RICHMOND (WRIC)—Bullying is a hot topic these days; teens are even taking their own lives because of it. Now, some kids are going under the knife to try and stop it.
The number of children getting cosmetic surgery because of bullying has increased 30 percent over the past decade.
Meet Kendall Elliot and her mother, Katherine. For the 8News cameras, Kendall is a shy, little 6-year-old. But turn them off, and she shines as a cheerleader who likes to talk about her friends. When Kendall was born, she had a small, dark mole on her face, but as she grew, so did the mole.
"That's the first thing people saw—the very first thing people saw," Katherine Elliot said. "They didn't see her; they saw a big brown mole on her face. She's had it since she was six months old, and it just got darker and darker."
"Kids at preschool would ask if they could touch it, ask what it is," she said. "And it wasn't just curious kids—even well-meaning adults really started to notice. Adults would stop me in the store and say, ‘Oh, she has something on her face, chocolate on her face. Here's a tissue, wipe it off her face.'"
Elliot decided to get ahead of the bullying by having doctors remove the mole.
"I could hear the kids say, "That little girl there—the one with the big brown spot on her face,'" Elliot said. "We wanted to stop it before it became a problem."
Kendall's parents contacted Dr. Joe Niamtu in August to have her mole removed—a fairly easy procedure.
"Now it's pink and we will continue to treat this and hopefully get a total resolution," Niamtu said.
Kendall is not alone; 7-year-old Olivia was teased terribly about her ears. Her mother says she had to drop out of ballet class because of bullying; she often came home in tears. Olivia eventually had surgery and is thriving—and dancing again.
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there were more than 76,000 cosmetic surgery procedures on teens in 2011.
In this digital age of social media, experts say bullying can cause problems like depression and trouble in the classroom.
"Ideally, we want to correct it before they start school, because little kids have no filter," Niamtu said. "And they may say something innocent like, ‘What's that on your face?' or ‘What's wrong with your nose?' however. They are also spiteful and they tease."
The most common cosmetic surgery procedures that Dr. Niamtu performs on children are pinning back protruding ears, and removing moles, birth marks and scars. He says bullying—even when children are young—can have long-term effects. But even Dr. Niamtu admits that cosmetic surgery is not for everybody.
"We have a body-dysmorphic population," he said. "A lot of young people come and they want cosmetic surgery I have 19-year-olds who come in and want brow lifts and face lifts—that's crazy."
But for Kendall's family, it was the right decision.
"It was the first thing you saw, and not her," Elliot said. "And some people are so judgmental and so critical. I firmly believe that when she gets older, that she'll look back on this and say, ‘Thank you.'"
Copyright 2013 by Young Broadcasting of Richmond
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