Bullying has always been a middle school nightmare. If you were one of the lucky ones who managed to escape, you belong to a rare and fortunate minority.
But with the recent media emphasis on bullying these days, and the heartbreaking spate of suicides from tormented students who can no longer cope, there's a troubling sense that it's moved from an adolescent rite of passage to a problem where the stakes are too high.
Nadia Ilse could tell you all about what it feels like to be bullied. The 14-year-old Georgia student has been taunted over her physical appearance since the first grade.
"There was this girl, she came up to me and says, 'You have the biggest ears I've ever seen.' And I was speechless, because I didn't think about it until she said that," she tells CNN's Sanjay Gupta.
The taunts about her looks continued, until Nadia started begging her mother for surgery to pin her ears back. She was 10.
Distraught by her daughter's growing despondency, Nadia's mother contacted the Little Baby Face Foundation, a charity that provides free plastic surgery to children with facial deformities or those who have been bullied for their physical features.
The organization flew Nadia and her mother to New York City where plastic surgeon — and charity president — Dr. Thomas Romo III, decided the teen needed more than just otoplasty, the pinning back of her ears.
Video of Nadia's consultation shows Romo encouraging the teen to square out her "pointy" chin and allow him to perform a reduction rhinoplasty to straighten out her nose and "balance out" her features.
Desperate to look good, Nadia agrees to the $40,000 worth of plastic surgery.
The American Association of Plastic Surgeons reports that the number of teens seeking out cosmetic procedures has doubled in the last decade. In 2010 alone, doctors performed 219,000 surgeries on teens between the ages of 13 and 19.
Though no Canadian statistics are available, doctors say the figures match north of the border as well.
"The number of teens I treat has definitely doubled over the last 10 years," Toronto cosmetic surgeon Oakley Smith tells the Globe and Mail.
While charities like the Little Baby Face Foundation may have good intentions, Nadia's story dredges up a few unsettling issues.
There's no doubt that Nadia felt less prominent ears would stop her peers from mockery, and maybe it will. But by encouraging her to change her nose and chin — features she hadn't even brought up as problematic — Romo might be perpetuating the idea that the victims should be the ones who change themselves, while the bullies might feel vindicated by their cruelty.
And with all the coverage Nadia's ordeal has received, she may have just traded her old line of bullying for a brand new one.
What do you think? Is plastic surgery the answer to offset teen bullying, or is it equally problematic?
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