DID you know that 33% of people with a facial difference in the UK have been discriminated against?
This was one of the findings that came out of research Smile Train UK carried out, in partnership with Censuswide, last month – and the inspiration behind our ‘Beauty in Every Smile’ campaign, which aims to break down stigmas associated with facial differences, whilst championing confidence and positivity in the diversity of smiles.
To launch the campaign, Smile Train commissioned Fanny Beckman to photograph 12 cleft-affected individuals who have each been stigmatised or discriminated against because of their cleft – to make a statement that every smile is unique.
As Anti-Bullying Week fell in November, for this month’s column, we wanted to share some of these stories to raise awareness of the impact of bullying and help encourage people to see the Beauty in Every Smile.
Isobel had her front teeth removed almost as soon as they came in when she was eight. As her cleft team recommended against filling in the gap until she had her braces off, she always smiled with her mouth closed. Laughed with a hand over her mouth.
Isobel tried to hide her difference, but she could not. Bullies in school called her names and vandalised her home. Bullies online sent hateful messages for daring to show her face — all anonymously.
When she was 19, she was finally able to get the gap in her teeth filled with prosthetics. To her, that day she had waited 11 years for was as transformative as any of her 15+ surgeries and it’s why she smiles with such confidence today.
Christian has had 50 surgeries on his face between the day he was born and his early twenties.
Yet he considers himself to have had a happy childhood, largely because his parents always surrounded him with love and reminders that he is worthy as everyone else.
It wasn’t until Christian entered secondary school that the constant comments and stares began to crack the armour his family had worked so hard to dress him in.
At age 21, he nearly ran to the hospital for his last major facial surgery. He saw it as a graduation, the beginning of a brand-new existence where he would no longer be different. He recovered only to realise no surgery can treat what’s torn inside you. Many turbulent years followed.
But time heals what surgery cannot. He gradually grew more confident. Christian is now a published author and outspoken cleft advocate.
Nishchala ate lunch alone every day. In the hallways, and even on the street, random people would stop her to say hurtful things about her scars. She dared not respond and give them an opening to mock her voice, too.
The moment school let out; she rushed home to be with her family. They always accepted her just as she was. Their love was her strength to keep going.
Barely a teenager, life had taught Nishchala to avoid the public. “This isolation led to a sense of loneliness and further affected my self-esteem,” she remembers.
As Nishchala grew older, she learned a different way to fight back. She decided to embrace her uniqueness and seek out friends who would help her live with confidence.
Today, Nishchala is an outspoken advocate for the cleft community and the dignity of every face.
These are just three of the incredibly powerful stories told as part of the campaign. Their stories are not only helping to inspire more ‘smile inclusivity’ in the UK but are also encouraging people to see the beauty in their own unique smiles.
To learn more about Beauty in Every Smile, please visit: www.smiletrain.org.uk/beautyineverysmile