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Stephanie Smith, the mother of a six-year-old, wrote to cosmetic surgeon Dr. Joe Niamtu in a panic. Her daughter Olivia had quit ballet because when she wore her hair in the mandatory bun, the other kids laughed at her, pointing to her ears. "Last night she came to me crying asking me, 'Why are my ears like this? I don't like them Mommy…'" Smith wrote. "I'm so scared about my daughter starting school in September. Some of the bullies she encountered at her ballet class will be there too. I won't be there to protect her. I just fear the emotional scars that this is going to cause." Smith, whose medical insurance was mediocre, couldn't afford to pay for otoplasty-surgery, a procedure for pinning back prominent ears. Fortunately, Dr. Niamtu, could still help. The Virginia-based surgeon tells Yahoo Shine that about 25 percent of his work on kids is performed pro bono, free of charge. "No one deserves to be made fun of for physical attributes they can't control," he says. Now the young girl is back at ballet.
Related: Is Cosmetic Surgery Ever Appropriate For a Child?
According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, in the last decade, the rate of plastic surgery for children has gone up by about 30 percent, spurred, in part, by the increase in society's acceptance of cosmetic procedures as well as parents' fear of bullying. According to Niamtu, the most common procedures are otoplasty; mole, birthmark, and scar removal; and, to a lesser extent, correcting nasal deformities and breast reduction (for older teen girls). He's operated on children as young as a year old and recommends performing otoplasty before kids start elementary school, since that's when the teasing usually begins. He explains that because children don't have much of a social filter, they will comment on anything that draws their attention. "There have been studies that show that when children have these deformities or situations that draw criticism to a body feature, it can affect self-esteem and body image. It can impact them for the rest of their lives."
Another mother, Katherine Elliott, brought her six-year-old, Kendall, to Dr. Niamtu to remove a dime-sized dark mole on her chin. "That's the first thing people saw — the very first thing people saw," Elliot told local news station WRIC. "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." After surgery, the little girl was left with a pink spot that should disappear completely.
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