I was born with a facial cleft which affects the right side of my face, especially my eye and my nose. I have had many operations for it, the first being when I was 10 days old, and the most recent was last year. I have chosen not to have any more as things are going well enough and surgery is not worth the pain and difficulties.
I first realised I looked different when I started primary school, because other people made me aware of it. It suddenly mattered to others what I looked like and they would make comments. These were just generally curious comments when I was younger, but as I got older people started to be really horrible.
When I was a child I used to go out more but received many bad comments and stares. These really got to me and I thought about them so much I started to believe some of them. There were many instances of bullying during my school years in both primary and secondary school. Once the other children said they wouldn’t play with me because I had a disease and they would catch it if they did. In those moments I would just cry and ask not to go back to school.
In secondary many situations were online. One person who used to be my best friend wrote a status on Facebook saying that I was ugly and the circus wouldn’t even accept me. The same friend later posted again comparing me to the character Sloth from the film The Goonies. I have never spoken to that friend again.
Another example is when I had been at a party with other young people, and then two years later a girl I did not know posted a selfie on Twitter from that party which included me. She added the quote ‘Hey u guys’, which refers to Sloth again from The Goonies. I only saw this by chance. I asked her to take it down and she denied responsibility. At that time I was really angry about life and I didn’t react well.
I got really depressed for a while and as a teenager, whilst my friends were going out a lot, I would stay at home. I developed social anxiety and hated meeting new people, for fear of being treated differently, being stared at, or for comments to be made. This was a fear that developed out of genuine experience, it became easier to just avoid an interaction than risk facing more of it.
Even when people have tried to be nice it can be patronising which can be just as awkward and upsetting. I am doing much better now however I can actually only say I feel completely ok when I am home, alone with my baby daughter.
A final example is when I posted my own status on Facebook, a girl in the year below me replied with her own status saying “shut up you’ve got a bent eye”, and many people liked it. I reacted by blocking everyone involved.
My family has been fairly protective, my mum does tend to try and ignore any comments people make towards me but my aunty used to get very vocal and angry if anyone was staring. As my mum had me when she was only 17 years old, I think it was a big shock for her to also have a baby with lots of problems.
There is not currently anyone I feel I can talk to that truly understands. I much prefer interacting with people in real life, but often those that I am connected with are very supportive but cannot really relate, and can say the wrong thing.
I would not say my visible difference has affected my career however it has definitely made me feel self-conscious about dating. When I was younger I always assumed I would have never a relationship. I couldn’t relate when my friends at school started getting boyfriends. Even my younger sister at 12 years commented that she was surprised when I did get a boyfriend. My mum then explained to her that it wasn’t OK to say that; she was very upset as she hadn’t realised.
The boyfriend I had then was very good at assuring me that I was beautiful even though it was hard to believe it. I rarely felt good enough but would say I am in a good place now and even have my wonderful one-year-old daughter.
I have seen plenty of doctors over the years, they are always very focused on surgery and their specialisms and not on me as a person, accounting for my emotions too. They would keep saying “your disfigurement” and that language really triggers me; it makes me so angry and sad.
In terms of the beauty industry, everything needs to change – it is fake, not real and unachievable. So many young people are so focused on something that does not even exist. It feels like everyone needs to wake-up to the reality that does exist. This is a horrendous problem with the fashion industry, celebrities, and social media to name a few.
I do think things are improving but not enough. The industry still does not represent the true diversity of our population – it should be proportionate and representative. It should be realistic about everything, and I am not only talking about the images.
I want others to be more accepting in a kind yet genuine way. I also want others to know that I am not just my difference. I am a mum, a friend, and you should meet me to find out the rest. I am as capable as everyone else, I can do anything.
If someone else was struggling with their visible difference, I would say I understand it can be hard to talk to someone. If you are hearing bad comments, just remember it is only a reflection on the person making them and not on you. Focus on everyone who loves you and who you love back. There is always help out there, things will get better, just hold on for the ride.