'I let my teenage daughter have cosmetic surgery – I'm scared it was a huge mistake'

·6-min read
cosmetic surgery stella
cosmetic surgery stella

As the doctor removed the bandages from Grace’s* blood-stained ear, all the breath left my body. I’d let my beautiful sixteen-year-old child have this operation. I was responsible for what she’d done. Overwhelmed with guilt and panic I fainted to the floor.

Grace was born with a constricted ear deformity, also known as a lop ear. Without the cartilage to support the skin it didn’t develop correctly, and so was folded over.

I barely noticed it when she was born. At 31 I was holding my daughter in my arms, and she was perfect to me. With the doctor’s reassurance that it wouldn’t impact Grace’s hearing, my husband Mark* and I thought that was that.

As the years passed, our plan was that we wouldn’t mention her ear unless Grace did, and then we’d simply reassure her everything was fine.

At first that worked. When, aged nine, she looked in the mirror and said, ‘what’s this on my ear, mum?’, my heart sank. But I kept things breezy, pretending I’d never noticed it before, and the moment passed.

Then, three months after starting secondary school, Grace suddenly refused to wear her hair up. When I asked why she said ‘Mum, I hate my ear. Why is it like this?’

It wasn’t like before, when she could be reassured with a cheery remark and a hug. The hurt and upset in her voice were crystal clear. She hated something about her body, and I was devastated.

Things quickly spiralled. Within days Grace was refusing to see her friends, deeply unhappy all she wanted to do was hide away in her room.

A growing fear in the pit of my stomach told me something even worse was happening, and when I asked if there was anything she wanted to tell me, Grace showed me her arm. She’d tried to cut herself.

It’s impossible to describe my horror, the scrambling panic as I tried to find the right words. Somehow, I stayed calm, thanking her for telling me and hugging her close.

Inside I was devastated. To see your own child in such distress is bad enough, but I was also struggling with a tsunami of guilt. Because this was all my fault.

I’d had epilepsy all my life, with numerous night seizures that made me feel I might die. When they became worse in pregnancy and the doctor increased my medication, I learnt there was a slim chance of birth abnormalities.

I’d brushed that aside, and now here I was, sitting with my perfect child who’d tried to harm herself. It took everything I had to keep it together.

We found a private therapist, who explained Grace had anxiety and depression, triggered by how she felt about her ear. It was a relief to have a professional on board, but the guilt I felt only grew.

I hid the extent of my feelings from everyone, even Mark, who knew all about the medication I had taken during pregnancy. This was all my fault, and I deserved to carry that burden alone.

Then, at 14, Grace announced she wanted cosmetic surgery, to ‘make her ear normal’. We told her how beautiful she was, that all our bodies are different and that it’s okay. It didn’t make a dent in how she felt. In her misery I could see she was absolutely determined.

Every few weeks she’d mention surgery, how as soon as she turned 18, she’d somehow find the money herself. Mark and I discussed it endlessly. We knew it was possible from the age of 16, and it was like Grace’s life was on hold. Wasn’t it cruel to make her wait?

When I sat on Grace’s bed soon after her 16th birthday and said she could have the surgery, her reaction surprised me. Guilt flitted across her face as she asked about the £3,000 it would cost. But reassured that we would do it regardless, she was thrilled.

A month later I left the surgeon’s office by her side, and deeply conflicted; happy we were doing something proactive and concerned that Grace has unrealistic expectations of what her ear would eventually look like.

teen cosmetic surgery stella
teen cosmetic surgery stella

But there was also dread. This train was now in motion, I had to put my daughter through an operation she didn’t need. There was no going back.

The night before her operation I didn’t sleep, questions swirling in my head. Am I doing the right thing? Will this make everything okay for her?

Watching her being wheeled away for surgery I felt powerless, like my child was being taken away from me. The 30-minute operation felt like forever, and seeing her return with her head covered in bandages was a huge shock.

After hiding at home for two weeks – Grace had insisted on total secrecy so even our parents didn’t know – we returned to have the bandages removed. Seeing an ear that had so clearly been operated on, that I’d allowed to be operated on, was just too much for me. I hit the floor.

Grace refused to look, wanting to wait for our return six weeks later to see the end result. By then, after changing the dressing twice a day, my concerns were impossible to ignore.

The doctor had done a great job, but it didn’t look like her other ear. It was obvious it had been operated on and was a world away from ‘perfect’. With a sinking heart I knew it had looked better before.

When Grace finally saw it, politely thanking the doctor, I could sense her disappointment. She didn’t need to tell me that this wasn’t the result she’d dreamed of for so long. I knew. It was awful to see her smile fade as we left, and once home she wouldn’t even look in the mirror.

Six months later little has changed. Grace still refuses to wear her hair up, she still dislikes how it looks and her confidence is still low. I’m dreading the follow up in another six months, when it will really hit her that this is how it will look forever.

I still feel hugely conflicted. There’s relief for me, we saw Grace’s distress and did something about it. We’ve shown that we respect her and will always help in any way we can.

But the guilt – that I caused this, that she had a cosmetic procedure at all, that we should have waited until she was 18, that surgery hasn’t actually solved any of the problems - has only grown. That’s the complicated, messy truth.

I still hide my true feelings from everyone, even Mark. Grace thinks I love her ear and even my closest friends have no idea it’s even happened. I know how quickly they’d judge if they did.

Because before this I’d have done the same. After all, who lets their child go ‘under the knife’? Now I know, it's loving, desperate parents. Only those who’ve faced a child in as much distress as Grace will ever truly understand.

As for me, I’ve accepted that I might feel like this, and hide it, forever. Now all I can do is focus on my daughter, and help her see just how beautiful she truly is.

Would you let your teenager undergo cosmetic surgery? Let us know in the comments section below

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