Bullying and Cosmetic Surgery in Children
Cosmetic surgery is my life’s work and passion. I love doing it, talking about it and writing about it.The way it usually works is that a patient see aging changes and decides to perform elective cosmetic surgery. A pretty simple cause and effect scenario. There are times, however, when this template is different and one of those times is cosmetic surgery in children. Although this sounds like an oxymoron, it is quite common.
The most common cosmetic surgery procedures that I perform on children are repositioning of protruding ears, revising facial scars, removing moles and birth marks.
Otoplasty (pinning back protruding ears) is a common procedure for many cosmetic surgeons. This procedure involves removing or adjusting the ear cartilage to reduce the size or position of the ears. The most desirable time to perform otoplasty is about 5 years of age, or before the child enters school. The prime reason for this is that peer ridicule and bullying at a young age can affect a child’s self-esteem and confidence for the rest of their life. Children can be ruthless with each other as they have no boundaries. If they see a fat child, they call them fat, if they see a child with protruding ears, they call them Dumbo and on and on. This frequently occurs in kindergarten and first grade which is a very vulnerable time for formative minds. It is hard enough to adjust to schedules, new friends and teachers, social interactions, etc. Add a facial defect or imperfection to all of this mix and it can truly be a problem. I frequently see adults that were victims of such ridicule and or bullying and were unable to have surgery due to parental finances or other reasons. They bear testament that the ridicule made them extremely self-conscious. A few actually went to therapy as a result and still bear emotional scars in adulthood.
Bullying is a buzz word that has become overused. Ridicule is not uncommon in all parts of life and we will never be able to eliminate that, but parents should strive to do so. When ridicule progresses to incessant teasing or severe emotional and or physical taunting, it can definitely be classified as bullying. Even gossip can be considered bullying.
“Your ears are so big you can hear the sunset”
“Your ears look like a Volkswagen with the doors open”
“You look like Dumbo”
The above phrases have all been related to me by adolescent patients that were victim of peer ridicule and or bullying.
The photos below show common cosmetic surgery cases in children treated by Dr. Niamtu. Not all of these cases involved bullying, but the parents desired to head off the possibility.
Sometimes the decision is not so easy for families. Frequently parents see the ridicule beginning to happen but the young child is understandably unaware and resistant to having surgery. Other times, the child wants their ears fixed and the parents cannot afford it. In these cases I have always been able to offer pro bono or discounted surgery. I will never allow finances to stand in front of assisting a child in need and have always stepped up to the plate.
In cases where the child is resistant or the parents are resistant, I suggest seeing their pediatrician and possibly a child psychologist. I have seen a number of children that have not been given a choice and the experience is more difficult as they are resistant and scared. It is not as easy to operate on children as they are understandably more apprehensive. In all these cases, the children were very happy when it was all over and appreciated looking better.
We all have things we would like to change (give me some hair!) and many of us would gain self-confidence and esteem by making changes. Others feel that this is how they were born and that is that. No one should casually have surgery as there are many biopsychsocial implications. Experienced surgeons have the training and resources to deal with these in assisting patients.
Our society has become much more sensitive to these issues and it is a huge step forward. Some may say that some bullying has benefits as life bullies us and we will be bullied in our jobs as adults and many other situations and life challenges and people have to be able to adapt and understand how to cope with it. “Nothing is fun that hurts anyone” my third grade teacher used to say. Good words to live by.
To find out more about cosmetic facial surgery by Dr. Joe Niamtu, III in Richmond, Virginia visit www.lovethatface.com
Joe Niamtu, III DMD
Cosmetic Facial Surgery