By Rasheera Dopson
Rasheera was born with three very rare syndromes. VATERS Syndrome, Hemifacial-microsomnia Syndrome, and Golden Har Syndrome. These syndromes caused her to be born with several facial and bodily deformities—resulting in 101 surgeries in my life. Rasheera Dopson lives in Atlanta, GA. Her mission is to empower young men and women in the areas of self-esteem and confidence. In her spare time she enjoys blogging, watching 90s sitcoms, and volunteering in her local community. Please check out her contributions to The Mighty for more of thoughtful reflections.
When people asked me the infamous question “what happened to your ear,” my mom would always tell told me to tell them. “I was just born like this way”— a phrase that followed me throughout my school-age years. I hated that question. Even more, I hated my response because, most of the time it didn’t work. Nothing really worked when it came to people questioning me about my facial difference. I always wanted to avoid these situations, but they just kept happening.
When I was younger, I’d constantly get the stares, the whispers, the glances and glares from other children. Some kids would even be so bold to ask to touch my ear. Of course, I would jerk away, and say a stern “NO!”As always, I would handle the constant questioning by nonchalantly nudging it off, and saying my familiar response, “I was just born like that.” At other times, when it would really hurt, I would go home and cry in my Mom’s arms. It was hard being different as a child and having to deal with other people’s reactions to your face because you are not taught to how to deal with being teased about something out of your control.
People tend to think that once you’re an adult the teasing and bullying stops. I wish that were the case but it’s not true. Although, young kids are more open about their teasing—you know how kids are, the laughing and pointing of fingers. Adults, on the other hand, are much more coy. They won’t outwardly ask a question, but you can tell that their minds are turning. Wanting to ask the question “what happened” but never getting the courage to say something because they don’t want to be offensive. Adults may never ask out loud, but they do silently judge.
I’m not sure which version of these judgments is worse, the silent judgement, or the open jokes and questions. I once had a friend in college tell me that one of my classmates referred to me as “crooked face” whenever I left the room. That hurt. It hurt to know that people were calling me names behind my back and it hurt to know my so called friend didn’t correct him. It hurt to know that people had such a limited perception of me because of the way I looked. And for a long time I embodied those words. I let the words, the stares, the judgements, the teasing of other people break me down that I began to harshly judge myself. Saying silently that I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, normal looking enough.
Thankfully, I came to a point where I got tired of feeling sad every time someone stared, called me a name, or judged me too quickly. I made the choice to take responsibility for my difference. I couldn’t sit and sulk around every time someone would ask a question about my ear or tease me. This was going to happen regardless, and I couldn’t let their ignorance stop me from living my life. What I could do was control my reaction to the judgements and set mental and emotional boundaries. For example, in work settings in order to alleviate assumptions I put myself out there and I make it known to my fellow employee’s and boss that hey I’m a little different and I do have some limitations but this is what I can do and this is what I cannot do. In social settings I surround myself with people who know me and are comfortable with me. One of the worse things that can happen is when you have a person around you who is uncomfortable with your difference. When I’m out and hanging with friends and family I don’t have to answer questions about my face or ear. My friends and family around me know me and they don’t make concession for me or make me feel like I’m different.
I’ve realized in my life that there will be people who will understand and embrace your difference, and then there will be those people who will never get it. However, I don’t get bent out of shape for those people who will never accept or embrace me. I’ve learned that they are not worth having in my life. I’ve learned a very important lesson in life and that is you have to surround yourself with people who see your value as a person, and not just a face.