“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: