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Wesley Sanders, FACES Outreach Coordinator

To me, face equality means freedom.


A few years ago, I was part of a conversation with friends, catching up over drinks and a meal. We were all in our twenties. Somehow, the conversation had drifted to what constitutes a “good plastic surgery job.” The debate lingered for a while as both sides presented their points. Each “party” shared whether they would oppose efforts to dramatically alter their appearance and what “work” they would want done. The conversation had drifted to one friend admittedly stating that her boyfriend was saving money to buy her a breast augmentation, and another friend was arguing there wasn’t a dramatic change to her chin after undergoing a recent chin implant procedure. We swapped tales about who’s had work done. Someone talked about whose nose job they liked and how you can dramatically influence the shape of your nose by your weight. We discussed the risks of nose jobs, including going blind and being unhappy with your results. Keeping with the crowd’s penchant for talking about appearance, we transitioned to the transformative power of Botox and filler. I remember going home and discussing it further with my sister and mom. I remember thinking, “How shallow,” but I had dismissed my judgment because I appreciated being a part of a conversation involving plastic surgery and appearance. But after talking with my family, I wanted to dissolve into tears. The quick change of emotions from fully engaged and wide smile to on the verge of tears was bizarre. 


I thought about what changed my demeanor. The news of people with the advantages of a functioning and attractive face criticizing plastic surgeons’ work was filled with tiny sonic pricks of sadness because they each get to choose if they want work done. Everything I have ever known from a plastic surgeon included face alterations, but I was never allowed to oblige voluntarily. I had surgeries to change the shape of my head to survive. I had surgeries on my eyelids countless times so my eyes could have the ability to blink and close properly. For my entire life, I have had ongoing medical complications accompanying me. Suddenly, it came to me: I had fewer opportunities — and less freedom — than they do. I didn’t get the chance to choose. Most plastic surgeries are elective, and people who undergo these procedures volunteer to improve the face they were born with.


I didn’t get to choose whether someone pointed out that “my eyes look weird.” I didn’t get to decide when I was insulted intellectually because someone assumed my intelligence based on my appearance.


Every surgery I have ever had that wasn’t of my spine, airway, or brain was reconstructive surgery. Being born with a craniofacial condition also stripped me of the right to change my natural face because I didn’t like it. I don’t get to do anything to my face for improvement; everything I do is to achieve as normal of a functioning face as I can.


In general, I avoid thinking about the things I don’t like about my face. I’m in contact with people on a day-to-day basis who are already a stark reminder that I look ‘different.’ I’m sure it would be forgivable if I chose to wallow in the pain and make a laundry list of ‘things’ I don’t like about myself. Most of the time, I choose not to dwell on the things I don’t have and will even gladly participate in conversations on plastic surgery and elective procedures.


Sometimes, though, I’m reminded of the little freedom I’ve had when it comes to body autonomy, and I can’t help but flag about the doomed realities of someone living with a facial difference. And, sometimes, I wish everyone paid a little attention to facial equality and its transformative power on society. People with facial differences don’t get to choose how their face looks. We shouldn’t be punished for our appearance. To me, face equality is having freedom. Freedom from pre-judgement. Freedom from receiving comments on appearance. Freedom to have the same opportunities based on ability and personality, not looks.

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FACES: The National Craniofacial Association
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