As children we are all taught to embrace difference, taught that there is no such thing as ‘normal’, when in fact there is. Within the English dictionary ‘normal’ is defined as “conforming to a standard; usual, typical or expected”. Likewise, ‘difference’ is also defined. This is described as “a point or way in which people or things are dissimilar”. So if we’re taught from a young age that difference is okay, at what point do we deviate from this to decide that being normal is actually all that we really want. At least, it’s all that I really want.
I’m different through no choice of my own. I have to accept that. But for some reason I just can’t. No matter how many times people tell me that being unique is the best thing in world. I just can’t seem to look at myself in the mirror and repeat their words; I simply choke on them as they stick in my throat.
I was conceived in 1993; my mum had an idyllic pregnancy and when I was born in March of 1994 both of my parents were elated. There were no signs, no tests, no indications to show that I had a syndrome that would later be diagnosed as Moebius syndrome.
Nonetheless I had a pretty average childhood. Although slightly later than most of my peers I reached milestones Specialists said I wouldn’t: my first words, steps, and full mental capabilities - all just the same as everyone else. But much to the dismay of parents I never had my first smile.
You see, Moebius syndrome has affected my sixth and seventh cranial nerves. Thus meaning that I was born with a palsy on the left side of my face, leaving me with a lack of facial movement. For example I was born without the ability to smile properly, move my eyebrows and move my eyes from left to right. Which, as you can imagine, makes me look different to everyone else.
It wasn’t until I got to the age of ten that I started to understand that my dissimilarities from everyone else was because of my syndrome. Since then it’s only really gotten harder for me to accept, even though as I have grown older most people have become much more accepting.
I wish I had had the to choice to be different. I wish I could have chosen to step out of the of realms of normality and shove two fingers to the world and anyone who stood in my way. But I didn’t. Instead it is simply a pre-determined fact of my life that I have no choice but to live with, for the rest of my life.
As a teenager I was trying to find who exactly I was, just the same as everyone else. My peers made that near impossible though, and to some extent their words are still why I still struggle to this day to accept who I am. Even nearly five years after I have left school the constant taunts still remain: “Ugly”, “Shovel face”, “Wonky woman”, “Road kill”, “You should’ve been killed at birth”, “I wish you would kill yourself, that would be the best day of my life”.
The throwaway comments, made by people who probably don’t even remember saying them, have made me question everything. When do these accepting children cast their minds to judgment? What defines normality within their eyes, and who has that control? Why does society feel the constant need to portray an idea of aesthetic difference in a negative light?
Yes, I could have ‘corrective’ surgery, but why should I need to be corrected? Am I not good enough the way that I am? Who decided that not being able to smile, or that that fact that when I talk my face isn’t symmetrical, is not correct? Who exactly is it that reinforces this within society?
There have been times over the years where I have longed to be the same as everyone else. In fact, I still do. People often say, “But Jemma, you’re so unique and you stand out. You should be proud of that”. And yes I understand what they’re saying, but I cannot help but feel they are somewhat misinformed. I’d like them to go through what I’ve been through, for them to look themselves in the eye and not recognize the face staring back at them in the mirror, and then repeat what they have said.
When I’m just being Jemma, and I’m away from mirrors or the possible judgmental eye of a stranger, I flourish. I can laugh so hard that I snort, talk so much that words no longer make sense, smile so hard that my imaginary facial muscle aches. But then I’ll remember - even just for a split second - and I’ll retreat back to the shell of the girl that was just there.
If shooting stars really could grant wishes, or if genies flew out of lamps, then I know exactly what I would wish for. I would wish to be just like everyone else. I want to blend in. I have spent years upon years longing to see my face without my syndrome, and to show the world that what I look like is not my choice. I often wonder what I would look like if I didn’t have it? Would I be as perfectly beautiful as the rest of my family, my friends and peers? I’m not naïve enough to think that I wouldn’t still want to change things, but at least I could.
Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve grown older I’ve learnt to deal with things better and how to shrug off the immaturity of some. But why should I have to? I have spent years feeling utterly worthless, just because society has created this ‘ideal’ image. I have wanted to kill myself, I have cut my own skin, just to try and deal with a social construct that over time has been created and remodeled to encourage a ‘normality’ that for some, like myself, just is not possible.
No matter what people say, difference is still marginalized and looked down upon. The people who embrace difference often have made that choice for themselves, they don’t have to have the choice made for them.
Difference should not have to be defined as different, just like normality should not be normal. There should be no stereotypical ideal, or preconceived ideas. People should just be whoever they are. But until this, I will continue to long to be ‘normal’. Yet still forever be confined by my difference.