Changing Face: The Ethics Of Free Plastic Surgery For Bullying Victims

This week, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon/journalist with a talk show on CNN, did a special report regarding a nonprofit that offers free plastic surgery to kids who are bullied for their physical appearance.

The report follows 14-year-old Nadia Ilse, who has been bullied since she was in first grade for her supposedly large ears. Since the age of 10, Nadia has been asking her mom if she could have her ears pinned back in order to stop the bullying. The bullying occurs so frequently that it all just blurs together in her memory. On one level, Nadia understands that people should love and accept each other for who they are; but she also believes that the taunting will never stop, “It will just keep going; get worse and worse.”


Desperate to help her daughter, Nadia’s mom contacts the Little Baby Face Foundation, which funds such operations. The foundation flies Nadia from Georgia to New York City to have her ears pinned back, just as she’d requested. But Dr. Thomas Romo, a plastic surgeon for the foundation, points out some additional features that he feels need correcting: he says her chin is too pointy, and her nose too large and asymmetrical. Dr. Romo says that those aspects of her face will stand out more once her ears are pinned back. So, in addition to the ear correction, Nadia has a reduction rhinoplasty and a mentoplasty on her chin. It’s a four hour operation that normally would have cost 40 thousand dollars, but for Nadia, it’s free.

Seventy-two hours after the surgery, when Nadia sees her new face, she says, “I look beautiful. This is exactly what I wanted. I love it.”

The thing is, before the surgery, Nadia was already beautiful. Her face was definitely not symmetrical, and yes, her ears weren’t small. But to me she had a very distinctly fourteen-year-old girl face in that she hadn’t yet grown into her own features. Doesn’t everyone go through a phase where their nose or their ears or their cheeks look too big, before they get to their twenties or thirties and things even out? Fourteen is an awkward age for everyone. And if not 14, than 12, or 17, or eight, or whenever. We all go through an awkward time at some point. It’s part of growing up. And while you’re in that awkward phase, it can feel like it’s going to last the rest of your life. But it doesn’t. Your 14-year-old life is not the rest of your life, and I think kids need to be reminded of that from time to time.

After the surgery, as Nadia is interviewed by Dr. Gupta, she looks like a completely different girl. The quirky charm of her slightly crooked features is replaced by a conventional prettiness. Her face is perfectly symmetrical, she’s wearing a ton of makeup and she looks much older. But there is still a sadness in her eyes, even as she says, “I feel better about myself.” Nadia will start counseling soon, and says that she feels confident that when she goes back to school in September, the bullying will stop.


It makes my heart hurt that Nadia changed her face so that she wouldn’t be bullied. To me, that says that the problem was with the way she looked, not with the way she was being treated, and it looks a lot like victim blaming. Why are the kids who get bullied the ones who have to make changes? I wish we lived in a world where rather than changing ourselves to be “acceptable,” we could teach other people how to be accepting.

On the other hand, when I was a young teenager, I developed severe acne all over my face and body. Nothing I did made it go away. My pimples would outsmart any prescription, would unite and rise above my manic exfoliating rituals. And people were always making comments about it that made me want to hide underground. I became really, really good at putting makeup on, and wouldn’t let anyone see my skin without foundation, concealer, and powder. I still had acne when I went to college, when everyone else around me was done with that phase of life. It was so stressful to wake up every morning not knowing what my face was going to look like.

So when I was 20, I went on Accutane for six months. Afterwards, I was completely cured of the acne that had plagued me for seven years. But Accutane gave me a stomach condition that makes me prone to ulcers, and probably will for the rest of my life. You win some, you lose some.

All this is to say that I understand desperately wanting to change your face, and I understand wanting to use whatever tools are available to you to do so. Changing something about your appearance that makes you miserable can be a transformative experience. But what if you only hate a part of yourself because someone else told you it was ugly? Who is to say Nadia would have wanted to change her ears if some little jerk hadn’t bullied her about them?

I have a sinking feeling that I can’t let go of that Nadia’s surgery is not going to make the bullying go away. Bullies will always find something to make fun of, regardless of what you look like. What if Nadia becomes “plastic surgery girl”? And what if no matter how conventionally pretty she looks, she never sheds the feeling that there was something so wrong with her that she needed 40 thousand dollars worth of surgery to change it? Personally, when I look in the mirror, all I can see are my acne scars, even though I’m told that they actually aren’t there anymore. What if Nadia only sees the parts of her face that a doctor changed, and not its original, beautiful charm?

Girls should be empowered to feel good about themselves; this I think we can all agree on. But to what end? And if kids change themselves to fit the beauty standards of the meanest kid on the playground, who wins?

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Gabrielle Korn

Gabrielle Korn is a writer living in Los Angeles with her wife and dog.

Gabrielle has written 95 articles for us.


  1. I have too many feelings on this so I will list them because AS makes me *feel* more organized with my thoughts/feelings.

    Feeling #1: I hate bullies.

    Feeling #2: Having to change yourself so you do not get bullied is an all to familiar situation and something I went through growing up. Like you, I had acne and a weight “problem”. The acne got to be more manageable but when I lost weight I developed distorted eating patterns that I am not sure I can get rid of. So I definitely co-sign with the ”win some, lose some.”

    Feeling #3: I can truly understand why someone would get surgery or the non-profit surgery for bullied kids. It’s a see-saw situation where yes you are not bullied but you literally had to change your body to get that “peace.” Bullies also win because they are oppressors and forced you to change.

    Feeling #4: I try to compliment people because it really brightens their day thus making me feel warm and fuzzy, spread the love.

    Feeling #infinity: Therapy for everyone, seriously. Or at least a kitten/puppy/small creature that will give you unconditional love.

  2. I feel like changing her face is like saying her bullies were right, and she deserved to be unhappy because of her looks. In that case, where do we stop? Are we all supposed to look a certain way now, or forever be damned by our peers?

    I definitely agree with Gabrielle. She wasn’t ugly before the surgery. Maybe instead of funding surgery, they should fund campaigns promoting radical self love. I think that would be far more cost-effective, at the very least.

  3. If I ever have a fourteen year old, she will feel beautiful in her own body. She will feel powerful in her own body. And it won’t matter what anyone says to her. And she will have her days where she doesn’t feel those things, because we all do. But I went through too many years of being bullied to see the bullies win by convincing adults to convince their children to undergo elective surgery to change things that don’t need changing.

    • Yes, and yes. I would love to parent in the way which you describe. I can’t say exactly what I’d do, because I’m not a parent, but I want to exhibit that strength. To teach my children they are beautiful no matter what, that their individual features don’t make them ugly, and that they’re strong, so very strong.

  4. That is a tough one, but I agree that plastic surgery is way drastic. Why not just move schools? Or kick the crap out of the relevant small children (mostly joking)?

  5. “But what if you only hate a part of yourself because someone else told you it was ugly?” This. I actually wonder this about my feelings w/r/t gender identity. Like, am I genuinely genderqueer and/or trans, or have I just internalized so much sexist bullshit over my lifetime that it’s made me uncomfortable with womanhood?

    Also, I’m really upset at the surgeon in this situation. Way to make things worse. Actually, it just upsets me that kids are going through this stuff where people are trying to convince them that they need to be anything other than their wonderful selves.

    • “have I just internalized so much sexist bullshit over my lifetime that it’s made me uncomfortable with womanhood?”

      Whoa, too much truth with that feeling. *shivers*

    • Oh, this. Do I identify with more masculine gender representations only because I am rebelling against my own internalized & received femininity? UGH.

      • I wonder about that myself.

        Also, do I have a problem with being feminine, or do I have a problem with people expecting me to be feminine? I hate feeling pushed into a corner (I get all stubborn and contrary), so it’s hard to know what corner I would prefer (if any!) if it were possible to choose freely and without any kind of pressure or expectations.

        • I too have struggled with this.

          I have come to terms with my feminine side over the years. But it took me a long, long time.

          • I think to some extent, we are all products of our socialisation as much as we are products of out genetics. It can be difficult to tease out what aspect of our gender presentation or sexuality is due to which. Given that, I think that as long as we are not perpetuating negative socialisation or imposing it on those around us, it’s fine for us to live however we are comfortable living, without permanently trying to second-guess our motives.

            I say that only because I have found that too much introspection can be a one-way ticket to depression. As long as introspection is enlightening and interesting, it’s great, but when it starts raising a lot of anxiety, it can become damaging. It’s better to accept and love ourselves as we are, for who we are, than to worry about or pathologise ourselves. Goodness knows our social environment will do that for us, whether we ask it to or not.

    • “[A]m I genuinely genderqueer and/or trans, or have I just internalized so much sexist bullshit over my lifetime that it’s made me uncomfortable with womanhood?”

      Even though I’ve never run into this question myself (or its equivalent – I’m a trans girl who identifies within the binary and wants my body to be as physically female as medically possible), I think it’s interesting to think about the ways that misogyny and a rigid binary conception of gender might feed off each other. Like “if men are strong, women must be weak” or “if masculinity is taken seriously, femininity must be dismissed as silly.”

      It’s as though people are telling you (1) to act a specific way because of the sex you were assigned at birth and (2) hate and dismiss you for acting the way they just told you to act. Kind of mind-boggling.

  6. Oh man you have to give the girl a chance to grow into her face. This is just sad.

    Like many of you, I was kind of a funny looking kid–but I’ve mostly grown into my face (big ears, big nose, although the nose has character from an ocean kayak incident). And now I think I look pretty good, even if not “conventionally” pretty.

    This is just teaching kids that being conventionally pretty (symmetrical, etc) is most important. Boo.

    • When I was younger I was teased for my appearance because I didn’t look like everyone else. When I was in middle school and high school I was simply ignored because I wasn’t a big busty blonde. I daydreamed and researched all of the surgery I would get when I could afford it. Luckily I was never threatened. I focused on developing my personality and GPA since my looks werent going to be the escape route from my hometown.

      So I moved away and eventually grew into my features while I focused on schooling. I never felt comfortable in my skin until I was 21. I think I would have worse self esteem now if I had tried to mold my face into what my 14 year old self wanted. Again I can’t really chastise girls that are being actively bullied, but I wouldn’t trust my pubescent self to make such permanent decisions. I hope they’re happy in decade.

      • yeah me too, i would’ve chosen plastic surgery as a 14-year-old if it had been offered to me for free and my 14-year-old self might literally be the absolute worst version of myself when it comes to decision-making abilities

        • ” my 14-year-old self might literally be the absolute worst version of myself when it comes to decision-making abilities”

          This is all I could think about while reading this article. I’m terrified of her future-self’s feelings about these permanent changes. I hope it doesn’t cause her to endure unnecessary stress for the rest of her life.

          Also, isn’t there an age limit on elective plastic surgery?? I completely understand medical necessity, but as a matter of choice at 14, I’m baffled.

    • I’m sorry to change the tone, because this is truly a serious topic, but really? An ocean kayak incident? That sounds fantastical. I’m trying to imagine…did you manage to break your nose with the paddle blade? Did a sea lion tip you out of your boat onto some rocks? I’ve had strange things happen to me while kayaking but never to my face! Do tell, please! :)

      …just to be clear, your thumbnail does look great, but I definitely go for more character-ful faces in any case.

      • Haha I just saw this. I’ll message you the same in case you don’t see it. Sadly, not nearly as exciting as you can imagine. Basically Newton’s laws hit me in the face, literally–I was at camp and my friend jumped off the side of the ocean kayak, which sped across the water and directly into my nose.

        Which is now slightly smooshed/crooked on top, but it looks just like my brother’s nose! (his incident was with a Tonka truck).

  7. I’ve felt like this, though it’s actually become more acute in adulthood now that I’m more obviously the minority where I live (I was a minority before too, but at least back “home” the “majority” were also often brown!). This is the internal struggle I face all the time:

    “No one wants to hire/date/hang out with someone who is dark and pudgy and hairy and ugly. People have said as much to you and it has cost you jobs & love & opportunities. Do a Rita Hayworth – she became much more successful once she looked less Latina and more Anglo. Hell, you look like her “before” picture.”
    “But it’s anti-feminist! It’s not my fault people are prejudiced! To be feminist is to love yourself! and fight against plastic surgery! and the need to conform to normativity!”
    “Are these feminists giving you jobs, helping you survive, hanging out with you? Not really. They’re just as prejudiced and normative as the rest of them; they’re just glossing it over with claims of being more “enlightened”. At least this way you can be normal, and normal gets you survival.”
    “But why is it up to me to change? Why can’t other people change their prejudices? Stop assuming that “ethnic” means “useless”?”
    “Because you can’t change other people. It’s you against the world and the odds are not in your favour.”
    “But it’s painful either way! Will the pain be worth it? What if nothing is solved?”
    “You’re in pain ANYWAY. That’s not going to change. At least now you can pass.”

    on and on and on and fuckin’ on.

  8. Speaking of reactions from feminists: it really bugs me when people attack others for having plastic surgery (or some other cosmetic enhancement) in an effort to be “feminist” (Not in this article, but it’s a thing I notice in general). They’re trying to make the best out of a fucked-up situation, and maybe for them it means plastic surgery or liposuction or whatever. We can’t all be perfect activists 100%.

    • Word Tiara! Yes, I get why many are upset a 14-year old has chosen to have plastic surgery and what it means about the objectification of women’s bodies. But I really, really wish people wouldn’t project their own political agendas onto some else’s body, whether it’s patriarchal or intended as a progressive statement.

      Some of the commentary on this thread reminds me of people questioning whether trans kids should be allowed to have medical transition… shouldn’t they just be who they are… isn’t it societies fault they can’t deal with gender transition… they’re supporting the binary, etc. Yes, there should be more acceptance and less bullying (good luck waiting for that one) but this is her body, her life and her choice.

      • My quibble is not with her. I feel like the organisation she went to is the problem here.

        Also, we don’t let fourteen-year-olds get tattoos, so why let fourteen-year-olds make this kind of permanent body modification choice?

        • 14-year olds can indeed get tattoos with their parents’ consent and minors can’t get surgery without that either. She had the consent of her parents, and she wanted to do it.

  9. does plastic surgery really help? I feel like bullies just look for a reason, I mean the stuff they tease you about is often the most absurd shit anyways.

    fourteen is so young for super (face changing/life changing- your face is with you for a long time!) decisions. I also resent that surgeon who took a what seems a pretty small operation and turned it into a whole new you sort of thing.

  10. That plastic surgeon makes me sick. This whole thing makes me feel sick. I think the mother’s reaction and behavior throughout this is pretty much the worst way possible to raise a girl. Women’s bodies are under attack constantly and have been throughout history. This mother has not done her job. The girl hasn’t been raised with any concepts of personal strength or inner beauty. She’s kind of fucked now and the importance of skin deep superficial attractiveness however society defines it has literally been carved into her body.

  11. i don’t know, i’m on the fence about this. on the one hand, i feel that no one should have to capitulate to ignorant bullies, EVER. on the other hand, appearance does carry value in this world, and if refining her facial features is the first step in nadia feeling more confident about herself, then so be it. i too struggled with acne and my weight for years and i worked on eradicating my acne and getting to a weight that was more appropriate for my body. i’m not going to be apologetic for working on my appearance and trying to put my best foot forward.

  12. i’m on the fence about this. on the one hand, i feel that no one should have to capitulate to ignorant bullies, EVER. on the other hand, appearance does carry value in this world, and if refining her facial features is the first step in nadia feeling more confident about herself, then so be it. i too struggled with acne and my weight for years and i worked on eradicating my acne and getting to a weight that was more appropriate for my body. i’m not going to be apologetic for working on my appearance and trying to put my best foot forward.


    No really. Fuck everybody this is awful.

  14. gabrielle i think you’re a really outstanding writer and journalist, even after just a few articles. hope you keep writing forever

  15. this is saddening. when someone dislikes something about themselves, whether it’s their nose, ears, teeth, what have you, it’s the thing i love most about them. it’s what makes them unique and beautiful in their own way. when there is someone who doesnt like something about you, there are many, many more people who love that part of you. so please try to hang in there and to love yourself the way that you are! <3!

    • yes, THANK YOU. telling a fourteen year old that she has features that require ‘correction’ so that she has surgery on that basis is shameful.

      • AGREED.

        Her surgeon basically said “hey yeah, i know bullying is wrong and all, but they had a point. oh and by the way, they missed out on a couple of things too.” I MEAN COME ON. That is totally validating the bullying and it is just downright irresponsible. What a horrible message to send to other girls in the same situation.

  16. This whole situation – I just don’t know where to begin.

    I’m angry at the parents, surgeon and school to allow this to happen in the first place. I feel desperately sad for the child in the centre of all this. She has been irrevocably altered, thanks to adult enablers that should know better, should have empowered and protected her. Not cut into her face ffs.

  17. I cannot believe that the surgeon told her that the rest of her face had to be fixed. That is so uncalled for and unfair and shitty. I feel like fourteen is really premature to be changing your entire face, especially since middle/high school is the time in life when everyone’s insecure and if they don’t get bullied by other people they probably bully themselves. On the other hand, I kind of think that if she felt like the bullying was bad enough that she had to change her appearance, and she really will feel better about herself, I guess maybe it’s sort of a good thing.


  18. ‘Hey, let’s give this poor bullied girl plastic surgery and then let THE INTERNET catch wind of it so that she will never ever be bullied or judged for her appearance ever again!’

    I think there was a lapse in logic somewhere in there. Just maybe.

    • Yep! And also . . . when I see the “before” picture, I see a completely normal-looking kid! And I am pretty horrified by the surgeon’s reaction to that very normal-looking kid. He’s the one who earns my utter dismay in this situation.

    • Oh, no. That’s the whole fucking point. This surgeon, and thousands like him, are capitalizing on the insecurities of society and the false solutions our profit and media-driven society sells to women and girls.

      That he is unethical enough to cloak his venal, self-serving use of beauty standards behind the issue of bullying (which, need I remind anyone is “hot” in the minds of market-savvy professionals) just goes to show that he is a first-class bully, con man and moral failure of the most vile cloth.

      He’s not unique in his field in capitalizing on insecurities about physical appearance, the white Anglo-Saxon beauty myth, and adherence to the most destructively stereotypical aspects of the gender binary. Just google “best plastic surgeons” and read the demeaning, shaming, twisted marketing copy on the surgeons’ websites, or read some of the articles that have exposed the ugly corruption of these businesses. Many plastic surgeons in large markets use these techniques for their own financial gain, particularly in wealthy markets where there are large numbers of people with too much money, too many insecurities and where “Barbie = beauty” is the underlying myth dominating the subconscious of the female population.

      I’m not saying that all plastic surgery is unnecessary or even inadvisable– on the contrary. But in a society that is plagued with extremely twisted and immature thinking about beauty and self-identity, it is a field that is ripe for exploitation, particularly since it is such a lucrative market and because money is made by capitalizing on our deepest insecurities.

      I have more feelings about this girl, her genuine beauty before surgery, her parents’ failure to instill in her a solid understanding of her worth, and a lot of other feelings brought about by this topic. But I needed to address that asshole plastic surgeon first. He is incredibly unethical and there are legitimate reasons for non-profit organizations to disassociate themselves with him.

  19. Can we make a book that has pictures of us all in our awkward middle school/teenager phases and then pictures of us now? In my case, I would still be awkward but at least now I am not wearing over-sized, shapeless, snarky Hot Topic t-shirts.

  20. this bums me out on so many levels
    mostly i hate that i can’t seem to find a magic way to stop bullies
    like…how do we stop kids from bullying?
    this haunts me
    i literally sometimes have nightmares about what will happen if i have a child who is bullied
    because i don’t know what you say to that child
    because i have yet to see/hear/learn of a way to effectively stop kids who want to be cruel

    does any of this make sense?
    i am just so sad now ugh

  21. This is infuriating on several different levels.

    It infuriates me that there is an organization that can cover $40,000 worth of plastic surgery for a teen to try to feel better about themselves when I can’t even get the funds to cover my $40,000 tuition at a women’s college that I know will make me feel infinitely better about myself and the world around me.

    As pointed out earlier, it infuriates me that the doctors told her she was going to need additional procedures after her requested one because her face would look weird if she didn’t go through with them. They could have used that analysis to maybe point out that her ears were fitting for the face she was born with.

    I was bullied both by my parents and classmates while growing up, mostly due to my weight (my dad thought I should look like the magazine models) and I am still dealing with acne. I was on prescription acne medication while in high school that violated my veganism because I knew it was tested on animals (something I am absolutely against), but because there was so much pressure, I wanted the most effective thing. Now I use a cleanser that isn’t tested on animals from an esthetician I’ve found in SF. I still have people make comments about my skin but I’ve learned that only you can be your own judge. I’ve had people tell me my skin has really cleared up and then had people tell me I should do something about it. Every time of the month when my cycle hits, my acne flares up and I can’t do anything except deal with it. Not everyone is going to find me beautiful but those who do are the ones who will win my heart.

    Bullies suck and this makes me so so mad. We need to teach people, especially those with xy chromosomes, that their worth doesn’t just lie in their looks!!

    • Women’s colleges represent, my experiences with one have been the best therapy for getting over 18 years of bullying. Solidarity to the max.

    • Overall agreement, but was there really a need for the ‘xy’ bit? May not be the intention but that comes off both as implying pretty much all bullying is done by ‘guys’, that this also applies to a hell of a lot of trans* people and that anyone who is (imo) lucky enough to have got an ‘xx’ isn’t really at fault here.

      Sorry, I may just be angry because of other stuff that has happened lately.

      • Oh shit, I totally meant to put xx chromosome, (what I meant was that we need to stop teaching teenage girls that their worth lies in their looks). I didn’t mean to imply that anyone in particular was at fault for the bullying (patriarchal/appearance obsessed society in general is at fault).

        • I did get a little confused with that, to the point where first time i went to say something i deleted it. This makes a lot more sense now, and the ‘overall’ is now ‘fully’

  22. This is a tough one for me.
    Obviously, I think it is really important to try to foster positive body image and self acceptance in young girls. But I have also been the teenager who would have given anything to change certain things about my body (including plastic surgery).

    For me, the process of growing up and learning to accept myself, and understand that no one is perfect, has helped me developed a sense of confidence that goes beyond what I look like. But I know that’s not how it is for everyone. The wounds of adolescence can take years to heal, you know. So it’s hard to pass judgement on anyone wanting to make themselves happier, or make their child’s life easier.

    This article also reminded me of this short film by Andrea Dorfman (who made ‘How to be Alone’) called Flawed. It’s really sweet and beautiful and will make you feel better about the world:

  23. When I was 13-14 and convinced I would be chubby and awkward forever, my mother told me at one point that if I still had that baby fat when I was 18, I could get plastic surgery. Obviously, she had no intention of following through on it – I’m sure she doesn’t even remember saying it anymore – but it actually did help me see a light at the end of the awkwardness tunnel. But it didn’t stop me from trying to lose weight so I don’t actually know how helpful it was in the long run.

  24. This article really hits home. This summer I was in a camp like situation where I had to shower in close quaters with 30 other females (score!). After that, I realized nobody has a perfect body. Some of us have scars others have hair or lil flabby sections. After showering with these girls for 6 weeks, I finally was able to stand up to my mom who constantly criticizes my appearance. Bottom line, if you need more confidence in the way you look, get naked with other females. Its a hell of a lot cheaper and, might I add, a bajillion times more fun!

  25. Like many others, I was also horribly bullied since about Grade 5 through to late high school because of bad skin.

    “Personally, when I look in the mirror, all I can see are my acne scars, even though I’m told that they actually aren’t there anymore.”

    This comment resonates so hard with me – I still see that I have terrible skin whenever I look in the mirror, even though a lot of my people I know think I have lovely skin. And I should believe them, because I know deep-down it’s true, but it’s so hard to push away those bullying comments.

    So what I’m saying is, I totally get how this young woman feels. But I don’t know whether, in the long-run, it’ll be the right decision. Why aren’t we teaching young girls (and boys) how to develop their self-confidence and pride, rather than paying for them to have plastic surgery? Why aren’t anti-bullying programs working as they’re currently being carried out?

  26. In about Year 9, we were having a lesson about body image at my school, and at the end the teacher asked us to put up our hands if we liked the way we looked. I put up my hand. One other girl did. In a class of 24, only 2 14-year-old girls felt comfortable with who they were. And that still makes me really fucking sad.

  27. This is so sad, she’s so young! Loads of super hot celebrities looked like Picasso paintings when they were 14.

  28. Bullies distort reality. They take single parts of a person and reduce the entire person to flaws.

    People will give you amazing compliments, when they want something and cut you down when they want something else. You have to be able to tell yourself what you are worth. I can’t imagine how misguided people have to be to think that plastic surgery is going to tell this girl that she is worthy.

    Did anyone bother to tell this girl that there are other things she does/is that matter? The day my life ends I’m not going to be thinking about how much I should have gotten liposuction. I’m going to be thinking how rad it was that I had people in my life that loved me, how I told bullies to shove it, or all the awesome things I accomplished in spite of bullied. Life is hard. There are obstacles. Giving away pretty faces as the solution, does not give women any worth beyond their looks.

    Also, geesh,I guess you can start a non-profit for anything.

  29. “Seventy-two hours after the surgery, when Nadia sees her new face, she says, “I look beautiful. This is exactly what i wanted. I love it.”

    I think this is the saddest line in the whole article.

  30. There was nothing wrong with her before she got the surgery! As you said, she looked like a 14-year-old girl who needed time to grow into herself, but the surgery’s taken care of that, because she looks at least 17 in the “after” picture.

    Since she’s already had the surgery, I can only hope that she’ll develop the confidence to help her deal with any more bullies she might have from now on.

  31. I had a breast reduction too. Partly for bullying/harrassment reasons, but mainly because it was giving me back and mobility issues.

    Glad it improved your life – I feel the same way. I don’t really see it in the same light as most other elective/plastic surgery though, as you (one) can be left with pretty extensive scars as a result. I didn’t really care how my boobs looked at the end, as long as they were smaller.

    • “I didn’t really care how my boobs looked at the end, as long as they were smaller.”~ I think that just about summed up every notion i’ve had about my body for the last 9 years.

      I don’t know if you’ve ever worn a bind of any kind, or are even leaning more to the masculine spectrum; but I can’t wait to button up my shirt and tie my windsor knot without feeling self conscious about my chest.

      Best of luck to you, dear :).

      • I don’t bind, as I find myself kind of in the middle of the spectrum. I like to dress from both sides ;)

        Best of luck to you (and Kimberley too)! I hope you get your surgery soon and that you have a fast and straightforward recovery.

        • Oh and if you have any questions about the recovery etc, please feel free to ask! Happy to share.

    • I’m having plastic surgery (sort of) in two and a half weeks, and it’s changed my perspective a bit on cosmetic surgery, at least on adults. Mine is reconstruction post-preventative mastectomy (BRCA gene), and it’s a major invasive surgery that takes my risk of breast cancer from 84% to under 5% and has the potential to save my life. But honestly, I’m kind of psyched about having breasts I don’t totally hate anymore. I’m going to have nothing but implants, I’m going to have scars, I’m going to not be able to feel an entire band around my chest and I’ll have a REALLY hard recovery for like 6 weeks, but it gives me far more potential to be alive and secure in my cancer-free life.

  32. So long as it was her choice, no matter the motivation, I am happy if she is happy. Nobody deserves to be made to feel inadequate, but people get braces, go to fat camp, take Accutane, etc for either perceived or documented imperfection. Her happiness is paramount. I feel like there was a level of concern in the article that later became pity in the comments, but I am glad an organization exists to help bullied kids feel better.I just also think a dual lesson regarding why kids bully ought to also be addressed and I think it will be in counseling. Unfortunately appearance matters and I know young women who have had their ears pinned and it was for a completely valid aeshetic reason. The bullying was never really about her ears, that’s not why kids are mean. I do know from personal experience that the bullying could potentially stop. Children who bully are particularly talented at isolating your biggest insecurity. If you take that away they either have to create a new reason or you have to give them one.If the result of the surgery is that she feels sincerely confident then that is the best we can hope for. Typically plastic surgeons are required to screen for psych issues before they operate. If she wasn’t fit for the procedure I don’t think it would have been done.

  33. I’m so glad you wrote about this. Because I read about it the other day and got this terribly icky feeling. It makes me so sad that she was so tormented and ridiculed that she felt like she had something to fix. I feel like one of the most important milestones in your life is learning to accept yourself as who you are, and growing into who you will be. And it makes me really, really sad that this girl was robbed of that.

  34. My god, she’s fourteen years old and this is a SURGERY. That’s sometimes what I think people don’t understand about plastic surgery…the fact that it actually is surgery, with risks and everything. At least wait until she’s 18! As others have already mentioned, 14 year olds are not always the best at making these kinds of permanent decisions about their bodies. I vividly remember being that age. I had so many hormones running through my body I would get depressed and start crying at the same time every night for no reason. I wasn’t ever bullied but I still felt ugly and weird because I wasn’t used to my body. I also felt WAY more mature than I’m sure I was. In my mind, I was such an adult even though I was still just a kid.

    I think cosmetic surgery is fine as long as it’s minor, doesn’t get out of control, and the person receiving it does some major research before choosing a doctor but…for 14 year olds? This money should be going to repairing cleft palates of little children or to anti-bullying initiatives.

    This girl needs to be enrolled in Girl Scouts or debate club or sports or a poetry-writing class. Give her the empowerment she needs to finish high school and THEN ask her if she still thinks her ears need to be changed to fit someone else’s definition of “beautiful”.


    Pretty – Katie Makkai

    When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother “What will I be? Will I be pretty?” Will I be pretty? Will I be pretty? What comes next? Oh right, will I be rich which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception passing blood and breath into cells. The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill of fluorescent floodlight of worry.
    “Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?” But puberty left me this funhouse mirror dry add: teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long, and pox-marked where the hormones went finger-painting my poor mother.

    “How could this happen? You’ll have porcelain skin as soon as we can see a dermatologist.” “You sucked your thumb. That’s why your teeth look like that! ” “You were hit in the face with a Frisbee when you were six, otherwise your nose would have been fine! ”
    Don’t worry; we will get it all fixed she would say, grasping my face, twisting it this way and that as if it were a cabbage she might buy. But, this is not about her. Not her fault she, too, was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable appearance.

    By sixteen I was pickled by ointments, medications, peroxides. Teeth corralled into steel prongs, laying in a hospital bed. Face packed with gauze, cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved.

    Belly gorged on two pints of my own blood I had swallowed under anesthesia, and every convulsive twist, like my body screaming at me from the inside out “What did you let them do to you? ” All the while, this never ending chorus groaning on and on like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood.

    “Will I be pretty? ” Will I be pretty like my mother, unwrapping the gift wrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her $10,000 bought her? Pretty? Pretty.

    And now I have not seen my own face in ten years. I have not seen my own face in ten years, but this is not about me! This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl thirty stores in six malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how to wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those two pretty syllables.

    This, this is about my own some-day daughter. When you approach me, already stung-stayed with insecurity, begging, “Mom, will I be pretty? Will I be pretty?” I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer no.

    The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be, and no child of mine will be contained in five letters. You will be pretty intelligent, pretty creative, pretty amazing, but you will never be merely “pretty.”

  36. This makes me think a lot of things, because when my closest friend was thirteen she had her ears pinned back because she was bullied and it was funded by the NHS, which is not an uncommon occurrence in the UK, in fact, at first I was surprised that this was a news worthy story.

  37. I have a LOT of issues with the plastic surgeon telling her how many other ways her face needed to be “fixed”. I think it’s absurd and damaging, and yes, she probably should have just been allowed to grow into her own skin.

    However, has anyone else actually looked into what the Little Baby Face Foundation USUALLY does? Outside of the bullying angle CNN chose to run with? They’re fixing children with incredibly severe, damaging facial deformities – no ears, cleft palate, etc. – from all around the world. While I don’t agree with something seemingly cosmetic on a still growing, still emotionally vulnerable 14-year-old, I think that fixing children’s deformities to give them an actual legitimately better quality of life from serious medical issues is something that should be commended.

    • I was kind of contrasting this in my mind with the operations on severe stuff like cleft palates, often on third-world kids, which seem infinitely more needed. I’m surprised the same organization mixes this with that. Maybe they thought throwing in a blonde American kid with microscopic-to-imaginary “flaws” would bring the cause more attention? Hmm.

  38. Gabrielle, I had severe cystic acne, too. This was my face.
    (Can you publish the image so it’s not just a link?)
    When I would see girls in the bathroom say they didn’t want to go to the mall because they had a zit, I understood that they had normal teenage insecurity, but sometimes I felt like saying to them so bad, “If only you were to walk around for one day with the face I had for a year…”

    For me, the most painful part of having acne was the physical discomfort. Big cysts like the ones I had sting like HELL. They also, as I’m sure happened to you, are liable to burst at any time. I was on the same medication as you and it changed my life, too. I am lucky that I have not had any side or after effects from it though (other than the usual chapped lips). I remember how it would feel as if my face was on fire some days and I had a spray can of therapeutic water on my desk and would leave the classroom when the inflammation was getting too much. Looking back, I realize how much the experience made me grow as a person. For the first time, I knew what it was to have your appearance be confronting to some people. To have people do a double-take or stare at the mall (one time my mom was enraged cause this one person at the mall stared at me for ages, she didn’t say anything but inside she was fuming).

    I guess getting one’s ears pinned is a pretty simple procedure but personally, I think that unless it has to do with an injury, it’s best if plastic surgery is delayed ’til at least 16. But then again…I think there are so many factors…maturity etc. that’s it’s probably a case by base thing.

  39. I don’t even have words to express how much this saddens me. As much as I want to disagree wth her choice; that would be nothing short of hypocritical. Currently i’m on a waiting list for breast reduction surgery…granted, it isn’t surgery to change my face. It still hurts, regardless, when you seek peace in a last resort.

    Good luck to you, miss :)
    I hope you found it at last.

  40. Very worthy ethics questions aside… it seems like 95% of the change to her appearance has been a radical butch-to-femme shift. That super-short haircut with sturdy glasses is traditionally worn with an attitude of, “If you don’t think I’m pretty enough, you are cordially invited to kiss my a**.” So… what happened here? Was she keeping up a defiant attitude that collapsed all of a sudden? Did she try different hair and glasses before or after surgery?

    I just don’t associate that funky-boi look with anybody desperate for approval, and I’m confused.

    • She just had her hair in a ponytail before, probably so that we could see her whole face without her hair in the way. Maybe you’re confused because there wasn’t a shift in her gender presentation (at least not that we have seen), so much as a difference between what she wore to basically make a “before” video and what she wore to appear on television.

  41. I’ve broken my nose playing rugby 6 times now in the past 5 years and I wouldn’t change it. My body is my canvas of what I have been through…I wouldnt however mind being able to breathe at night through my nose LOL.
    And hell, I’m not hideous and got a gf with my sparkling personality and charm so I guess I’m not a troll yet.

    I felt like shit at 13 but it made me feel fucking awesome at 22!

    Boo Ya!


  42. I think that getting her ears pinned is one thing but the nose and chin could have waited till she was older. She should have been proud to sport her ears look at some of the beautiful actresses that have huge ears and they are considered some of the most beautiful women in the U.S.

  43. When I was in jr. high I used to get called “cheeks” and “lobes” because I have really high cheekbones and GIANT earlobes…like huge…and even though they are certainly tame names, it still hurt. I always told myself that when I was an adult I would get surgery to fix both. Now as an adult, I’ve learned to love and accept my body, and I really don’t want to change who I am just to fit societies vision of “pretty”. I’m glad that at such a young age I didn’t have the choice, because I’m sure I would have regretted it.

  44. Is anybody else reminded of this Twilight Zone episode? It’s really sad how ahead of its time this episode still is, over 50 years after its airdate…

    This whole thing just makes me sad. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, when the shoe doesn’t fit, you don’t change the foot. I get why the girl feels the way she does; the really sad thing is that there were several adults in the picture here who validated those feelings of inadequacy by acting like her face was the thing that had to change, rather than the other kids’ behavior.

    • Just wanted to add that at the time I made this comment, I didn’t know that Gloria Steinem quote was, in the original context, meant as a transphobic statement (I’d just seen it in “notable quotes” compilations) and I wouldn’t have used it if I knew that, and apologize to anyone that might have offended.

  45. This is horrifying. I was a pretty dorky weird looking teenager, I am 23 now so I can remember it pretty clearly.
    I was not attractive, I too hated my sticky outey ears. But so much changes with confidence and a good haircut.

  46. Of course cosmetic surgery is not the solution for most bullying. Bullying is a systemic problem running rampant in our culture. When it comes to cosmetic surgery, each case must be evaluated medically, the emotional issues of the victim, and any long standing corrections that may have been desired before the bullying. The ethics of performing certain facial surgery on teens concerns me, because as a teenager one’s face has not fully matured. For instance, the jaw bone is the last bone to mature in the face, however the ears develop at a very young age. I am very careful to evaluate these issues when I consult with a teen and his or her parent.
    Dr. Branman

  47. I’m a guy. I had plastic surgery. I asked the doctor to do one thing and he did another. I’m Asian and I’m proud of that. He thought I looked too white and went ahead and made some alterations on his own. Now I hate white people even though I look more white and wish they could all go to hell. DIE ALL WHITE PEOPLE. Fuck you guys. His name was Geoffrey Keyes by the way.

  48. Well to be honest im bullied all the time im a freshman in highschool and i sit at what is considered the nerd table all of my friends are as bullied to and to be perfectly honest here changing things will do nothing all you SHOULD do is look them in the eye and try and shoot out a personal comment like ” its a shame when people take out family issues on others it really solves nothing” it may be wierd but one of those times youll hit bullseye and when you do youll know and thatll just be your comeback because for some reason everyone seems to believe that someones going to see right through them and you just made there worst nightmare materialize in front of them a little harsh but if they have the nerve to treat you like that well you just have to put your foot down

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