I have suffered with low self-esteem for years. I would be unnecessarily self-conscious and self-critical because of my cleft lip and palate. I worried constantly what people thought and felt I needed to prove myself. Whilst my determination to do things despite my cleft has meant I don’t have regrets about letting it hold me back, it has also made it hard to realise that the determination comes from myself, not my cleft. I never wanted people to judge me because of the way I looked, so I forced myself to always seem extremely confident and show people that I would try anything.
Sadly, how I saw myself internally was nothing like what people saw on the outside. I would hate the way I looked. I knew it filled me with horrible anxiety and I would often see a picture of myself and wish I could be cut out. Whilst negative thoughts were by no means a part of my day-to-day life, they would always be just under the surface to come bubbling through at even the smallest opportunity.
We live in a world where there is an immense pressure on how we look. Although it shouldn’t be like this, (and I really wish it wasn’t), this is a large part of our culture – we all make judgements and stereotype all the time. I know I definitely do (although I try extremely hard not to), and I would often judge someone – thinking they were staring at/judging me – before I even knew them.
I knew I hated/was most self-conscious about my nose – it was my biggest insecurity and unlike most people (who can hide their vulnerabilities) I knew mine was on show 24/7. After having my reconstructive nose surgery in April 2017, my confidence really sky-rocketed – to the extent that I started to feel able to talk about any of my cleft experiences to people other than my immediate family and closest friends. I stopped worrying so much what others thought (e.g. if they took a second glance in my direction), I started to enjoy having my photograph taken and found it easier to genuinely accept compliments without self-doubt or feeling self-conscious. I started to find that meeting new people was easier too, because I wasn’t worried about how they might judge me.
However, the biggest change has been my internal view of myself: I can now see (although I feel sad it took surgery to realise this) that I have always been beautiful. The surgery didn’t change who I was, but merely let me see myself and others more clearly. It made me realise that truly who you are is more important than how you look and that my different appearance merely showed everyone what I had been through in my life. Having a cleft has shaped me into the person I am (despite wishing for years it wouldn’t affect me at all), since it has shown the power of patience, determination and compassion.
I sometimes wonder why I felt I ‘needed’ this surgery and why it has had such a profound impact on my internal self-esteem. I can feel sad that a lot of peer pressure and social expectations has probably made me feel the way I do. I’ve often wondered what it would be like if the whole world was blind, and I know I probably wouldn’t have felt any need to have surgery. However, that is not the world we live in. Although some people may think it is inexplicably wrong that surgery could influence my internal views so strongly, I am simply relieved that I can finally love myself the way my friends and family have been doing for years. Internal self-confidence is something I know I’ve lacked and it feels great (no matter what the reason) to finally have some and see myself clearly (inside and out).