the show, a deviated or twisted septum in the nose can change the shape of the nose as well as the entire face.

Some professionals say quiet the bullies

There are many in the medical community who don’t agree that plastic surgery is the solution. Dr. Vivian Diller, a well-known author on the subject, told Dateline,

Are we saying that the responsibility falls on the kid who’se bullied, to alter themselves surgically? We really have to address the idea that there should be zero tolerance of bullying, and maybe we even have to encourage the acceptance of differences.

I had an immediate visceral reaction to this story, one that came from a place long forgotten. While I agree with Dr. Diller philosophically, that didn’t stop me from being bullied or ignored as a child, nor has it stopped the more aggressive bullies of today.

As a parent, I am fairly sure I would allow a teenage child to have cosmetic plastic surgery under certain conditions. Had I been offered the opportunity to change my nose in high school, I would have signed on the dotted line and been under anesthesia before you could say Bob Hope’s nose.

Before you throw your coffee mug at the screen, hear me out.

When my son was born and the nurse handed him to me, after making sure he was apparently healthy, I checked his nose. Would he have the McVay nose, a legacy from my family that my father and I and numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins shared?

He did not have the nose, and I was grateful. Only minutes old, the shape of his nose, mouth, and chin immediately resembled his father and paternal grandmother. (Little did I know that the size of his nose would later be the least of my worries.)

Ignored, bullied, and feeling bad about myself

Author in seventh grade.

Author in seventh grade.

When I was in the seventh grade, the growth of my McVay nose outpaced the growth of the rest of me. While family members and friends will vehemently argue this point with me, I did not feel good about my looks.
Would You Let Your Child Get Elective Plastic Surgery? I Would!

Junior high is, of course, a terrible time for most children. As a reasonable adult, I now know that my looks were fairly typical, though marked by a huge nose, funky glasses, braces and the hideous shag hairdo of the day. Did I mention my nostrils were the size of two olives?

Don’t get me wrong. I was a blessed child in many ways with things much more important than looks, parents in a long-term successful marriage and the accouterments of a middle-class Middle American home. I had friends, but when it came to members of the opposite sex, I was mostly invisible and I blamed it on the McVay nose.

A friend, a few years older, broke her nose early in high school. She begged her parents for a plastic surgery repair. What resulted was a nose that better fit her face, and a leap in her self-confidence.

Does this all sound frivolous? Perhaps, but I contend it is no different than getting braces or dermatological treatment for severe acne.

My life has turned out well, and I rarely, if ever contemplate my nose. Recently I’ve been going through my parent’s 35mm slides from the 1950s through the 1970s. I’ve been surprised at how cute I was as a child before my Pinocchio syndrome set in.

Having a nose job at fourteen might not have changed a thing about my life — where the rubber meets the road on the issue of elective plastic surgery for children takes me right back to that moment when I held my only child for the first time.

Any parent or any person who has dearly loved a child who has been bullied will understand this.

While I was so worried about my son’s physical looks at his birth, what I did not know then was that he had autism. Diagnosed at age two, he spent the first years of elementary school in special education classes. He returned to the classroom of typically developing students and was diagnosed with Tourette’s a year later.

Certainly, all of us have challenges in life. As parents, we hope that any challenges our child has will built character and resilience in him. For the children profiled on Datelineand millions of other across the country, that is not always the case.

Our son was bullied in junior high, pushed in lockers, mocked for the cadence of his speech, and generally made miserable. He was in Boy Scouts, and years later I learned his troop friends went to bat for him, getting rid of the bullies and helping restore his self-confidence.

Today our son is an adult, a college-educated man, who overcame many challenges to be where he is today, working in his field in a major east coast city. He still has challenges, as we all do. Had I been able to do anything to help him more when he was younger, I would have done it — surgery included.

Is it our job to judge others?

I don’t think it is fair to minimize or judge negatively what people perceive to be challenges in their lives.

For the last decade, I’ve advocated for persons with disabilities through a local rehabilitation agency. I’ve met some of the bravest people, young men who became quadriplegics through accidents, children who battle deafness, adults with post-polio syndrome, multiple sclerosis and ALS. I understand how a parent of someone with a profound disability could read this story and brush it aside.

But I also think when you appeal to the parent in all of us, we understand. We would do anything, within our ability, to make life easier for our children. And when that is not possible, we stand beside them physically and emotionally, helping them to discover inner strength.

Published January 10, 2014 at BlogHer. Please comment there.

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