A 6-year-old boy who was getting bullied over his ears went under the knife to permanently change his look.
Gage Berger told Inside Edition that kids at school picked on him, saying “that I look like an elf and I have weird ears,” he explained. “I just don’t want to be made fun of.”
His parents felt the same way, noting that other kids often stare and giggle when they see Gage’s ears. “He just gets really down on himself and he thinks, ‘I’m not good enough,’” his mother, Kallie Berger, told Inside Edition.
To fix the problem, Gage’s parents brought him to a plastic surgeon for an operation called an ear pinback, which can “improve the shape, position or proportion of the ear,” according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
While doctors generally don’t recommend plastic surgery for children under 18, ear pinbacks are more common among kids. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were 9,123 ear pinback surgeries performed on children under the age of 18 in 2014.
Still, plastic surgeon Dr. Anthony Youn says that an ear pinback for a 6-year-old is still a gray area – and while he says he wouldn’t judge a surgeon who performed one on a child that young, he wouldn’t do it. “The reason why it is surgically reasonable to perform an ear pinback on a child who is 6 or older is that the ear is grown and matured by then,” he tells Yahoo Parenting. “But I wouldn’t recommend it, because children that age don’t have the maturity to understand this type of surgery.”
Neither of Gage’s parents responded to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
While ear pinbacks aren’t uncommon, and the surgery only takes about two hours, Youn points out it is still an invasive surgery that comes with risk. “This isn’t like taking a mole off,” he says. “It involves a general anesthetic, it’s real surgery with a risk of a major complication — the cartilage of the ear could get infected and cause the ear to deform. I would wait until a kid is 11 or 12 or older, when he might have more understanding of the potential risk. A child who is 6, do they understand why they have pain and what is going on with their recovery? These are decisions they will have to live with for the rest of their life.”
Youn also says that plastic surgery shouldn’t be a response to bullying. “The behavior that needs to change is that of the bullies,” he says. “Morally, it doesn’t seem right that to change the behavior of a bully, you perform an invasive, cosmetic surgery on a child. I’m a parent of two and I wouldn’t want to put my kids under the knife when it’s someone else’s behavior that needs to change. That’s what we should focus on.”
Treating bullying with plastic surgery sends the wrong message to both the victim and the harasser, Youn says. “Ethically, by performing a surgery to stop bullying, it feels like we are reinforcing the fact that bullying is reasonable behavior. It’s like saying, ‘Because somebody looks different, it’s OK to bully them until they change.’ This boy’s dissatisfaction with his appearance wasn’t coming from within, it was coming from others,” he says. “Plastic surgery should always be for yourself. It’s one thing at 21 to say ‘I want to change myself because I want to feel better about myself,’ but I question whether a 6-year-old is able to figure that out.”