Being born with a cleft lip and palate means you’re born with a noticeable difference in the structural makeup of your face. This difference can often feel hard to cope with in our world that places a lot (if not too much) importance on looks. The differences from being born with a cleft vary from patient to patient, and, of course, everyone is born uniquely and therefore we all look different from one another anyway. However, when something or someone is more notably different, it is human nature to be curious as to why that is.
As harmless as this may be, being stared at or asked about a visual difference can sometimes be upsetting. It isn’t fun to be made to feel self-conscious, and this can negatively impact on someone’s mood or self-esteem. As a cleft patient, this is something I’ve had to battle with whilst growing up amidst stares and comments. However, I have also learned some very useful pointers too.
Firstly, when I thought someone was staring at me because of my cleft, they probably weren’t. They may have been looking at my uniform to see which school I went to, looking at my new haircut, or even looking past me to someone else. This doesn’t mean I didn’t feel self-conscious, yet it was important for me to learn that my cleft wasn’t the sole cause of why people would stare or take a second glance.
Secondly, if someone was staring at me because of my cleft, I had three options:
1) Look away and ignore them.
2) Stare back so they would realise they were starring and making me feel self-conscious.
3) Smile at them.
I probably chose option one 80% of the time since it seemed easier and I often didn’t have the confidence to hold their gaze. Option two was reserved only for when I felt pretty angry (if I’m honest). And although rarely used, option three was my favourite. It made me feel positive that I embraced my difference and honestly didn’t care someone had noticed. If they were thinking negatively I would merely feel sorry for them and feel happy that at least I wasn’t held back by alienating someone’s differences.
I sometimes wish I’d had the confidence to ask if the person was staring at me and challenge them as to why so I could explain why I looked different. This is something I would strongly recommend, since I know that whenever I’ve spoken about my cleft I’ve felt empowered and confident, since it reminds me how I’ve overcome my challenges and that, behind my differences, there’s a stronger person because of them.