I originally wrote this post when a teen had been bullied to the point of seeking out plastic surgery erupted in the media. I went into full rant mode, which usually produces an epic length post, and this one was no exception. It originally posted in full on Rebecca Hamilton’s blog as a part of the Books Against Bullies campaign, but as I continue to see issues with bullying people over their appearance, I thought it would be a good idea to resurrect the post and break it into more bite-sized chunks, so have created a series of posts which will come out over the next couple weeks. With increasing pressure being placed on appearance through all the social media channels, how do we find the balance to build good self-esteem?
In 2012 when I read about Nadia Ilse, the fourteen-year-old who underwent plastic surgery because she had been bullied about her appearance, my mind became a grid-locked freeway of thoughts and feelings. There were so many all at once, I had to pick my way through the tangled heap to figure out what they all were. And the thoughts were caused not only by the story itself, but by the nature and variety of the comments. And when my thoughts get tangled like that, the only way to straighten them out is to tug on a thread and lay them out in a semi-orderly format … so I’ll be dragging out the bullets.
The Bullying Wasn’t Addressed
This jumped out at me because no matter what article I read about the situation, not one word was mentioned about how the kids bullying Nadia were addressed. What measures were taken by the school, or Nadia’s mom, or even Nadia herself to make those who bullied her understand that their actions were wrong? I’ll grant that Nadia is happier now and her self-esteem is improving, but I’ll share why I think not addressing the bullying issue is a bad thing.
The Magic Wand Effect—By avoiding the bullying issue, it sends the message that it was okay for them to torment Nadia to the point where she felt worthless because now she’s pretty. They may even gain a sense of satisfaction because they “helped” Nadia to become pretty. Everything has been washed away because she had surgery.
The False Message—Beauty is more important than anything else. It’s okay to torment people who are not beautiful. It’s something that can be “fixed”, so no harm, no foul. Except … there was a lot of harm. A person underwent surgery NOT because they needed it to improve their physical well-being (leaving the deviated septum out of the conversation at the moment), but because someone else didn’t like their differences. Surgery is not something to be undertaken lightly. It is an extreme measure for non-debilitating issues and should not be the first resort (or even the second).
Robbing the Cookie Jar—By keeping the focus on the external factors, Nadia herself is robbed of the chance to heal those wounds she has sustained from the bullying. She doesn’t have the satisfactions of having dealt with the bullying, she has a new face. It’s like putting a new coat of paint on a house to mask the crumbling framework. It will hide it for awhile, but sooner or later, the deterioration will break through the thin layer of paint. Yes, she is now undergoing therapy, but she has perhaps lost the chance to heal through dealing with the situation instead of avoiding it. And when healing comes because YOU have taken action, there is a sweetness that comes with it.
In the next Bullying vs Self-Esteem post, I’ll discuss the inconsistencies in the Nadia Ilse case as vaunted by the media, so check back soon.
Originally posted in full on Rebecca Hamilton’s blog as a part of the Books Against Bullies campaign
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