Children and Otoplasty: is it the answer to bullying?
Stephanie Smith, the mother of a six-year-old, contacted aesthetic surgeon Dr. Joe Niamtu in panic.
Her daughter Olivia had quit ballet because when she wore her hair in the mandatory bun, the other kids laughed at her.
"Last night she came to me crying asking me, 'Why are my ears like this? I don't like them …'.
I'm so scared about my daughter, especially now that she’s starting school. Some of the bullies she encountered at her ballet class will be there too.
I won't be there to protect her. I just fear the emotional scars that this is going to cause." Smith, whose medical insurance was mediocre, couldn't afford an otoplasty-surgery.
Fortunately, Dr. Niamtu, could still help. "No one deserves to be made fun of for physical attributes they can't control," he says. Now the young girl is back at ballet.
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in the last decade, the rate of plastic surgery for children has gone up by about 30 percent, spurred, in part, by the increase in society's acceptance of plastic surgery as well as parents' fear of bullying.
According to Niamtu, the most common procedures are otoplasty, mole, birthmark, and scar removal, and, to a lesser extent, rhinoplasty and breast reduction in teen girls.
He has operated on children as young as 4-year-old and recommends
performing otoplasty before kids start elementary school, since that's when
bullying usually begins.
He explains that because children don't have much of a social filter, they will comment on anything that draws their attention. "There have been studies that show that when children have these deformities or situations that draw criticism, it can affect their self-esteem and impact them for the rest of their lives."
Another mother, Katherine Elliott, brought her six-year-old, Kendall, to Dr. Niamtu to remove a large dark mole on her chin. "That's the first thing people see", Elliot told local news station WRIC. “They don’t see her… they just see a big brown mole”.
She's had it since she was six months old, and it just got darker and darker." After surgery, the little girl was left with a pink spot that should disappear completely.
While cosmetic surgery may put a stop to bullying, Dr. Karen Ruskin, a family therapist and parenting expert, tells Yahoo Shine that it sends the wrong message to children. “Don’t change for them. Love yourself."
While she acknowledges that there are some exceptional circumstances in which plastic surgery might be necessary, she'd prefer that parents celebrate help them develop coping mechanisms. "They have big ears? Say, 'Look at how cute they are!'" She adds that throughout life, there will always be people who will tease, bully, or criticize, and the only thing we can control is our own reaction.
Niamtu agrees that cosmetic surgery is not always the answer and that some parents try to push a procedure on kids who may not need it or who may not care about changing the feature themselves. "If a child isn't getting bugged, let's wait and see how things go.
Good cosmetic surgeons say no frequently," he adds. In Kendall's case, Elliot says she "firmly believes that when her daughter gets older, she will thank her mommy." Still, Ruskin is concerned about the broader implications of plastic surgery in children. "We live in a society where it's no longer acceptable to look natural.”
Watch Malvina’s testimonial: