I have what’s called a facial difference or deformity. I was born with it, kind of. I’m not sure of the full story behind what happened to me, but I do know I spent the first six months of my life hospitalized as a result of something called a hemangioma. A hemangioma is a benign tumorous growth of blood vessels on the skin. My hemangioma went away but left a significant amount of scar tissue on one side of my face; it also blinded me in one eye and resulted in me having to wear a tracheostomy up until I was about three years old. Fun stuff! Every summer up until I was eleven years old, I’d have reconstructive surgery to correct the scars. I was very fortunate because in spite of my visible difference, my parents raised me the same way as my older sister. I went to regular school, we went on family vacations, and I got in trouble when I was bad. Just kidding, I was never bad! My mom and dad always encouraged me to be whoever I wanted and accepted me for who I am. My parents also made an effort to protect me from a world that was not always so kind and when they no longer could, we came up with a short speech I could give children who asked the inevitable questions about what ‘happened’ to me; I’d tell them I was born with something that left scars on my face but the doctors are trying to fix it. I still use parts of this speech when people inquire about whether or not I was in a car accident or fire.
Rough Around The Edges
If you’ve seen the film Wonder or read the book, you know that the main character, Auggie, a little boy who is born with Treacher Collins syndrome, is homeschooled until 5th grade; I obviously was not. Starting school is confusing for everyone, but starting school when you don’t resemble the rest of your classmates is even more confusing. I attended a private school in New York City and although I was never outwardly made fun of by my peers for the way I looked, I had a few classmates that made sure I knew they thought I was inferior to them. In my opinion, it was a projection of their own ignorance and lack of empathy. I often felt alone and excluded but I never connected the dots, and even though I dealt with kids (mostly boys) on the playground or at day camp who called me names or ran away from me in fear, I never really thought about the fact that other kids didn't have surgeries every summer or had seen more doctors since birth than their age number. When I was in 6th grade, I became more aware that I was different looking from other girls in my grade and through a series of events over the next couple years, I got a taste of what that would mean for me for the rest of my life. It means that I will most likely always put people off initially and that no matter where I go or what I do—nothing changes who I am. Growing up, there are were a lot of things I never did because I was afraid of how I’d been received by kids I didn’t know, something I deeply regret because I think knowing the world was bigger than my school would’ve been extremely helpful to me back then. When I first got social media, I never uploaded pictures of my face. It’s almost laughable now because if you could see my Instagram you would see that I post tons of pictures of myself. It’s taken a long time for me to feel comfortable with my appearance. Self-love is hard and even though I'm much more confident now, there are still things I don’t do because I’m afraid of how I’ll be received.
The truth is I’ll never be normal and sometimes I wonder whether certain things just aren’t in the cards for people who look like me. My difference or deformity will always be a thing that requires an explanation. Most recently, I had a woman who was waxing my eyebrows ask me if it was okay to wax around my mouth because of my ‘burns’. Beauty is a privilege. It’s easier to be brave when you’re beautiful or even just normal-looking. It doesn’t mean your life is easy or perfect, but the fact is, we live in a society where physical appearance is regarded as a measure of worth and is rewarded as a badge of honor. When you’re constantly being reminded that your physical appearance is problematic, it’s going to inform your behavior, your feelings, your relationships, and everything else.
I'm not asking you to feel bad for me. My difference doesn’t stop me from having a great life full of friends and family who love me. It doesn’t stop me from having amazing co-workers and casting people to be on cool reality TV shows. It doesn’t stop me from being a huge wrestling fan or loving the Muppets. Though I’m currently single, I’ve been in relationships before. I know that my facial difference will always be an eventual topic of discussion, just like I know when people meet or see me for the first time a little red button of curiosity goes off in their heads. To me, that's perfectly reasonable and fair. Fielding questions from strangers about what’s “wrong” with me is not my favorite thing in the world, but it's something I've learned how to handle. My facial difference is not all of who I am, but it’s certainly a part of it and my experience living with it is the basis for a lot of why I am the way I am. I’m not afraid to be seen and I’m not ashamed, because I have no reason to be. It should be possible to be beautiful because of your differences, not in spite of them.
Like a lot of people I know, I have a bad habit of scrolling through Instagram and comparing myself to other women, including my own best friends on my feed and wondering why I can’t look like them. It would be nice to be “different” or “weird” in a way that attracts positive attention instead of the negative kind. It would be nice to not constantly feel like I’m participating in a competition where the playing field is not level. That will probably never be my life and while I don’t like to admit it because I fancy myself Wonder Woman, sometimes I wish I were someone else. There are days when I want to give up but then I remind myself I‘m a fighter and strong as hell, and I keep trying new things and putting myself out into a world that tells me I don’t belong.