Spotlight TEDx Talk: Own your face

TEDxSouthBeanWomen speaker Robert Hoge

A portrait of TEDxSouthBend speaker Robert Hoge

Most of us don’t own our faces. They might sit at the the front of our heads and go everywhere we travel. But we don’t actually own them … the biggest obstacle to us owning our faces is us disowning them,” says Robert Hoge, a writer who has struggled with his appearance for most of his childhood and adolescent life.

Hoge was born with a tumor on his face that ran from his forehead to his nose. This deformity pushed his eyes to the side of his face — “like a fish” — he says matter-of-factly in a talk at TEDxSouthBank. At school, he was teased and bullied and tormented by classmates, even after a surgery realigned his eyes and reconstructed his nose.

Whether or not Hoge would ever look normal took over family discussions, family decisions, and Hoge’s own mind when he was a child, he says. Surgeries were proposed and considered and enacted, all with the aim that these would finally “fix” his face, by making it look like everyone else’s. By the time he was in his adolescence, Hoge had had about two dozen surgeries, he says.

When he was 14, a doctor proposed one more surgery, a complicated one that could perhaps make Hoge look “normal,” but came with a list of risks and possible complications. There was a one in four chance that the procedure could cost him his eyesight, his doctor told him. Hoge was given a choice: to go through with the surgery or keep his face as it was. He agonized over the decision.

After a talk with his family, Hoge realized that having a “beautiful” face wasn’t worth possibly losing his sight. “What use is it being pretty,” his brother asked, “if he can’t even see himself?”

“At that instant, I owned my face,” Hoge says. “Until then, my life had been governed by my appearance, but I had never had much say in that. Decisions were made about the fate of my face by my parents, by my doctors, by social workers, by kids teasing me, and the comment from my brother made me realize that I had a choice and I could exercise that choice by owning my face. I didn’t figure I would ever be worth painting, but I was done being the doctor’s canvas.”

This breakthrough gave Hoge a new perspective on beauty. “We try to define ideal beauty like it’s Mt. Everest and that everyone has to climb it. That’s actually wrong,” he says. “Ideal beauty is much better when we think of it as a million different points on the map. Sure, if you want to go to Mt. Everest, go; walk up to base camp; wave at the summit; but then, choose your own point on the map, and walk away …

“Choose to accept your face; choose to appreciate your face. Don’t look away from the mirror so quickly. Understand all the love and the life and the pain that is part of your face, that is the art of your face.”

For more, watch Hoge’s whole talk below:


  1. Fatima

    Hello Sir,
    I have got a disability toi in my face. I am 21 and I still unfortunatly live with remakes of others, talking me that I must subite a surgery. Doctors toi proposed surgeries (I think it’s only for their business,trying to plat with our fragility). But more thank owning our face, I think we have toi understand it and others faces and others personnalites. Because, are our behaviours, skills and ambitions choices that make us humanitaire firstly ?

  2. Anne Zmuda

    Thank you for this insight. I’ve had facial paralysis for the last 18 years of my life and have finally chosen to go through with corrective surgery. I have always thought that I could live with this face as a result from the surgery, but not doing anything about it and not researching the incredible things that doctors are capable if doing only leaves me empty. I am excited to move on to the journey of owning my face. Thank you for this inspiration and setting an honorable example.

  3. leah cardwell

    i enjoyed your talk very much and have shared it on facebook . It is important for people to look beyond the surface of people, beauty is not found on the outside.

  4. Destiny Case


    You are absolutely beautiful and to me, the real definition of what beauty is…is enduring tremendous amounts of pain (physically, mentally and emotionally) and surviving the chaos and darkness that can sometimes overtake people’s better judgement as well as behaviors and actions in all that we do. I want to also thank you for your absolute honesty, it is one of those things I used to believe was one of my best characteristics, yet finding myself over sharing and possibly moving in right next to “brutal honesty” in these days of my life. However, I wanted to say thank you for being courageous, strong and putting together each and every ounce of determination and still making the daily follow throughs that have brought you to a place that looks and sounds to me like peace and happiness within.

    -Destiny Nicholle

  5. Theresa Hildebrand

    Robert ~

    Thanks for sharing your story. Acceptance is definitely the tipping point between suffering from & living with a facial difference. I’ve been living with Rombergs Syndrome for 40+ years ~ met so many wonderful people along the way.

    Your courage in sharing gives others strength in knowing that they too can accept their own faces.

    Theresa ~

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