I’d like to think I look a little like a younger, blonder and plumper, version of my late grandmother. Many would attest to our likeness but with a caveat; traces of a repaired cleft lip are clearly visible on my face.
Yet at the age of 43, I don’t pay much attention to my uneven lip and wonky nose. They’re certainly not the first things I see when I look at myself in the mirror. Usually I’m more concerned about how messy my hair is, or whether I’ve got new hairs sprouting from my chin (a sure-tell sign of ageing).
I also don’t really consider the possibility that other people may react to my face. I rarely wear makeup because I can’t be bothered and because I don’t like the sticky feeling it leaves on my face.
When I meet new people, I don’t worry or ask myself if they notice my cleft. It’s a non-issue.
Since the beginning of 2014 I’ve been volunteering for Changing Faces, a UK charity that supports people with facial disfigurements. There I have been involved in a campaign on face perception and discrimination in the workplace. Part of my job has been to interview people with facial disfigurements.
As I’ve listened to them share their experiences of living with a facial difference, I’ve become more aware of my own face and for the first time I am asking myself whether, as an adult, I’ve ever been facially discriminated against?
Do people ever judge me based on my cleft?
It doesn’t bother me that people notice my cleft; what irritates me, however, is when I get comments such as,
‘One can hardly see your cleft/scar…’ as if I’d necessarily want my cleft/scar to be invisible; or
‘Wow, the doctors really mended your lip beautifully. I’ve seen much worse cases.’
I am proud of my scars: not only the zigzag shaped one on my lip, but also the much larger one that cuts across my back, which is as old as I am.
I’m also quite fond of the six tiny ones on my belly and the larger but fainter ones on the inside of each of my ankles. I don’t see them as blemishes that tarnish my appearance for each one tells an important story about my life.
Without them, I wouldn’t be me.