By Jennifer Dodwell

As someone who was born with hemifacial microsomia, I certainly had my fair share of surgeries and doctors appointments growing up. By the time I was fifteen, I had been through thirteen surgeries, or roughly one per summer. As I’m sure almost everyone reading this can relate to, surgeries are never pleasant or fun. However, when I was in middle school— and especially in high school—I experienced a much greater pain from time to time than the physical pain of surgery. A hopeless romantic, I had always wanted to experience what it was like to be in a relationship and to fall in love. Yet, I often felt as if fate had slammed a giant, bolted door in my face that would forever keep me out from that beautiful world on the other side. I often felt that world could only be accessed by those whose faces were symmetrical. By those who turned heads in a crowd not out of curiosity and occasionally even fear, but out of admiration for their physical conformity to advertising industry and Hollywood standards.

To make matters worse, these feelings were validated by actual life experiences. I would ask guys to dance at school dances, or express my interest, only to have them convey that they didn’t find me attractive. Yet, as mean as what they told me felt, I knew that they weren’t actually trying to be mean. They were just being honest. Nevertheless, after a while, I started to feel very dejected and helpless in this one area of my life. It felt like, since I had only ever been rejected thus far, that was how it was always going to be. I started to think of all the voices that told me “no” as the authorities on the subject. That their opinions about whether I was likeable were not opinions, but rather fact. And why wouldn’t I think that? Wasn’t it backed up by every magazine article I read on the subject; every movie; every TV show, every billboard, every website? In my mind, the verdict had been read. The world’s vote was unanimous.

And yet—life is full of wonderful surprises. It has a strange way of sneaking up behind us, tapping us on the shoulder, and saying, “hey, why don’t you look over here, I think you may have missed something?” As I look back now from my new vantage point—that of a woman who will be married to the love of my life in less than five days—I indeed realize that I had been missing a lot during those high school years when I thought I’d never find anyone. At the time, I had believed (in my limited life experience) that the particular points of view that just happened to be the loudest and most accessible to me at the time were the only points of view out there. However, that could not have been further from the truth.

The truth is that there are over 6 billion people on this planet, plenty of whom will look deeper than narrowly-defined beauty conventions to discover something more lasting and meaningful. My fiance, who is one of the most generous, loving, kind and worldly people I have ever met, is one of them. The truth is also that—once you believe you can find them— and that you are worthy of finding them—you are infinitely better positioned for the quest. In my own experience, it was once I had internalized these truths that I had the courage to put myself out there until I had found true love.