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Andrew is a white male with brown hair and a beard, with an eyebrow piercing and visible difference. He is wearing a blue t-shirt with a darker blue hoodie over the top.

Andrew’s story: “It’s going to be OK”

Andrew wants young people to know that life with a visible difference can turn out well.

This past Christmas I was reminded about Changing Faces after not thinking about them in about 20 years. I thought about the time I visited the charity as a young person, and about my outlook on life back then.

I thought about how I would like to speak to my younger self (or some other young person with a visible difference) and let them know that it’s going to be OK – that things will turn out pretty well in fact. With that in mind, I got in touch with Changing Faces again in January – and they encouraged me to tell my story.

Andrew who is a white male with brown hair and a beard, with a visible difference and an eyebrow piercing, wearing a blue t-shirt, darker blue hoodie and beige trousers, stands next to a waterfall in Japan

Andrew found himself getting much more confident at university.

When I was growing up, I did not know of anyone else with a visible difference, either in my school or in the media. I was aware of my cleft palate, but I don’t remember it being brought up much, or my early school life being particularly difficult in relation to my appearance.

Before I went to secondary school, my parents took me into Changing Faces, which was a fairly new organisation at the time. They did this as they thought it would help me with my confidence. I got to meet the founder and former CEO, James Partridge, and I had a chat with him. Speaking to my Mum about this recently, she told me that James was charming and reflected on how he encouraged me to be myself.

Seeing the other stories on the Changing Faces website has been humbling and made me realise that my situation was not that bad. I was a pretty quiet person at secondary school but had a good group of friends.

However, every teenager will find something they are unhappy about with themselves, no matter how small. Becoming a teenager, all you care about is fitting in. One memory I have of that time is simply a wish to be average when I grew up.

After leaving secondary school I went on to university where I was suddenly exposed to a huge range of different people, cultures and music. It blew me away, and as I dove into all these new interests like the punk, ska and rock scene, my confidence grew and I became much bolder. So much so, that I set up the Punk Society at Reading Uni!

I had not really interacted with the alt (short for alternative) scene at all before, so it was a bit of a culture shock, but in a positive way. I joined a ska band that I played in until well after uni finished. I also bleached and dyed my hair purple and blue for most of my time there! I also made a lot of new friends and many of them are still dear to me now.

My advice to any young people reading this growing up with a visible difference, is to find things you are passionate about and get involved with those things. Bond with people who share a similar passion to you.

Always expose yourself to new ideas and experiences. And finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions in any situation.

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