Bullying has been in the news a lot lately because of some tragic consequences and the relatively new dimension of cyber-bullying. But the truth is, there have always been bullies, and the persecuted have always sought refuge by trying to change their appearance. Buying clothes from more expensive retailers, showering more often, dyeing your hair, losing weight – in high school (as in life) you’ve got to do a lot to avoid criticism from your peers. But should the changes you’re willing to make extend as far as getting plastic surgery?
My dad was in high school in the 1970’s. And he had, to put it delicately, quite prominent ears. Kids chanted M-I-C-K-E-Y-M-O-U-S-E at him in the hallways (which seems tame by today’s standards, but it’s still not a nickname most teenage boys covet). So, my father had otoplasty, more commonly known as pinning back your ears. When I consider that my father was a teen who had plastic surgery to prevent bullying over 30 years ago, the current phenomenon doesn’t seem so grim. In fact, Dr. Marcel Daniels, a Long Beach plastic surgeon suggests that, “A child getting [otoplasty], to me, sure that’s a surgery that’s going to have a net plus.” And I agree. My dad’s a pretty normal guy, with no deep psychological scars. In fact, his scars are just tiny little dots behind his ears. His very normal, attractive ears.
Even though my dad had a pretty good experience with his auricular transformation, it’s obvious that this isn’t true for all teens. The fact is, the insecurity that bullying breeds usually runs much deeper than surface level. Teenagers already have pretty fragile psyches, and the damage done by continuous taunting only worsens the condition of teenage angst and low self-esteem. But there are a few problems with quick fixes like nose jobs. One, the other kids at school are gonna notice that your huge schnoz suddenly disappeared. And they’re probably gonna make fun of you for it. So unless you’re committed enough to your makeover to transfer high schools, don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll go unnoticed. Two, your new nose won’t make you popular or cure any of your confidence woes. Yeah, feeling like you look good will help give you a boost, but it’s not going to fix everything. You should already feel good about yourself and have supportive, caring friends BEFORE plastic surgery. Going under the knife is just a way to make you feel even better.
That’s easy to say. But I know it’s hard in high school to feel beautiful when boys (or girls) are telling you that your face makes them want to vomit. Or that you look like a monkey that got hit with a shovel. Or that your chest is flatter than the Great Plains. I was always insecure as a high schooler. One kid that rode my bus nicknamed me 34 B because he found out what my bra size was and wanted to taunt me about it. 34 B is a perfectly respectable bra size for a thirteen year old, but that didn’t change the fact that for some reason, I was ashamed of it. I also had mountainous acne that I tried to hide with hats and bangs and too much concealer, and I had (and still have) a bump in the bridge of my nose that occasionally prompted my grandmother to underhandedly hint that I should get something done.
With such high (and usually unrealistic) beauty standards and so many people around to point out their shortcomings, it’s not surprising that teens suffer. But here’s the thing. I looked at my nose in the mirror a lot. I looked at the little hump halfway down, and I thought, I like you. My nose is unique. And I want it. Other people might find fault in it, but I didn’t. And once I realized that my friends had acne too, and that my bra size was okay, and that I didn’t need to be on a diet, other people’s words stopped mattering. Sure, those realizations didn’t come until I was about a sophomore in college, but they came.
That’s not to say that I’m against improving your appearance. As a teen, I bought expensive face cream to banish my zits, and I got my eyebrows waxed and wore fancy bras to look bustier. And just because plastic surgery has something of a stigma associated with it doesn’t mean it’s that much different than any other method of self-improvement. No one scorns teens for having laser hair removal or getting braces or exercising regularly. But for some reason, getting a boob job seems very taboo. Part of it is that teenage bodies are still developing, so some surgeries could prematurely change a part of you that might already change on its own. Bra sizes go up, ladies. And facial structure evolves. And as Dr. Daniels says, “Teenagers in general lack the emotional and intellectual maturity to make decisions for themselves that could impact on them for a lifetime.” So don’t do anything rash. It’s hard to undo surgery.
That said, there’s no denying that high school shouldn’t be harder than it has to be. That’s probably why around 100,000 teens are getting plastic annually – and why a large portion of those choosing to have elective surgery cite bullying as their motivation. Bullies have new tools now, like Facebook and Photoshop. Horrifying pictures of you with malevolent captions can pop up anywhere – for everyone to see, and that doesn’t feel good. And, truthfully, if kids are calling you Mickey Mouse, the reality is adults might scorn you for your Dumbo ears too. Even if it’s subconsciously, people can’t help but take note of unusual appearances. So, with enough careful thought, parental support, and sufficient funds, plastic surgery might be an option for some teens. The most common procedures for teens include nose jobs, breast augmentations, breast reductions, ear tucks, and BOTOX. (Okay, maybe save the BOTOX for when you have any semblance of wrinkles – you’re not Kim Kardashian.)
So what’s the conclusion here? Is plastic surgery okay for teenagers or not? I don’t really know. I know bullying is terrible and any possible escape seems tempting when you’re a teen. I know my dad is much happier with his new ears than his old ones. But I also know that girls in my school who got boob jobs were gossiped about relentlessly and cruelly, even though more guys paid attention to them. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, or even a hard answer that can apply to everyone. As Dr. Daniels says, “It certainly should be on an individual basis.” I’m happy I didn’t get a nose job, but I have friends who’ve gotten rhinoplasty and been very satisfied. The secret, I think, is doing the right thing for the right reasons – improving your looks because YOU want to feel better about your body. Not because you want some meathead with a double digit IQ to stop teasing you about the itty bitty titty committee. So before you use your sweet sixteen money to go from an A cup to a D cup, consider everything carefully. And do what makes you feel good. That’s all that really matters.none