Friday, April 15, 2011


I don’t know about the rest of you, but I find Yahoo’s headlines and local news to be quite entertaining, even if they are not really of much substance. I usually click on links that flash “10 home remedies for headache and beautiful skin” or “The top 10 cleanest cities in the US”, or “The 10 highly safe neighborhoods in the US”. Once in a while, I’ll be tempted to read about the 3 year old who saved her mother, or the 10 year old who threw herself in front of a truck to save her little sister. And every time, I’ll be surprised by the breadth of scintillating news that Yahoo rounds up.

This morning, I found an irresistibly plaintive news flash - “Bullied child gets plastic surgery”, and the picture of a cute little, freckled child smiling at me. I had to read the story:

At the end of it, I was shocked. Beyond belief. Honest to God, I did not find anything wrong with the kid’s ears! I am out of words to condemn such perpetuation of vanity! Maybe it isn’t vanity - perhaps it is the pressure to conform to standards of acceptable beauty? I understand the pains of being bullied, but for ears that stuck out a little? Really?! I ADORE such ears! And know quite a few (kids and adults) with those Simba-like ears, who lead content, confident lives.

I don’t want to judge and jump to conclusions - but was this the right approach to save the kid’s feelings and development of positive self-esteem? Cosmetic surgery - the panacea to body-image related self-esteem  and confidence issues? And to instill this in a 7 year old, who is soon going to enter the inevitably harrowing years of adolescence and has to cope with teenage insecurity? At 14 she may think her nose isn’t perfect, or her skin isn’t flawless - what is her solution going to be? More surgery? Such stories once again point to the western world’s vain illusion of a perfect body, and its stubborn obsession with it.

Besides, bullying never stops in life. One can’t “escape” it by altering one’s body - over and over again. Children should be taught coping strategies that reaffirm their worth, despite minor external quirks. I may be wrong, but from the video I got the sense that the mom was more insecure and harried than the child. There are ways to focus on brighter, positive aspects of the child, and to channelize the child’s growth in constructive ways that establish confidence and security.

Encourage her talents, support and help improve them, make her feel valued for possessing those talents, let her qualities and traits build her confidence, reinstate that external appearances do not make one’s personality or success in life. But be empathetic all the same. I know that brushing away a sensitive issue like this by waving it off stoically won’t work. Be creative and explore ways in which the kid can feel all the more beautiful and confident - compliment her often, get her flattering clothes, a nice hair-cut. Teach her that she can use little cosmetic accessories to express herself. But don’t magnify a quirk in front of her impressionable mind and innocent eyes into a horrible humiliation. That’s a terrible, irrevocably bad example to set. The more I think of it, it’s the mother’s self-esteem/insecurity issues that are being acted out on the daughter. I am aware that every mother loves her child and would do anything to protect the child. Although well-meaning, sometimes, mothers do make mistakes and put their child under an unnecessary knife.

I’m not arguing that cosmetic surgery is never an option. Cosmetic surgery is a blessing for children born with  cleft lip/palate, or those who get disfigured from accidents, suffer burns, etc. Although one can still argue that cosmetic fixes aren’t necessary, I don’t think it’s fair to let the child (or adult) deal with so much pain, if surgery is a viable solution. One should know where to draw the line - as always.

In this world of needless vanity, a time when anyone can be made to look good with fashionable clothes, fitting hair-cut, and skillful make-up, this story is a striking example of the kinds of values being passed onto the next generation.


Rafiki said...

1) I find yahoo news entertaining too. My friends even tease me for actually reading it. Glad to know I have company.

2)Just 5 mins before I read your blog post I was watching the video you are talking about.

3) I agree with you. I did not find anything abruptly wrong with the girl's ears. No one is perfect, we all have our flaws.

4) This reminded me of a lady who has a world record for maximum number of cosmetic surgeries (Yahoo news again).

5) If I were the kid, I'd wonder all my life how different things would have been without the surgery. I think she would have become a stronger and more tolerant human being. The mom said adults called her monkey ears. The mom should have helped the child laugh at herself, a very important thing to learn I feel. Or ignored it and concentrated on developing her otherwise like you mentioned.

Karthik said...

This seems bizarre ! And the kid actually seemed quite happy; it does seem to be her mother who seems to think her ears need some fixing!

SecondSight said...

I remember a kid with ears like that from my school days, and he is one of the most handsome adults I know now, by any definition! (Even though his ears still stick out, and he got teased for it endlessly then). More importantly, he is a perfectly sensible and balanced human being- I believe if he hadn't experienced the bullying as a kid, he would be incredibly vain and insensitive to others now. A little bullying and social ostracism builds character, I think :)

In this case- It certainly seems like the mother's insecurities more than anything else. Am I the only one who thinks the kid looked better/ more normal in the before pics? What really saddens me is that this is only the beginning. Imagine that same mom dealing with her daughter's teenage years. Hope the kid turns out okay.

Neeraja said...

Rafiki - Nice to know you're a fellow yahoo-news-reader :). And I think I remember the article about the lady with the maximum number of cosmetic surgeries (or perhaps I saw some documentary), and was quite disturbed. Completely agree with point 5 - I'm always reminded of the dad in the movie "Life is Beautiful" who not only made his son laugh and protect him from horrors, but also taught him how to laugh away slights.

Karthik, yeah the kid was quite cheerful! What a way to bring down a child with painkillers and unwanted attention!

SecondSight, I want to meet this friend of yours! ;). I agree that it's part of growing up to experience a few rough patches and mature along the way. And yes, I think the kid looked more adorable/normal before the surgery!

SecondSight said...

In a more practical solution, it might have all worked out just fine the other way. Kid gets teased > turns into a nerdy bookworm > needs glasses > sticky-out ears do a better job of holding glasses up!!

If only the mom had spoken to one of us nerds first ;)

Neeraja said...

Why didn't I think of that? ;)

Aparna said...

Wow. Didn't know things like this actually happen. Crazy. I agree with you and most of the comments here that the mom was the one who seemed more insecure. What does the child know? She totally depends on her parents and all her reactions to various situations will be based on how her parents react. So its of utmost importance for parents to do a good job of handling such things. :-s.. wonder how people can even think of going to such extents..

Neeraja said...

Appu, yeah, some people are far too crazy because of their self-esteem issues!