Please find a full audio transcription of ‘Episode 5: Nikki, Hannah and Jenny discuss #AntiBullyingWeek’ below.

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M:  Welcome to Changing Faces, Voices of Visible Difference. The podcast where we talk about having a scar, mark or condition that affects our appearance.

Nikki:  Hello, my name is Nikki, but you may also know me as Nikki Lilly online and today we're talking all things bullying and the impact that it has on young people who have a visible difference. I'm joined by the lovely Hannah and Jenny who are going to share their experiences and personal stories of living with a visible difference. So, first off, let's get it out of the way, Jenny, would you mind starting off by sharing what your visible difference is?

Jenny:  Yes, of course. So, I was born with the birth defect called gastroschisis, which is a defect of the abdomen wall, and I had to have several surgeries as a baby to combat those problems. So, I was left with a large scar across my abdomen and I don't have a belly button. My mum actually used to say that I have a belly zip instead.

Nikki:  And, Hannah, would you mind doing the same?

Hannah:  I've got a port wine stain birthmark on over 50% of my body, and I've had that my whole life.

Nikki:  Thank you very much for sharing that. And I have a condition called AVM, which affects the right side of my face and it causes swelling and veins. I was born with that, but it only starting showing its appearance when I was six years old. I first wanted to start off by asking what your personal experiences of having a visible difference are and how you felt when you first realised you looked different?

Hannah:  I've always known that I've looked different, but it only really started affecting me when I went to high school.

Nikki:  Yes, I felt like there was a massive change between primary school and secondary school. I instantly felt more aware of the way that I looked. And even though I knew I looked different, it became more of an insecurity and something that I saw as, like, a negative thing when I first started secondary school.

Hannah:  Yes, definitely.

Jenny:  It's interesting what you've both said about the fact that primary school was alright for you because, actually, I started getting bullied when I was seven.

Nikki:  Oh my gosh.

Jenny:  It definitely got worse at high school but it did start when I was seven and I think that's when I first realised, 'Okay, maybe this isn't just something that's different about me, but maybe this is also something that's wrong.' You know, it was the first time I'd viewed the difference as a negative even though I'd been aware of it the whole time.

Nikki:  I mean, that's crazy to think that, you know, even as young as seven, you're having to deal with people making negative comments, and a lot of the time I find kids will be the ones that are staring when I'm out or are the ones that I find looking at me. And although sometimes it does come from a place of curiosity, other times, you know, it can be unkind.

Jenny:  Yes, I totally agree. I think that's my main experience was I knew that kids are going to be curious about something that they've never seen before, maybe, but in my experience it was more than curiosity. It was kids being mean, and it was verbal abuse thrown at me on the bus and things like that in the morning or I was dragged around the playground by my hair for it. I was forcefully held up against walls. I had clothing removed without my consent so that people could see it for themselves and see if it was true and touch it for themselves and all this sort of nonsense that went on. But, yes, looking back now, I think the one thing I would say to anyone that's in that situation at the moment is please do not feel guilty or ashamed if what people are saying or doing to do you is getting to you, you know, if it is affecting your self esteem, if it is getting you down. That isn't your fault. You know, you're not doing anything wrong, it's not that you need thicker skin or you're letting the bullies win. It is just that you are going through a difficult situation and you are dealing with it the best that you can. You know, a lot of the conversation around bullying centres on the idea of, 'Don't show them that it's getting to you,' but you should be showing someone. You're allowed to tell someone that it's getting to you, and if you don't have someone in your personal life that you can share honestly about the impact that it might be having on you, please do reach out to charities like Changing Faces, because so much of us have been there ourselves. You know, we get it, and no-one is going to judge you for how you're reacting the situation that you're in and you're never in it alone. There's always someone else that is there is to listen and can understand.

Nikki:  Yes, I totally agree with that, and I think Changing Faces really, really helped me, especially when I first found them and spoke to them. And it really helped me feel less alone as well because I was able to meet so many other young people that had visible differences. So, even just with that, it helped me feel so much less alone. You should never feel like like you, like you said, Jenny, have to put up a front.

Jenny:  Yes, definitely.

Nikki:  Because, you know, we're all human and comments do get to us, and it's so important to feel like you have someone that you can speak to and that you know that you're not a burden to anyone and that people are there to listen. Especially, like, your parents or your friends or a teacher, just anyone that you trust and you feel comfortable speaking to. And what about you, Hannah? Did you find anything helped you when it came to opening up about your feelings around looking different or having a visible difference?

Hannah:  So, I've been called a lot of names and bullied as well. Some of the things that I've been called are purple monster, freak and also once I was in school and I had a baguette thrown at me.

Nikki:  Oh my gosh.

Hannah:  When I got the baguette thrown at me, my friends all decided they were going to crowd around me so that I would be hidden away from everyone because everyone was staring and laughing, obviously, at me, so that made me feel a bit better about it. Having someone else that has a visible difference also helps because then you can, kind of, talk it over with them as well and support each other.

Nikki:  And did you find that speaking to someone about it, so, like, even your parents, when you were growing up, before you met someone that had a visible difference, helped you?

Hannah:  My good friends at school, they, sort of, support me in a way that if I want to talk about it, they'll talk to me about it. But if I don't want to talk about it, they'll just leave me be, really helped me.

Nikki:  I'm so sorry you've had to go through that. That is absolutely awful, and it's obviously something that none of us three have control over. You know, we don't have control over the way that we look and it obviously makes us who we are, but often, a lot of the time, even though you may not be able to see it in the moment, a lot of what the bullies are saying, actually, when you turn bullying on its head, it's more reflective on them because they feel, deep down, so unhappy within their lives and within themselves, whether you can tell or not, they decide they're going to project that onto someone else. Unfortunately, it's usually someone that has a visible difference like us. I know, when I was growing up, that I really struggled with seeing no one that looked like me in the media and no one to look up to, and so it almost, again, made me feel like the way I looked was not normal and I was the only one, and I felt so alone. How did you feel growing up and not seeing someone that looked like you that you could relate to?

Jenny:  Yes, I felt the exact same. I think logically I knew, 'Okay, I'm not the only one to be born with this condition. I'm not the only person with a scar.' But because you're not seeing it anywhere, it does feel like that at the time, particularly in a situation like school, I wasn't around anyone else with a visible difference that I knew of. It's quite isolating going through that and even if you do have a really good support system in place, which I did, my family and stuff were great, but if they don't have that personal experience, there is a, sort of, disconnect there. Just knowing, seeing normal people with visible difference going about their normal lives and they're not portrayed in any sort of dramatic way, it is just a person, you know, I think that really would have helped just normalise the whole thing for me and for others.

Nikki:  And, Hannah, what did you think? Did you notice when you were younger and you were growing up that there wasn't really anyone with a visible difference that you saw in the media or, you know, on TV?

Hannah:  I did notice, and I thought it was quite strange. I was quite confused as to why there was no one that looked like me. And I, kind of, wished there was because it would have helped me just follow my dreams because I quite like acting, but there's no one that really looks like me, so I didn't really think I could do it.

Nikki:  Yes. Unfortunately, having visible difference and feeling alone holds you back from a lot of things. I can only think that having someone before us that we could look up to would have really helped us just push ourselves to achieving our dreams from an earlier age.

Hannah:  Definitely.

Nikki:  You both have had a really tricky time at school, and I myself have had a tricky time at school, and so from your personal experiences, what do you think are the particular pressures that young people face at school?

Jenny:  I think because I've been out of school for (TC 00:10:00) quite a few years now, I think now looking back I can really recognise how much of a bubble it is. I know everyone says that but it is such a, kind of, pressure cooker environment. And when I was at school, social media wasn't really a thing, so I'm quite glad I didn't have that on top of everything else because that's another pressure cooker sort of situation in itself.

Nikki:  The stress, yes.

Jenny:  I mean, that sort of time is difficult for everyone, I think, regardless of whether or not you have a visible difference. It's, you know, a time of change, and it's difficult for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons. And then if you add visible difference in, and particularly add in the reactions of people to that, particularly all the negative ones that unfortunately we have had to deal with, I think it just amplifies everything and it makes it harder.

Nikki:  Definitely. I mean, Hannah, obviously we're the same age, we're both sixteen. So, we're both in school and we're still going through school, and social media is, like, one of the biggest things ever, and so how have you felt with trying to navigate social media and dealing with the pressures at school?

Hannah:  If you go onto, like, Instagram or something and you see all the adverts of people looking like they think you should look like, you don't really see anyone that looks different. It's quite hard.

Nikki:  Yes, when I first started social media, I had to really change who I was following and alter it because, you know, that whole cookie-cutter image was really getting stuck in my head of what I thought I had to look like. But then I was really struggling to accept myself because I knew that the way that I looked was not something that I had control over.

Jenny:  I think a lot of it comes down to education on these sorts of things. You know, we all look different, don't we? And everyone's different in different ways, and I think it's important that people realise that they are going to come in contact with people that look differently to them or look differently to how they're maybe expecting. And it doesn’t always require some sort of comment. You can just leave it. And I think also I would just make sure that people understand that your words are powerful, and I know we've all made mistakes and, you know, we've all said something at some point or another that we maybe wouldn't say now, but I think people really need to be aware of the fact that something you say to someone can stick with them for years. I mean, I remember some of things that people said to me when I was twelve, and I'm 26 now, and even though it doesn't impact me in the same way because of the work that I've put in to get past that, I still remember it. So, there's power in words and people need to be really aware, of that with what they're saying.

Nikki:  I totally agree with that, Jenny, and unless you have walked in that person's shoes, I think people need to really, really think about what they say before they say it. The world would be such a different place if people were kinder, and us having visible differences, which can be really, really hard at times, would be so much easier to live our daily lives with if people were just kinder and thought twice about what they said.

Jenny:  You know, people get comments everyday, all day, whenever they're just trying to go about their lives. So, I think even if you think you're being well-intentioned or it's not that bad, what you're saying, I would just maybe encourage people to just think a bit about what would happen if you only ever heard that sort of thing, and it was put towards you everyday, all day. It would get to you, and I think if people were more aware of that, then the world would be a better place.

Nikki:  No, that is so true. And I just want to finish off with asking you both what are your hopes for the future?

Hannah:  My dream job would be to work with animals.

Nikki:  Really?

Hannah:  Yes. I just think that animals are, like-, they understand you so well, especially people with visible differences because they don't really treat anyone different.

Nikki:  There's no judgement, yes.

Hannah:  And also for Changing Faces, I hope to, like, carry on just raising awareness.

Nikki:  I'm really hoping that so many more people who have visible differences who are still feeling the way that we felt, especially when we first noticed that we looked different and didn't have Changing Faces as an amazing charity to help us, I hope that so many more people that were in our situation can find Changing Faces and that it can help them as well. So, thank you so much for both being on.

Hannah:  Thank you for talking to us.

Jenny:  Thank you so much for talking with us. I think it's such an important topic, and I really hope it will help people to know that they're not in it alone and, you know, there are people like us that have been there and have either, like me, gone through it in the past or are going through it at the moment and there are people out there that do understand.

M:  You have been listening to the the Voices of Visible Difference podcast from the charity Changing Faces. If you would like to get in touch, share your thoughts or find out more, you can contact us via the Changing Faces website or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.