Thursday, July 12, 2018

13 Ways People Stare at My Facial Difference – And How I Can Respond (With GIFs)

If you live with a physical difference, you know the stares.

Go into store? Someone's staring.

Go into a restaurant? Eyes are on you.

Visit a new church? You won't leave the parking lot without another glance lingering a little too long.

Living with a facial difference my whole life, I've come to realize there are a few specific types of

1. The curious stare.

2. "Ew...What is that?"

3. "I'm so scared of what I'm seeing."

4. "I have the same condition, and I can't believe you do too!"

5. "I know someone else with the same kind of birthmark you have, and I think you're so beautiful."

6. "Look at her face" mockery stare, with a side of laughter to go along with it.

7. The accidental  "I don't realize I'm staring at you" stare, which may be them just gazing your way – without even noticing the physical difference.

8. "I know you just caught me staring at you, but I'm gonna keep staring at you anyway." With this stare, they may not of realized they were doing it initially – although some are intentional from the get-go. But eventually they get the "Oh, oops!" look after they realize they're caught, or they realize what they were doing. But even though they now know what they're doing, they keep staring anyway
and become intentional with the act.

9. "I'm trying to understand what I'm seeing right now"  – which is more common from children, with a dash of the curious stare. They're curious, they may just not realize just yet that staring isn't a kind way to go about their curiosity, because someone just hasn't taught them that just yet.

10. "You poor thing."

11. The "motion detector" stare – when the person's stare follows your every move.

12. When people invade your personal space, while staring at you – following you like a shadow,  taking every step you take, staying a little too close too long.

13. The never-ending stare.

I'm sure there are many types of stares I'm not listing, but those are the main nine. And because there are several types of stares, there are several ways I can choose to respond. Depending on the kind of stare I'm receiving, depends on which reaction I pick.

1. Make funny faces at them.

2. Ask, "I noticed you looking at me today. I'm terrible with faces sometimes – do I know you from somewhere?"

3. As a child, my mom gave me some the best advice that I carry with me to this day. At the age of 5 or 6, she couldn't prevent me from seeing a man stare at me. Whatever the situation was, she couldn't stand in front of them to block my view, nor distract me. (And she always tried her best, and still does...Even though I'm taller than her, and can see stares above her head.) Quick witted infused with wisdom, she told me, "I know what they're doing is uncomfortable and unkind, but what if you smile at them? What if they're having the worst day of their life today, and you're the only one to smile at them? What if you end up making a friend?"

4. Unleash all the swag.

5. Wave at them if they're in another car next to you at a red light, or if they're several feet away from you.

6. Do a stare down. Depending on my mood and energy level, the type of stares I'm receiving, or if I've had a lot of comments and stares that day – this one can be more common than I care to admit.

7. Introduce yourself.

8. Walk away from the situation, if possible.

9. Go for a shock factor.

10. Act like a princess. You can do a nice hair flip, or wave like a royal – like Anne Hathaway in "Princess Diaries."

11. Make more funny faces.

12. If someone's staring is making you super uncomfortable, write them a note. I one wrote a man a not and explained it was OK for him to be curious, but not OK for him to stare at me, and that he needed to see me as a person – not a birthmark.

This is probably the boldest response I've ever given, and the most controversial. But, the people who disapproved weren't there, and I probably could have done better with some of the details before hitting the "post button." I also shared the note with people close to me, and explained the situation to them before asking the waitress to give the note to the man. Had they told me it wouldn't be a good move, these are the people I trust to call me out on it and who have a right to say so...But given what was happening, all agreed it was appropriate.

13. Ask them if they have any questions.

14. Tell them they should see the other guy.

15. Ask, "You keep staring – is there something on my face?"

16. Ignore them.

17. Sing a song. My stanza option? The song that reads:

"I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see
If I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me"

19. Do a little dance.

20. Bluntly tell them they're being awkward.

21. Tell them to stop staring. And depending on the situation, you can either ask kindly or be firm.

22. Make a joke – but don't make it self-depreciating. I usually have birthmark jokes ready to go for a variety of situations.

23. Tell them to take a picture because it lasts longer.

24. Hold a sign up to your face with information about your illness, or follow these celebrity's lead and hold up a sign about organizations people should pay more attention to.

25. Often when people stare, they forget about boundaries and personal space. If that becomes an issue, just do this...

However you choose to respond, know that it's OK. If you share about these experiences (whether it be about stares or comments people make about you) on social media or publicly, and you share your response, it's possible people will try and tell you that you were in the wrong for how you handled the situation. The more I share about these experiences, and the bolder I become in how I stand up for myself, the more "you were wrong to do that" feedback I get...But that feedback is 99.9 percent from people who don't have a physical difference, who don't know me very well.

And here's the thing – you have the right to stand up for yourself however you deem necessary. You know the full experience in a way others don't, especially if they weren't there. You have the right to be as bold as you decide is appropriate. It's OK to tell people, "This isn't OK" – whether you say it with humor, boldness, or bluntness.

If you live with a physical difference, how do you respond when people stare at you?

The Travelin' Chick,

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

How My FiancĂ© Chooses to Embrace Me – and My Facial Difference

It was obvious on my dating profile. It was shown in all my pictures, it was written within my “about me” section. I was intentional about it being obvious.

Granted, I was doing an online dating experiment to see how people react to those with facial differences, like mine – a port wine stain birthmark that dwells on my left side of my face.

I remember one of our first phone calls, just a few days before our first date and he bluntly said, “I don’t want to waste my time, and I don’t want to waste yours – but I need to let you know I’m looking for something that could lead to something serious. I don’t want to just date for fun.”

I knew this was my opportunity to throw in my “I don’t want to waste anyone’s time” line.

Responding, I told him, “That’s what I’m looking for too, so we’re on the same page. But since I don’t want to waste my time either, nor yours – so I need to make sure you’re OK with my birthmark.”

I can’t remember exactly what I said after that. I’m pretty sure I threw in a blunt, “If you’re not OK with it, that’s OK. You’re just not the guy for me – because I don’t feel the need to hide it, or hide who I am. And I won’t change who I am for a guy’s preferences or expectations.” But maybe I just thought that, maybe I didn’t say it. I was nervous to be so bold, but it was important. Did I warn him of the comments that could come? Did I warn him about the treatments I have to undergo to make my birthmark stay healthy? Or did that come later?

I can’t remember all that I said, but I do remember ending it with something like, “Are you OK with it? Do you have any questions about the birthmark, or about life with it?”

He didn’t understand why anyone would see it as an issue, or as a valid reason to not date a girl.

Our first date lasted over eight hours. And since that call, we’ve spent hours on the phone. We’ve seen each other every two weeks since our first date – and we’ve gotten engaged. He’s even gone with me to two of my laser treatments – one where I stayed awake, the other where I went under.

Growing up, we took friends with us to almost every treatments. It always made it more fun, more of an adventure. As an adult, I’ve gotten pickier on who I want to go with me. Letting someone see me get lasered (which can be quite painful) and then to let them see the initial affects of the treatment can be such a vulnerable thing – especially since I don’t usually leave my house for nearly a week after undergoing one of them, depending on the swelling and discomfort I’m experiencing.

I remember him asking to go to one for the first time. At the time, he was my boyfriend, but I knew that was a whole level of new level of vulnerability for our relationship – and it was up to me and if I was ready for that. To an extent, I was. I wanted him to go and experience “real life with Crystal Hodges,” but I was afraid of also letting him go to a treatment – letting him see the process and the pain, to let him smell the burning flesh and hair.

What if it was too much for him? What if he’d go, and realize this wasn’t a life he wanted?

Sometimes it does feel like a lot to ask of him.

The stares.

The comments.

The migraines caused by the effects the birthmark has on my brain. 

The treatments. 

The occasional smells of burnt flesh and hair.

The swelling.

The risk of growth.

The risk of him being accused of abuse – both potentially serious accusations, or flippant.

How is it not a lot?

But he knew from the get-go. He chose to jump in, he has chosen to stay.

In the midst of my fears, he’s gone above and beyond.

Knowing my tradition that started as a child where I take a stuffed animal for every treatment, for his treatment experience, he brought me a handmade bear he commissioned someone to make me. He took selfies with my mom as they wore the “Willie Wonka” glasses they had to wear to protect their eyes – because that’s what we do every time. And even though he lives three hours away from me, he came home with us that weekend and just held me as we binged my favorite movies and TV shows. He didn’t even care that I fell asleep on and off throughout our viewing experiences.

Yesterday was my second treatment since our treatment began, but this time I was being put under. Knowing I was feeling anxious and nervous, he put his own nerves to the side and rubbed my feet as I waited. He even made my stuffed animal dance to the music I was playing, knowing he’d get laughter out of me.

He started showing “in sickness and in health” at the first treatment I invited him to, months before he asked me to marry him – and he continues to do so every day since, with every treatments since.

He embraces who I am, as I am – lasered or not lasered. He loves that I love the color purple, and sometimes he’ll even wear the color purple to color coordinate with my natural look. He laughs with me as I make new birthmark jokes. He sees me as beautiful when the world tells me I’m not, and when I don’t feel so beautiful after a treatment – and he makes sure to tell me so on a regular basis. He partakes in the traditions I started as a child without even being asked. And when people stare or make comments? Per my request, he lets me handle it depending on how I see fit – but is ready to jump in if I need or want him to.

I don’t have to ask him to stay through it all, because for him, it’s not even a question.

And when I walk down the aisle in the coming months? By desires of my own and also by his request, I’ll be wearing white, but with a splash of natural color – keeping my birthmark untouched and unchanged.

The Travelin' Chick,

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

31 Common Ways People React to My Facial Difference – According to GIFs

When you live with a facial difference, life is never boring.

People are constantly in awe when I share stories about how people react to my face. From harsh comments to staring, I do my best to not only describe the stranger's words, but their tone and body reaction. But in a world where GIFs are growing in popularity, I've created a list of the most popular responses I get from strangers when I'm out in the public, as told by GIFs – whether I'm on a date with my boyfriend, or if I'm shopping in Target with my mom.

A photo of Crystal Hodges, the writer, with a purple birthmark covering the left side of her face - and rose gold eye shadow glimmering from her eyes.

(Also, please note that most of these statements and experiences were simplified to one sentence from the interaction.)

1. "Is that contagious?"

2. "Is that a tattoo?!" (Mostly asked by children, but not uncommon among adults either.)

3. "How do you shower?"

4. "I'm so jealous, I wish I had one too."

5. "You're ugly."

6. A common question that is often asked is, "What's wrong with your face?" Walking into a church a few years ago, a woman I've known my whole life even greeted me with, "Oh, I thought you were the girl who has something wrong with your face."

7. "Hey – you have the same birthmark as me!"

8. "You know doctors can fix that, right?"

9. "You're so brave. If I were you, I wouldn't even leave my house."

10. "Oh my gosh, are you OK?!"

11. *Stares.*

12. *Staring, while awkwardly looking away when caught, occasionally sneaking a peak."

13. *The horror stare.*

14. *When people follow my every movement with their stares.*

15. "If you had enough faith, you'd be healed."

16. "Why does your face look like that?"

17. "Oh my gosh...Your face looks really bad."

18. "What is on your face?"

19. "Oh, is that a Halloween costume? Who are you dressed up as?"

20. "You poor thing."

21. "You're so beautiful."

22. Once I went to the mall to try on makeup that hides my birthmark – which would be used for a very special occasion. (I rarely choose to hide the birthmark.) Once I was in the chair, I was invisible. Only my birthmark and my mother remained in makeup artist's company. Instead of asking me what I thought about the makeup, she kept referring to my mother with statements such as, “Doesn’t that look better now?" She even slipped out a casual, "See? With her hair down, you can't even see it anymore." While this is one example alone, this GIF represents when people don't see beyond my birthmark, when I as a human...a person...becomes invisible.

23. "What do you use to cover your birthmark? You should try this makeup brand. It hides things like that better."

24. That one time my picture was stolen, and I was turned into a meme that went viral to over 30 million people.

25. "Ew, gross."

26. "Can I touch it?" (And let me point out that not everyone will ask, some people will just reach up and touch my cheek – especially children.)

27. ER Doctor: "I know you're here for an allergic reaction, but did you know that you can get that birthmark treated?"

29. *More staring.*

28. "You're wrong. That's not a birthmark – you have cancer."

29. When people won't believe it's a birthmark, and insist there is something doctors can do about my face.

30. When people take one look at me, and their gut reaction is a swear word.

31. "Do you have purple boogers?" (Usually asked by children. But just in case you're wondering – no, I do not.)

If you also live with a facial difference or body difference, what GIFs describe the reactions you've gotten from strangers?

The Travelin' Chick,

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