I was tooling around on the internet when I saw an article entitled “Nadia Ilse, Bullied Georgia Teen, Receives Free Plastic Surgery From Little Baby Face Foundation”. At first blush, the article discussed what appeared to be a light for some children at the end of the bullying tunnel. But then I read further, watched the imbedded video and became concerned.
I learned that Little Baby Face Foundation, as it says on the website:
transforms the lives of children born with facial deformities through corrective surgery. World-class surgeons and medical providers at the finest facilities in NYC volunteer their time to provide the best corrective surgery and medical care to children and their families who are in financial need worldwide. We arrange travel to and from New York City for children to undergo needed corrective surgical procedures at no expense to the patient or their families.
It is extremely commendable that these surgeons change the lives of disfigured children who can't afford help. I even support their efforts to volunteer their plastic surgery services to help the victims of bullying; however, in my opinion, it should be under far more limited circumstances and only on children with significant disfigurements. In other words, I would suggest using the same criteria that the plastic surgeons would use when vetting children for their more traditional donated corrective surgeries.
I worry what we are teaching bullied children like Nadia, when we provide them with the resource to change their physical attributes in response to the cruelty of bullies. Are the efforts of these good doctors really a solution or are they simply inadvertently teaching our children that they can find solace in altering their looks to avoid what are no doubt desperate situations for them? Are we not better off confronting the problem itself by teaching our children how to treat others and how to react and deal with being the recipient of cruel or hurtful actions, which we all face at some point in our lives?
I am just not sure that surgery should be the answer to the bullying dilemma, except in extreme circumstances. I am also troubled when I see the extent of plastic surgery used when it is chosen as a remedy to the problem. In this instance, the plastic surgeon who treated Nadia suggested more surgery than what would have "fixed" the initial issue focused on by the bullies – the young girl's oversized ears. Once the doctor examined and consulted, he explained that Nadia's face would not by symmetrical once her ears were pinned back and recommended that she also have her nose and chin modified.
Enter my issue with Nadia’s mother. I get it that the surgery was free and who wouldn't want a $40,000 gift, however, what did mom unintentionally teach her daughter? She taught her that not only was she not born a beautiful girl, but she was less beautiful than even Nadia or the bullies thought! Even if the situation were extreme enough to warrant surgery, shouldn’t Nadia’s mom have asked the surgeon to do as little as possible to address the problem, rather than simply accept his broader recommendation? In this instance, neither the parent nor the plastic surgeon, who were Nadia’s role models and guides, taught this 13 year old girl enough about self-worth, self-esteem and limits.
We also need to address what it teaches bullies when they are not held responsible and can potentially avoid criticism because the family of the bullied child takes matters into their own hands and turns to surgery to solve the problem. Are we not excusing the bullies’ behavior or even acquiescing in their beliefs by allowing their actions to go unchecked? Are the bullies not learning that they have the power to potentially manipulate others into taking drastic action simply because of the exploits of the bullies? Is this the kind of message we ever want to send?
Like in other areas of life, we must teach our children balance. Our kids need to learn how to stand up for their rights without being cruel and insensitive themselves and deal directly with their problems without taking excessive measures to solve them.