Beauty may be only skin deep, but how much of an effect does it truly have on happiness?
That’s the question that Nadia Ilse inadvertently raised when she got $40,000 worth of plastic surgery to stop the relentless teasing about her “big” ears.
Ilse had work done on her nose and chin as well, which — at least on the surface — transformed her into a new person. She said she loves her new look and is grateful for the expensive surgery she could have only gotten through the Little Baby Face Foundation.
While Ilse must know that her plastic surgery can never be the magic bullet, her traumatic experience being bullied goes much deeper than her transformative cosmetic procedure. Even though she received media attention for how she handled her abuse, her story is just a sample in the many cases of bullying that have a permanent impact on a person’s sense of self.
Cheryl Rothenberg, LGSW, a psychotherapist for the University of Maryland’s University Health Center, said she sees how such surgery could be beneficial to someone who is suffering, but is wary of the long-term effects of body modification.
“I don’t think there are ever quick fixes to that kind of shame that bullying brings upon somebody,” she said. “If it becomes clear that [plastic surgery] could be really helpful then that’s one option. But it’s one option because we can always find something we don’t feel good about.” The self-esteem issues may fade, but never completely dissolve.
And, as Priscilla Nyankson will tell you, that psychological impact lingers long past the ordeal. The University of Notre Dame senior said she still feels the sting of being bullied in elementary school when she moved from Ghana to the United States. Classmates would ask her if she had lived in trees in Africa and would pretend not to understand her slight accent. Nyankson said she found the strength to move forward and grow from her pain, but “a part of me will never forget what they put me through,” she said.
“You tear a person down but you [also] completely negate their humanity,” she said. “You don’t consider that they are human … and that is something that I absolutely cannot deal with.”
Amanda Mosner said that she knows, as shallow as it sounds, looks make a significant difference in life. Having struggled with weight issues most of her life, the Barnard College senior said that even when she lost the weight she could never escape the emotional distress.
“The weight was always the default insult to me even when I was thin,” she said. “It was obviously something I still cared about.” Mosner even transferred high schools when the teasing became too much to handle. She said she’s learned to cope, but not just by shedding pounds.
“As much as I know being thinner would make many, many, many aspects of my life easier … that’s only going to do so much. People are always going to be mean, and it’s changing the way you think about it. It can be debilitating if you don’t learn to change the way you see things and not internalize it quite as much.”
Clearly there’s more at stake than plastic surgery. Ilse’s own procedure has opened doors to a much larger and holistic approach to tackling bullying.
“[Confront] all of these issues with compassion,” Rothenberg said. “Compassion for all people involved to try to gain more awareness of why people are choosing to treat other people like this, and why people feel like they have to change themselves to feel better about themselves.”
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