Born with Hemifacial Microsomia with Microtia, Lauren Dausch from Sharon, Mass., was a 2012 recipient of FFC’s Jane C. McDaid Scholarship Award. This summer she will be working at Camp Starfish in New Hampshire, a sleep-away camp in for kids with emotional, behavioral, and developmental issues and disorders. Her dream career is to counsel children and teens as a social worker.

This is for self-love.
This is for acceptance.
This is for the hope to change people’s minds about differences.
This is me.

For years I covered up my face, hiding in shame from the “ugliness” I thought I possessed. But I post this picture today to send a message: that even if you don’t meet society’s standards of attractiveness, that doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful, as I once thought. Differences ARE beautiful. Differences make change happen. If I hadn’t been born this way, or felt these feelings of inadequacy and shame, I would not have dedicated my life to helping others. I want everyone to know that I am now not ashamed of myself. Just because my face isn’t perfectly symmetrical, and just because I don’t have two real ears, or two perfect eyes, doesn’t mean that I am not beautiful. Beauty comes from the goodness within and what you do with what you have. I suffered in silence for 16 years, then spent another 4 hiding behind a curtain of hair, until I realized that I could not live like that any longer. So I pulled my hair back and began the healing process. I want to be an example to those who suffered as I did; I want to show people that looks don’t matter. Be proud of yourself and work hard to help others be proud of them too.

But you should also know that it’s okay to stumble, it’s okay to be ashamed sometimes. But you need to decide whether it’s worth it to hide in anxiety and fear, or whether it’s better to show the world that you can push through the difficult times and help others along the way. Because of my surgeries and feelings around my face, I developed depression, anxiety, and other disorders; however I am not ashamed of this. I know mental illness is hard to talk about because of the pain and stigma around it, but it is very real and more common than you think. I am here to tell you that you can get through whatever struggles you are enduring —whether it be about your differences or maybe a horrible or traumatizing experience. You can heal and you can help others heal.

The world needs more love, and I wanted to share my story to help others, even if this only affects one person. Because every person matters. Everyone can make a difference. Open your heart up, accept people’s differences, and spread love as much as you can. Thank you so much for reading this