I’ve got a piece of my ear on my nose and a piece of my mouth in my eye! I have undergone over 25 operations to reconstruct my face, so skin grafts have been the norm for me. This is because I was born with a condition called Golden Har Syndrome which means I was born without a right eye, right eye socket, an undeveloped right nostril and I had skin tags on both sides of my face.
Growing up, I was stared at and bullied throughout my school life which had a massive effect on my confidence levels. I was shy and was very reluctant to instigate conversations with other children and adults. There are many disabilities which can affect people and these can be from birth, like mine, or acquired. However, facial disfigurement has to be looked at from a different angle. Unlike a missing limb which can be concealed with clothing, the face is on show 24/7. When creating a first impression, the face is key to the outcome. We look at people’s faces when we talk to them and the face is the main aspect of attraction and connection with other people.
As I grew older, I realised that the face was less important when meeting people, it is your personality which is paramount to the way you are treated by others. I never thought I would meet anyone and get married because of the way I looked; ‘Who would want to date me, I was ugly.’ My feelings were confirmed by a careers officer when I was 17 who said ‘doctors only pick pretty girls to be their secretaries’.
When I was 19 I was taken under the wings of my work colleagues who looked after me and invited me out to social events. After a while, I soon realised that my appearance didn’t matter to them, I was Sharon, not Sharon with the funny face. I met my husband Stephen on a disability course in 1993. He is hard of hearing and I am visually impaired so I’m his ears and he is my eyes! As the years have gone by I don’t even give my appearance a second thought. The only thing I notice when I look in the mirror is my wonky glasses because my ears aren’t level.
A year and a half ago, I found myself standing in front of an audience of 250 people at a corporate event in Canary Wharf. I was invited to talk about my life and achievements growing up with a facial disfigurement. As I stood on the stage I thought back 30 years to when I was at school and I was amazed at how far I had come.
I had gone from that scared, timid teenager to a confident woman, speaking eloquently and inspiring others in the process. If only that careers officer could see me now! Along with the motivational speaking, I also run workshops on various subjects, including making the most of your skills to improve your life, bullying yourself and overcoming obstacles and challenges.
I believe we have the power within ourselves to make a difference in our own lives, rather than relying on others to help. I, along with everyone else, have bad days but the important thing is to carry on with focus and determination. If you feel like shit, enjoy it and wallow in self-pity. Tomorrow is another day.
You can find out more about Sharon, her motivational speaking and workshops at her website www.insightforall.co.uk.