I am here to share some lessons I have learned as an advocate for craniofacial awareness.
I was born with Treacher Collins Syndrome, a complex craniofacial condition that causes facial malformations and subsequently, crushing insecurities. For thirty years of my life, I felt defined by the history of childhood bullying, physical abuse, and sexual traumas that plagued my life.
PARENTS, COMING TO TERMS
As a craniofacial awareness advocate, I receive so many messages. It’s arduous to keep up. Some of them can be depressing. Many local and international mothers reach out to me after having a baby born with a congenital craniofacial condition. They want me to help them find someone to adopt their child. It’s heartbreaking. They feel that they cannot provide for their child with special needs, financially, mentally, and physically.
TEENS, COPING WITH “OTHERNESS”
Additionally, numerous young teenagers reach out to me, stating that they feel so ugly, that they are “undatable.” The modern ideals of beauty leave craniofacial teens (in particular) ruminating about their appearance. When your face lacks “normal” symmetry, it dominates your identity. Body image, facial beauty, and bullying all go hand-in-hand. It’s a constant battle between believing that you are beautiful and trying to prove it to others.
IMAGE and SELF-IMAGE
As we transition into maturity, those with craniofacial anomalies understand our condition better, but others still identify us at ‘face value’. The silent judgement creates a sense of being ‘less than’. This feeling of lacking never goes away, but I’ve learned to confront people with kindness, whether it’s just smiling, or starting up a conversation. It’s hard to determine if someone is being judgmental or merely curious.
BELIEVING YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
At the heart of craniofacial awareness is the challenge to believe that you are beautiful. Do this to manifest acceptance – acceptance of the way you were born. Should you find yourself in the face of judgment, realize that life is too short to focus on other people and their problems. Often when someone is taking the time to judge or bully another person for their physical differences, they are dealing with suppressed traumas and pains of their own buried deep inside.
God made you beautiful just the way you are. If you master your inner self by thinking healthy and your physical health by eating healthy, your mindset will completely change. You have talents, and by failing to recognize and honor them, you may be missing out on grand life opportunities.
COPING WITH ANXIETY
Sometimes I get anxiety because I wish I could help the people who reach out to me more. I mean more than just the advice and resources I provide on social media. I understand the emotions behind that common impulse in the craniofacial community of wanting to replace your face.
Those with any visible form of congenital disability can often feel discounted. Our identities are most defined in our faces which is why those born with craniofacial disabilities hurt especially deeply. The deeper we go, the more we’re trapped in our heads about how people are viewing us from the outside. It’s a horrible and heart-sinking feeling when you are taken merely at face value.
MY OWN GROWTH IS PROOF YOU CAN GROW
It took years of mirror work after enduring traumatic childhood abuse at school and at home. However, now, I’ve learned how to embrace my face. I used to feel ugly and stupid, but now I revel in my educational studies, and I go out with my hair up in public, with my little malformed ears exposed. I don’t plaster my face with makeup or go out hiding who I am, and I no longer buy friendships for love or acceptance. It feels exhilarating to just be me.
A younger me failed many classes, and dropped out of school and college. But I picked myself back up, and now I’m pursuing my second Master’s Degree in Public Health. I had many unkind rejective boyfriends, but I found the love of my life, and now we’ve been married for 13 years. I was laughed out of an audition stadium in Los Angeles for America’s Next Top Model, and ten years later I went back to the fashion industry and found amazingly accepting people who view me as a role model, literally and figuratively.
GET INVOLVED IN CRANIOFACIAL AWARENESS
I’m an avid philanthropist and supporter of various advocacy organizations and would love to have additional inspirational people, material, and means of support to feature in the speeches and media interviews I partake in.
Moreover, our group of craniofacial advocates from our FB Craniofacial Support and Resources group have launched a viral #BraveFaces video campaign on Facebook supported by Dr. Justine Lee at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. This campaign is open to anyone in our community who is interested in voicing their beauty.
My goal is to bring more of us together and to not be hidden behind the scenes anymore.
From the Editor:
If you want to learn more about craniofacial awareness I suggest:
“Disabled is not the Same as Unabled“, an article by craniofacial advocate, Rasheera Dopson
Cynthia Murphy is a craniofacial disability activist and graduate student pursuing a second Master’s degree in Public Health at Purdue University. She has overcome many chronic health conditions caused by Treacher Collins Syndrome, a genetic birth defect that affects the bones, muscles, and soft tissues of the face and skull. To date, she’s undergone 16+ reconstructive plastic surgeries. Cynthia currently works as a health and wellness activist with her husband Thane through their free charity app Assuaged.