Bullying – both at school and on social media outlets like Facebook – has reached epic proportions, affecting some 3.2 million students every year in the United States. At an age where appearances mean absolutely everything, teenagers are especially vulnerable to its effects, with some battling depression or refusing to go to class to avoid another painful day of humiliation. According to the National Education Association, 160,000 students miss school for fear of being bullied.
Over the last few years, the link between teen plastic surgery and bullying at school has made headlines across the nation. Statistics provided by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons shows that more adolescents are turning to nose jobs, ear surgery and breast reduction than ever before in their attempts to “fit in” and look normal. Just last year 236,000 teens between the ages of 13 and 19 had cosmetic procedures performed, and the majority of those cases stemmed from bullying by peers.
“Teen plastic surgery is on the rise, especially for the nose, as before and after results for rhinoplasty can be dramatic,” explains Dr. Thomas Loeb, New York plastic surgeon and member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. “Fixing a large hump can have a positive effect on a teen’s self-esteem.”
Perceived physical abnormalities can lead children to become the subjects of cruel jokes and ridicule. A hooked nose or prominent ears are prime teasing material among kids, especially those entering their teen years when self-image and peer opinion is paramount. Over the past ten years, the number of teenagers seeking plastic surgery has risen 30 percent – perhaps a testament of the ferocity of today’s school-yard harassment. Feeling intimidated, threatened and socially outcast, some victims spend their evenings in tears, wishing for the day they could fix a physical flaw so they can be accepted.
Among the most popular surgical procedures performed on teenagers are otoplasty (surgery to reduce the appearance of ears that stick out more than normal), rhinoplasty and breast reduction. A reduction is often sought by young girls with abnormally large breasts, which in addition to becoming a source of ridicule for teens, can also hamper daily physical activities and cause neck and back pain.
Chemical peels, laser skin resurfacing and laser hair removal accounted for 160,000 minimally-invasive procedures among teens. Conditions like acne scars, pitted skin or excessive body hair, which often result in feelings of low self-esteem, can provide significant improvement through a low-risk, in-office treatment.
One notable story recounted by ABC News is that of Nicollete Taylor, a pretty 13-year-old, who after breaking her nose twice when she was younger, was mercilessly teased by her fellow students. Seeing their daughter heartbroken, Nicollete’s parents took her to a plastic surgeon for a rhinoplasty. Although very young for this procedure, the surgeon fixed the teen’s humped nose, and effectively put an end to the bullying that she had been forced to endure.
Nicolette was lucky enough to have parents who were in a position to purchase a cosmetic solution for bullying, and in this case, put an end to her problems. But we must ask ourselves, who’s responsibility is it when teens are victimized in school? Should a teen be forced to change his/her appearance because of bullies, or should the bullies’ parents teach them how to be kind and respect their fellow classmate?
Dr. Thomas Loeb is a board certified NYC plastic surgeon and has a long history of performing facial surgery on teens and young adults, “We have had occasions where young women come in to have a physical deformity repaired, a large hump on the nose for example, and have seen tremendous improvement in self-esteem, and a very positive change in personality. Unfortunately, this does not always address the serious issues they may face with their peers.”
If you or someone you know is being bullied and wants help, here are some great resources.