Nadia Ilse, the 14-year-old girl from Georgia who went under the knife to counteract years of bullying for her looks, had a great first day at school. She's more confident than before is ready to forgive her tormenters.
"A lot of people said that I looked different and that I was really beautiful, I'm excited about that," Nadia told ABC Nightline after her first day of ninth grade. "I believe in forgiveness, but I will never forget the times that they did that, the times they made fun of me, and the times they hurt me. You have to make them earn it."
The teen was called "Dumbo" and "elephant ears" by her peers, CNN reported, and begged her mother as early as at the age of 10 for an otoplasty -- an operation to pin her ears back.
She was recently granted her wish by the Little Baby Face Foundation, a charity that provides free corrective surgery to children born with facial deformities. After a consultation, Dr. Thomas Romo, III, the organization's founder, not only performed an otoplasty but also a reduction rhinoplasty -- reducing the size of the nose -- and mentoplasty -- altering the chin.
The foundation covered the estimated $40,000 cost of surgery.
Romo told ABC Nightline that Nadia's case met the foundation's criteria of facial deformities to have the corrective surgery, although her deformities may not seem extreme to the naked eye.
"She wasn't picked to have her surgery because she was bullied," Romo told Nightline. "She was picked for her surgery because of her deformities and we could correct that surgically. If that helps her from getting bullied, thank you, God. No one is going to get accepted through the foundation because they don't like the way they look."
Avoiding school bullying by going under the knife is on the rise among American teens. In 2010 alone, nearly 219,000 cosmetic surgeries were performed on teens aged 13 to 19. And among procedures performed on teens, otoplasty is the most popular -- more than 11,000 surgeries were performed last year.
Vivian Diller, a psychologist and author of "Face It," questions whether plastic surgery is the right thing to do in bullying situations. She wrote last month:
A solution to bullying that involves surgical procedures (which have their own set of physical risks that few talk about) is a terrible message to give both bullies and their victims. Do we really think that changing physical features undoes the emotional damage created by being teased? And aren't we validating the very message behind bullies' actions, that diversity and variation is bad? We need to be encouraging young people to admire and embrace differences -- and that starts from an early age.
Most states now have bullying laws that require schools to adopt bullying policies, and efforts to combat school bullying have escalated over the last decade, according to a report released in December by the U.S. Department of Education.
Between 1999 and 2010, more than 120 bills were adopted by state legislatures to introduce or amend legislation that address bullying, harassment or similar behavior in schools. By the time of the Education Department study's conclusion, there were 46 states with enacted anti-bullying laws, 36 with regulations that work against cyberbullying and 13 that give schools the authority to monitor and address bullying behavior even when it occurs off school grounds.
Nadia and her mother plan to pursue counseling to help the teen overcome the other psychological effects of the years of taunting.
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