The 9-year-old girl and
her mother were on a talk show. Two years earlier, the girl’s ear was burned
off in a fire. Her neck and arm were scarred. The neck scars weren’t that
Throughout the show, the girl was
in a constant state of distress, prone to fits of sobbing, as her mother related
the accident to the host. The girl said she felt ugly, all the while hanging her
head. Her loving mother always had an arm around her, holding her in close.
Something was dreadfully wrong
here. You see, the girl’s fits of sobbing always followed those of her mother’s.
The mother herself was in an ongoing state of despair, and this sent her
daughter only one message: Child, I love you dearly, but you are now
defective. That’s why I keep crying about you. I will always protect you and
This mother was her child’s
pillar of weakness.
And so was a second mother on the
show. Her 13-year-old daughter kept saying how ugly she felt, and was unable to
smile or hold up her head. All she had was a 2-inch scar on her chin. The
accident that caused the scar had occurred 11 years prior, but her mother was
teary-eyed and distraught, even though her daughter could run, see, hear, speak
and think and had no cancer or brain tumor.
This girl felt like damaged
property because her mother had never gotten over the accident. And the teenage
boy on the show perhaps thought, I must really look horrible, because
his father kept weeping about the accident that scarred the boy’s chest a
A child with a disfigurement will
rise above the situation, only when the parents do, and when the parents
"encourage the child to also do so," says Cindy Rutter of San Diego,
having undergone about 100 surgeries by age 18.
A gas leak to the water heater
caused a propane explosion when Rutter was 6 years old, producing third-degree
burns over 85 percent of her body.
She was not expected to survive.
Unable to bear the trauma, her father left the family four days after the
accident. Her mother remarried two years later.
"It can be very difficult
for a parent to see their child go through this, but as parents, you must lead
the way and be strong", says Rutter, whose face, legs and torso/breast
where heavily affected. "It is through you, as the parents, that they will
see themselves grow and be self-confident. You must believe in your children as
no one else can."
This means showing strength and
resilience through your actions, not just telling your child she’s beautiful
no matter what.
Rutter is now 47 and the
assistant nurse manager of the University of California San Diego Regional Burn
Unit. "I wanted to work in a burn unit and take care and inspire other
patients to believe they could get through this journey. My nursing career has
been a great blessing." Rutter is married and has two daughters, ages 16
"The fact that my mom was so
incredibly strong played a major role in my ultimate outcome. Even though my
face was burned, my mom always taught me to hold my head high and to be proud of
who I was. My family was never ashamed to be seen with me. My mother gave me the
greatest gift in helping me with coping strategies and still treating me as a
child, and not as someone who was horribly scarred. My mom never, ever enabled
me or felt sorry for me."
This foundation of empowerment
paid off during Rutter’s teen years: She dated, and attended prom. "I
know that if I believe in my heart, soul and mind that I’m attractive, then
that is how other people will perceive me."
Many people with facial
deviations avoid social situations, even after acquiring the scars as an adult.
Some actually wear masks in public, thereby creating negative attention. From
within, they radiate a self-hatred, and as a result, people stay clear of them
or ridicule them. A self-fulfilling prophecy is established, reinforcing the
individual’s belief that nobody will ever accept him or her!
How do you wish to be remembered
by someone who meets you for the first time? As a personable, self-confident
individual? Or as a miserable, self-loathing one? An attitude of hopelessness is
far more memorable than any facial deformity—and far more disabling!
Some people with facial
Disfigurement or scars hand out silver platters to strangers—on
these platters is a giant serving
of POWER. You will probably never again see these strangers, yet you have just
given them the power to strip you of your joy in living, all because they kept
staring at your face or asked "nosy" questions. You have made them
more important than yourself, says Barbara Quayle of Seal Beach, CA, who
survived a car accident at age 33 and sustained third-degree burns that scarred
her face and left her without a hand.
During the first year following
the accident, Quayle wished she was never rescued from the flames, often wishing
she had died. Prayers, therapy and support from friends helped her heal.
"I have always thought it
best to be remembered as a friendly, happy person rather than someone extremely
uncomfortable with self," says Quayle, who runs Quayle and Associates,
which teaches coping strategies to people with Disfigurement.
"The person who continually
looks for something bad to happen, when he’s out in public, will usually
experience it," adds Quayle, who believes that a simple smile by the person
with a facial disfigurement can create magic.
Eye contact will not scare away
other people, though many individuals with facial differences shy away from eye
contact. Rutter always uses it: "It shows someone that I am confident and
that I am not afraid to look at them, and they should not be afraid to look at
Posture, wardrobe, accessories
and hairstyle can generate quite an impact, and Quayle teaches clients how to
coordinate attire to bring out their best.
Think about it: Who is more
likely to be the target of pity, avoidance and insensitive comments? The
disfigured woman who’s wearing a stunning outfit and dynamic boots, whose hair
is meticulously coiffed, whose lips and eyes are gently painted, whose
fingernails are expertly manicured—or—the disfigured woman who’s wearing a
drab outfit, sneakers, no jewelry, no cosmetics and whose hair is plain and
Imagine being a passenger in a
plane that flies into a tornado during take-off. Alan Breslau, 73, of
Pennsylvania was on such a plane in 1963. The crash caused third- and
fourth-degree burns over 45 percent of his body. He lost most of his face,
including his nose, an eye and an ear.
He founded the Phoenix Society in
1972, an international self-help organization for burn survivors.
If your face deviates from the
average, regardless of the cause, remember: YOU have the power. You can give it
to strangers, or you can keep it for yourself. This is one circumstance where
sharing is discouraged!
"Looking very different has
its advantages," says Breslau. "People notice you and remember you.
Because I’m so memorable, I have been given more opportunities than when I
looked ‘normal.’ Notice how other people try to stand out in the crowd by
creating outlandish appearance. They dye and spike their hair, put rings through
their body parts, shave their heads. You still outshine them. No matter what
they do to be noticed, they pale in comparison next to you. Make the most of it!
Use this opportunity to educate
people. "After I explain and they know I’m not contagious, they become
more interested in ME!" Kids and teenagers, especially, stare at those who
look different. Teach them the dangers of fire or of reckless driving, if these
are the causes of your disfigurement.
Otherwise, smile at them.
Compliment them on their appearance or strange hairdo. You certainly won’t
walk away feeling defeated.
I once saw a woman at my health
club who had an apparent congenital facial anomaly: large, purple hairy
splotches across her face.
She stepped onto the treadmill
and away she went. Her physique was very fit-looking. Certainly, having a
resilient cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system was a great source of
self-esteem for her. Adhering to an exercise program will empower you, and
distract you from your disfigurement.
In a society where physical
beauty is prized, keep in mind that high self-esteem and a positive attitude
will never fade with time.