Finding the Courage to Smile

March 1-7, 2017 is Facial Palsy Awareness week.

Hi! I’m Michelle and I have congenital facial paralysis.

It has taught me everything I know about being kind, empathetic and understanding. For that reason, I am grateful every damn day for my crooked smile. It wasn’t always easy, though.

I was extremely shy and self-esteem was at an all time low. Stares, words and insults hurt terribly. Everyday I wished I could change the way I looked, I just wanted to blend in and not be noticed. Sadly, these thoughts stemmed from years of comments I had heard:

“Did you have a stroke?” - too many times to count

“Why don’t you fix that girls face?” - Someone in our community to my Mom

“Gosh it must be hard, it’s not like you can cover it up” - Girl at universtiy

“She would be so beautiful if only we could fix her smile” -Doctor at a walk-in clinic.

“Have you tried smiling with your mouth closed? It’s less obvious that way!” - Man that takes school pictures every damn year.

“Wow! That’s a face only a mother could love”. - Some random asshole at a nightclub

How I felt about myself used to be dictated by how others judged my appearance:

UGLY.

UNWANTED.

UNWORTHY.

I lived my young life HATING what I couldn’t change, what I couldn’t hide.

And I almost let them win. It almost broke me. But then instead of feeling sad I became REALLY REALLY ANGRY. It doesn’t seem like that would be helpful, but it lit a fire under my ass to fight for what I deserved.  I truly believe the only way I came out on the right side was because of the people in my life that MATTERED: My parents, my sister and my closest friends. They were my life-boat. And one day in my early teenage life I was fed up. I remember that day. I had had enough of the bullshit. For allowing others to make me feel like shit. That was the day I started to stand up for myself.

YOU DON’T GET TO DECIDE HOW I FEEL.

I DON’T NEED TO CHANGE A THING.

YOUR WORDS CAN’T HURT ME.

YOU WON’T MAKE ME HIDE MY SMILE.

I AM BEAUTIFUL. PERIOD.

Those days were hard. And every now and again those thoughts surface. But they don’t stay long. My experience has made me resilient in so many ways. By being brave enough to stand up for myself has taught me courage to stand up for others. I am empathetic and understanding. I always remember not to judge as many are fighting battles of which I know nothing. I have learned that although there is cruelty in the world there is so much more kindness. Kindness is the most flattering form of beauty.

We are so much more than our body. Our appearance should have no consequence. What we look like and what our bodies are capable of matter so much less than WHO WE ARE.

I am not my face. I am a caring, empathetic and passionate young woman who is doing her best to offer good things to this world. I am a great Mom, a loving Wife and an advocate for self love.

But I do love my smile. It is unique. It has smiled and laughed and it has cried. It is the only smile that my daughter knows and loves. And it is mine.

All my love,

Michelle