Nadia Ilse, the 14-year-old Georgia girl who underwent radical facial plastic surgery after being bullied for years about her looks, said she is more confident than ever now and is ready to forgive her tormentors.
"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," she said. "You have to make them earn it."
While most teenagers may get a new wardrobe before they head back to school in the fall, Ilse got a new face. In June, she went under the knife, getting a nose job, a chin implant and had her ears pinned back.
On her first day of ninth grade, Nadia was all smiles as she wore her hair up, showing her ears for the first time years. She even received compliments on her new look from a former bully.
The Cumming, Ga., teenager was born with bilateral lop-eared deformities on both ears, a condition where the person is missing the folds within the ear and the bowl of the ear sticks out. She said school used to be a nightmare because she was constantly taunted about her appearance.
"They said I have the biggest ears that they've ever seen, they called me Dumbo, elephant ears," Nadia said. "I act like I didn't care though I really did. It hurt a lot."
She said the was bullying was so bad that she often had to stop herself from crying in front of her tormentors.
"I tried to hold it in as much as I could," she said. "Usually, when I'm walking home from the bus stop, I usually start to cry, or I usually cry myself to sleep sometimes, too."
The teenager tried to keep the bullying a secret from her mother, Lynda Ilse, because she said she didn't want to burden her. Having recently been laid off, Lynda was already coping with mounting medical bills for her 9-year-old son, Josh. He has cerebral palsy and will have to undergo heart surgery soon.
To Nadia, whatever issues she was having felt superficial so she kept it to herself. When her mother did finally find out about the bullying, she said she was heartbroken.
"I didn't realize it was that bad," Lynda Ilse said. "She would mostly say that she has migraines."
Nadia Ilse became convinced that the solution to ending the bullying was plastic surgery. After a year's worth of constantly nudging, her mother agreed.
"Every family has to make their own decision," Lynda Ilse said. "I let Nadia make the decision. She's been begging me for so long to get her ears pinned back and so that's what she wanted to do and so I just supported her."
"It's no different than somebody having teeth that require braces," she added. "If you had teeth that stuck out, wouldn't you go to a dentist and have braces put on?"
In fact, according to The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, ear surgery, or otoplasty, is the most common plastic surgery procedure among teens, with over 11,000 surgeries performed last year.
Given the family's financial constraints, Lynda Ilse turned to the Little Baby Face Foundation, a Manhattan-based organization that provides free surgeries around the world for children with facial deformities who have a financial need.
Dr. Thomas Romo, the president of the organization and the head of facial plastic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said Nadia's case met the foundation's criteria to have the corrective surgery, even though to the naked eye, her deformities may not have seemed so extreme.
"She wasn't picked to have her surgery because she was bullied," Dr. Romo said. "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."
Nadia originally just wanted her ear pinned back, but Dr. Romo also suggested she get a chin implant to balance her face and a nose job to fix a deviated septum. In total, the teenager received $40,000 worth of surgery for free.
Should Teens Be Getting Plastic Surgery to Stop Bullying?
While Nadia's procedure may have helped her overcome her emotional trauma, some experts warn that cases like here's should be the exception, not the example. Vivian Diller, a psychologist based in New York City and the author of "Face It: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" said that some "awkward adolescents" who are looking for that urgent fix might be short sighting themselves.
"When you don't give those young people the chance to see how they naturally evolve, you give them the feeling that it's required that they do something radical to fit in rather than allow them to grow into the person they are," she said.
When a teen decides to get plastic surgery because he or she is being bullied, Diller said it can send the wrong message.
"When you surgically alter the victim of a bully, isn't it questionable that message we are sending is that the burden lies on the victim and not on a culture that is fueling some bullying trend that we know is going on," she said.
While she is thrilled with her new look, Nadia and her mother acknowledge that getting plastic surgery was an extreme approach to stopping the bullying.
"[The bullies] are the ones who pressured me into getting the surgery," Nadia said. "They're the ones who commented on my ears, my nose, my chin. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have gotten the surgery."
Despite the surgeries, Nadia and her mother are under no illusions that her problems have all been resolved. Her mother plans to sign her daughter up for counseling sessions to help Nadia overcome the years of hurt.
"I'm not letting you mess around with someone unless you make them earn their forgiveness because if they like you now just because of your appearance that's idiotic and superficial," Nadia said. "You have got to make them see who you are now, so they don't just see your face. They see who you are, and they can look beyond it."