Growing up with a visible difference means facing a daily battle.
From birth, I’ve lived with cystic hygroma – when cysts form due to a problem with the body’s lymphatic system. It affects my head, ear, jaw and neck on my left side.
I also have facial palsy, which is permanent paralysis on the left side of my face, caused by surgery when I was younger.
Before I was about seven or eight years old, my looks weren’t something I noticed. I knew I appeared different, but I didn’t care and my family had always been supportive.
But when a new boy in my class at school said I looked really weird and laughed at me, something changed. I was now attuned to remarks from people in the street, and there was a significant shift in the way I thought about myself.
Once I started noticing the comments and stares, I started to wish I looked different. ‘If he’s saying that I look weird and ugly, then it must be true,’ I told myself. ‘Everyone must think that’.
It was made worse by the fact that growing up, I never saw anyone who looked like me on TV. Men always had perfect faces, boy-next-door looks and abs. I didn’t have any of these things and was never the one anyone liked in school in a romantic way.
I even remember going to a careers meeting and saying I wanted to become an actor – I was told to be realistic as no one like me could get a job in acting.
And I was secretly trying to deal with the fact that I was gay. Not only was I worried about disappointing my family, but I believed I would never find love due to the unattainable beauty standards that are prevalent in the gay community, such as looking good and having a great body.
I let ideas about how men should look consume me, to the point where I had virtually no confidence left. I spent my entire adolescence hiding away, afraid of racking up more ‘evidence’, in the form of other people’s reactions, that showed I was different from everyone else.
As I lived in the countryside, I could go out and play with friends without being seen by strangers. But during the holidays, I would hate it when kids from different places travelled to the caravan sites with their families and the comments would start.
I would also have arguments with my family about not wanting to go out, and if we did go, I would spend the entire time wanting to come home.
When I was 20, I was on a packed train returning from university, when a group of men around my age shamelessly and loudly made crude comments about my face. They asked me why I was storing food in my cheeks and told me that I had a face only a mother could love.
I froze, unable to speak – I was outnumbered. So I sat and said nothing, like everyone else on the train.
I went home that evening and cried. But it was in that moment I knew it was time to make a change.
I was so sick of letting how others saw me define how I thought about myself. I was through with being worried about leaving the house and being scared of what I might hear. I was tired of not having any control.
Enough was enough, I decided. I needed to own my disfigurement.
From then on, I slowly but surely built up my confidence by focusing on who I was inside and not on what others thought of me.
If I was out and about, I would concentrate on who I was with and what I was doing, instead of whether people were looking at me – which meant I ended up not noticing if they did.
I also used to take a photo of myself every day and compliment it, saying things like ‘that jacket really suits you’. This helped me feel better about the way I looked.
Then I started a YouTube channel. Through videos of my reaction to music or sharing my unfiltered opinions on pop culture, I’m now able to show off all aspects of my personality. And I’ve found that a lot of people don’t judge me based on the way I look.
Inevitably, my disfigurement comes up in some videos – I want to show that there is more to a person than their face, to help others experiencing something similar to me.
And other big life changes have followed. I came out to my friends and family, which was a massive relief. This isn’t the case for a lot of LGBTQ+ people who come out, but I was very lucky as not one single person was bothered by the fact I was gay. Recently, I managed to go on my first ever date and my dad even helped look up places where me and my date could meet.
I also got rid of toxic friends who mostly bonded over being negative about others. I didn’t like who I was around them and it was awful for my self-esteem, so I let them go.
For the first time, I embraced my face. I didn’t mask my disfigurement as much in photos and I actively addressed it on Instagram posts, being honest about how it made me feel.
I felt a massive weight lift off my shoulders – I had nothing to hide. Since then, I’ve been so much happier in life and within myself. This process started seven years ago and it has been slow, but I am so proud of the journey I have made so far
When I stopped listening to what other people said, I found that I had the potential to truly love myself. I found me again – the young boy I had lost so long ago, who didn’t care what other people thought. It was such a relief.
My confidence in how I look and feel about myself has gone from strength to strength, but it has also allowed me to help others embrace the way they look through my videos on YouTube and TikTok. I often receive messages thanking me for the work I’m doing, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Throughout my life, I’d not known anyone else with a visible difference, but working with the charity Changing Faces has introduced me to some amazing individuals, including those who share similar experiences to me. It’s helped me to feel valid.
The new Changing Faces campaign encourages men, in particular, to reach out and talk about their visible difference. It has made me realise just how many men are affected by the way they look and stay silent about it.
In fact, three-quarters of men with a visible difference say they feel under pressure to meet macho male stereotypes but rarely express how it makes them feel.
Of course, this burden of ‘ideal masculinity’ is something that can affect all men – but when you have a facial difference, the fear of how people will react to you can be overwhelming.
I wish I’d realised sooner that fitting the standard of beauty doesn’t matter as much as who you are inside. The sooner I accepted myself – all of me – the better life became. I hope by telling this story, someone else will feel encouraged to do the same.
Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different. For advice or support visit www.changingfaces.org.uk or call 0300 012 0275.
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