The article below first appeared in the UK Daily Mirror in September of this year. It raises so many issues relating to teen girl friendships, self esteem, body image and parenting that I have decided to copy it in its entirity here.
Below the article are questions worth considering. Teachers: this would make an excellent stimulus for a discussion in class. Should any of my educator readers use this, I would encourage you to submit some of your students’ responses here as comments.
|I bought my daughter a EUR21,000 body to beat the bullies; Lesley Bennett’s teenage daughter Becky was desperate to change her looks after years of bullying and Lesley didn’t hesitate to spend her life
savings putting her under the knife.
Helen O’Brien, The Daily Mirror, September 30th 2008.
Gazing at her dazzling smile and admiring her new-found confidence, Lesley Bennett has no regrets about spending her life savings on her daughter Becky’s looks.
Despite having an enviable figure and an attractive face Becky’s self-esteem was shattered by years of bullying at school.
But still many parents would have tried counselling before spending EUR21,000 to give their daughter a new body.
“I’ve no doubt I did the right thing. I’d do it again without a second thought because Becky is happy now,” says Lesley, 51.
Only child Becky had always been bright, popular and bubbly. But when she started a new school at 14, Lesley noticed a change. “My enthusiastic daughter was gone. She used to love singing and going with friends to after-school clubs. Now she wouldn’t do anything.”
Every morning when Lesley dropped off Becky at school she watched her daughter trudge alone and miserable through the gates. Teachers assured her it was just a teenage thing.
But things got worse. And excuses to skip school started. “She moaned about a bad stomach ache or a migraine. I knew something was wrong.”
Eventually, Becky came home from school and broke down. “The bullying was relentless,” Becky, now 22, explains. “It didn’t matter where I was, the bullies always found me.
“I spent every break locked in the toilets, hiding from the names – ‘ugly’, ‘disgusting’, and ‘pale skeleton’. I was an easy target because I was the ‘new girl’. I don’t know why they took a dislike to me, I did nothing to provoke them.
“The bullying was never physical but they threatened to cut off my hair. It was really stressful and because I’d started at a new school I had no friends. I felt completely alone and I had a real fear of going to school.”
When she started wearing make-up, hoping that if she looked pretty her tormentors might leave her alone, the bullies called her a slag.
Lesley says: “I felt so guilty. Why didn’t I see something earlier? I felt I’d failed her. I felt angry that these kids were ruining my daughter’s life. Why Becky? She was gorgeous.” After two years of constant name-calling Becky left school with five GCSEs vowing never to return to education.
“If I’d known about the bullying earlier I would’ve considered home tuition. The bullying ruined everything,” Lesley adds.
Eventually, Becky summoned the courage to study graphic design but when some of the school bullies turned up at the college she immediately left.
A shadow of her former self, Becky began to suffer panic attacks and increasingly couldn’t leave the house.
“The bullies had left her terrified and vulnerable,” says Lesley. Just the thought of going out filled her with fear.
“She used to love shopping, now she didn’t leave her room. I didn’t know what to do.”
Lesley tried persuading Becky to see a doctor but she adamantly refused. Lesley adds: “I didn’t want to turn into a bully myself and force her, so I just tried to be supportive.”
For Becky’s 18th birthday she didn’t have a party or go out clubbing like most girls her age. She sat at home with Lesley, dad David and her grandmother, and celebrated with a slice of pink cake.
Lesley says: “We tried to make her birthday as special as possible but there was a sense of sadness that she wasn’t out with friends.”
The next day Becky sat her parents down and told them the extent of her depression.
“I told them how much I hated myself, ” Becky says. “I told them I wanted to change and I knew how. I wanted cosmetic surgery and I begged them to help me financially.”
Becky showed her parents pages of research she’d been doing on cosmetic surgery and told them how desperate she was to change her body.
Lesley says: “She’d clearly spent years collating all this stuff. And then I looked at Becky and I could tell she was close to a breakdown.
“I reassured her that she was beautiful as she was but she was convinced the only way she would ever be happy was with surgery.”
With the teeth, the boob job, the liposuction, the fake nails, hair styling and tanning, Becky’s wish list added up to EUR21,000.
“It was our life savings. But I couldn’t think of a better use. Getting the real Becky back was priceless,” Lesley adds.
As soon as Lesley and David agreed, Becky booked to get her teeth whitened and straightened. A year later, when she was 19, she had her breasts enlarged from a 32A to a 32C. And the following year, when she was 20, she had liposuction on her inner thighs.
“I was terrified when she was wheeled into surgery but I shouldn’t have worried. The results spoke for themselves.
“Afterwards, she looked – and clearly felt – fantastic. It was as if with each operation Becky’s confidence was being restored,” says Lesley. And to finish the look, Becky booked a fake tan, fingernail extensions, haircut and colour.
Lesley watched the cost mount but had no regrets. “As Becky blossomed into a beautiful, happy young woman, I didn’t begrudge the cost for a single moment.”
Becky, of Penge, South London, says: “The bullies dragged me down so much that I began to believe everything they told me. The surgery was for me to feel like my life was mine again.”
Becky’s panic attacks stopped. And soon she began a new life as a model.
Lesley adds: “Today, Becky’s confident, outgoing and happy. In fact, at the age of 22 she’s got a new life. You wouldn’t recognise her from the girl she was before.”
But Becky has another boob job planned for the beginning of next year, although she insists she’s saving up to pay for this one herself. “Surgery made me feel my life was mine again.”
What they spent
Boob job EUR7,000
Fake nails EUR500 (a year)
Hair restyling EUR200
Tanning EUR800 (a year)
Possible questions for discussion
Have you ever witnessed bullying at your school? How did it make you feel viewing this?
Why do you think some girls target other girls for bullying?
Is verbal bullying as serious as physical bullying? Explain your response.
What types of things should schools do in an attempt to eliminate bullying?
What can you do to help eliminate bullying?
How can parents best support their daughters when things are not going well for them at school?
What are your thoughts on Lesley’s decision to pay for the cosmetic surgery Becky wanted?
Do you believe Becky’s new body will ensure she has a new life?
Is there too much pressure placed on young women to conform to an idealized image of beauty? Who do you think places these pressures on girls?