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Imagine your child was being bullied. Would you go this far to make it stop?

Fifteeen-year-old Renata had been taunted so cruelly over her appearance that she stopped attending school and has been home-schooled for the last three years.

So she applied to a not-for-profit organisation in New York to give her free plastic surgery (see the before and after results above).

“They were just calling me ‘that girl with the big nose,’” Renata told NBC News. “It just really hurts. And you can’t get over it.”

Little Baby Face Foundation provides free plastic surgery to low-income children who have facial deformities.

Some of the kids who apply to the Little Baby Face Foundation do so because they are being teased over their looks. But is plastic surgery a smart way to help bullying victims?

Renata and her mum Michelle say yes. So they applied to Little Baby Face Foundation for help.

“I tried convincing myself that I am fine the way I am, but I just don’t believe it anymore,” Renata wrote in her application letter.

The idea of using plastic surgery to stop a child from being bullied has some experts very concerned, including psychologist Vivian Diller.

“Are we saying that the responsibility falls on the kid who’s bullied, to alter themselves surgically?” Diller asked in an interview with NBC News. “We really have to address the idea that there should be zero tolerance of bullying, and maybe we even have to encourage the acceptance of differences.”

Renata’s mum disagrees. To her it’s similar to correcting any other sort of medical problem a child might have. “Parents correct kids’ teeth with braces to make their teeth straighter,” Michelle’s mother said. “They’re still the same kid on the inside, but, unfortunately, people are judged on how they look.”

Renata was diagnosed with a hemi-facial microsomia, which left her face underdeveloped and caused her nose to lean to the left. It’s the second most common facial birth defect after clefts, occurring in as many as 1 in 5,000 newborns, although that may be an underestimate, because the condition is often not diagnosed, or treated.

Like Renata, many children with hemi-facial microsomia may not even recognize that they have a deformity. All Renata knew was that she hated her crooked nose, and that there was a chance she could have a new one. The plastic surgeon she subsequently saw also offered her a a new chin, to provide balance to her face, he said. The teenager had never considered her chin to be a problem before, but she and her mother agreed to the implant.

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Parents of these children need to make sure their kids understand that though this surgery may “fix” their facial deformity, it will not magically fix all their problems, says psychiatrist Gail Saltz.

“They may do the surgery and expect happiness to result, or, let’s say, ‘I’m not going to be bullied anymore,” Saltz says. “But it may not turn out that way, because bullying is complicated, and usually it isn’t down to one physical attribute.”

Research is starting to show that kids with physical deformities aren’t necessarily picked on because of their looks; there are many other factors going on, says Chad Rose, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri. His work focuses on children with disabilities, not facial deformities, but he says much of it is applicable to the children applying to the Little Baby Face Foundation.

“Outside of appearing different in a noticeable way, two of the biggest factors are social skills and communications skills,” Rose says. “Students with low social skills and low communication skills tend to be victims.”

Changing a child’s appearance is an “extreme” decision, but if families decide it’s right, equal attention must be given to that child’s social and emotional well-being in order to effectively address the problem of bullying.

“We are never going to forget the experiences that we carry with us,” Rose says. “We will never forget the victimizing experience. The one message I wouldn’t want out there is that if you are being teased for some type of problem with your physical appearance, that if you simply change your physical appearance that all the bullying will go away.”

The Little Baby Face Foundation does not offer the children mental health services, but Renata did receive counseling before making her decision to proceed. And although her counselor was initially against the idea of surgery, she eventually thought the procedure would help the teenager to feel better about herself.

A few months after the surgery, Renata’s mother said her daughter was happier than she’d seen her in years. The 15-year-old even plans to return to regular school.

“I feel happy and I feel confident, and I feel like I don’t have to hide myself anymore,” she said.

Have you ever been bullied about your appearance? 

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