In My Skin I Win
As someone who was born with a Bilateral Cleft and Palate, reconciling my existence with the idea of success seemed impossible. This condition is far from life threatening but 14 surgeries later, the scars still remain. When I was a kid, the very notion of having friends without being called Quasimodo, or having adults look at me without feeling pity for my parents was a world I would never live in. I knew what they were thinking - they were glad that their children did not have the same issues I did.
I remember sitting in my church on a Sunday morning and having the Pastor say “if you don’t repent for your sins, your children will be cursed with birth defects”. I was that curse. The only time I would ever see someone like me was in a World Vision or children’s hospital advertisement. This inherently put me in the category of the other – someone who was incapable, someone who was a charity case. There was no resistant representation to counteract these images.
Unfortunately, the world has not caught up. Very little has changed. The only time I have ever seen someone with a cleft in any form of media is when it is associated with Smile Train .
Forget that garbage. I love Smile Train but I do not want that to be the only facet of my life the world always sees. I am over that kind of one dimensional BS. It appears Shaun Ross is as well. Shaun Ross is a professional fashion model, actor and dancer of African descent, primarily known for being the first male albino model. He has been in GQ, Vogue and Paper, walked for Alexander McQueen and Givenchy, and looks incredible doing it. Growing up, Ross was called "Casper", "Powder" and "White Bread". The teasing escalated to him being stabbed in the back six times with a pen. It's clear that he and I come from the same world.
Ross told CNN "I challenge photographers." He described his look as "euphoric". He acknowledged that his smile "isn't the prettiest," but illuminating and that his face is "very disoriented", but edgy. He is one of a few rising stars who are challenging the expectations of what models are supposed to be.
People with a bilateral cleft and palate report dissatisfaction with peer relationships and higher levels of social anxiety. In My Skin I Win is a self-encouragement movement started by Ross, a platform that encourages everyone be comfortable with themselves and know that these things are possible for them too. We are at a fork in the road. We can take the road less travelled and challenge conventional standards of beauty. Alternatively, we can suffer in silence. Success was supposedly not possible for people like him. Shaun Ross didn’t listen. Neither should you.
*There are some amazing organisations out there that help children with cleft lips. I was one of those children. Thanks to the Hospital for Sick Children and some great donors, I am able to have someone say, “I can’t wait to see your smile”.
Please consider supporting an organisation that gives confidence to other children and help them recognise a world of possibilities. Smile Train and Operation Smile Australia are some great options, among many.