From time to time, we like to invite guests to share their stories with us. Today’s guest blogger is Bieke Kreps.–Ed.
Growing up with a visible, facial difference and living with an invisible difference is a life-journey that has a lot to do with acceptance. After going through life-saving surgeries three years ago, I embrace life more than ever, every single day.
As a pediatric dentist, I travel around to educate health care professionals on facial differences. The end of July I was in Los Angeles for the World Games of the Special Olympics and to speak at the AADMD (American Academy of Developmental Dentistry and Medicine) conference about facial differences from my own personal and professional experience.
BUT there is more …
A year ago, my path crossed with that of photographer RICK GUIDOTTI and his organization POSITIVE EXPOSURE, which is a non-profit arts, education, and advocacy organization that explores the social and psychological experiences of people.
With our set-up of a new global photography project on craniofacial differences, a new exciting journey has started.
This is about embracing differences and celebrating human diversity. Embracing who we all are.
Looking beyond a difference and learning to see the beauty in differences!
Growing up with a facial difference wasn’t always easy. I didn’t have the face of my friends, mom, dad, or sister. However, they didn’t see me as different, they saw me as “Bieke.” In a new environment I felt different, not “normal,” because of people’s reactions (stares, teasing, bullying…). Why did those other people not see me the way my family and friends saw me, as “Bieke”?
The emotional part of growing up with a facial difference was much harder than going through the physical part, all the surgeries. The emotional scars will never disappear, but the way I see myself as “Bieke” has changed through the years and also because of facing severe medical issues.
Eight years ago, I became ill, a severe gastroparesis, which was at a point life threatening and a fight to stay alive. Because of the gastroparesis, I also looked different, not mainstream, too skinny, pale… People judged me again without knowing what was going on or asking. I still wasn’t fitting in the beauty standards.
As a pediatric dentist working with special need children and facing my own medical issues, “differences,” it gave me another view on life: “You only have one life and embrace it, enjoy it, and live it now.”
I’m not sad for all the things I won’t be able to have or do in life, but I’m happy for all the things I still can do. It’s a matter of perception, how you see it.
Feeling different and stigmatized is a universal issue.
We all struggle and we all go through difficulties in life, but you don’t have to let your challenges bring you down and be sad or depressed. See challenges, not obstacles. It is about how you see it.
I embrace my differences. By lecturing medical professionals, like at this AADMD conference in L.A., and starting up this global photography project, I hope others will too. A way to help changing society’s perception how they see facial differences.
It’s about inclusion of all people, because we all deserve to be happy and proud.
RICK GUIDOTTI: “There is so much beauty in human diversity. What people see or don’t see makes a big difference in whether someone is included or ignored.”
A lot has to do with not feeling comfortable when you see someone with a difference, because you are not used to seeing it. You don’t know how to act.
RICK GUIDOTTI: “The only way we are going to understand inclusion and really love the idea of diversity is, if we are comfortable with it. Comfortable with not looking away – rather looking closer.”
An important message to medical professionals: It is not about what – the diagnosis or disease – you are treating but who you are treating, a person. See the person beyond the disease or difference. This is what it is all about, that’s why you choose to be a health care provider, to help people.
During my stay in Los Angeles, I saw the film On Beauty for the second time. The documentary, directed by Joanna Rudnick, is about Positive Exposure and Rick Guidotti, who uses photography to improve public perception of people with a difference and help the people themselves appreciate their own beauty. It is about challenging norms and redefining beauty. The film shows the transformation of people with differences as they celebrated, embraced their true selves.
The film also joins the current conversation happening about the beauty standard while starting more dialogue about differences and how to embrace them.
This is just the beginning of a human movement, which is growing and will explode. A movement to challenge us to think differently about what we understand as human beauty.
RICK GUIDOTTI: “The film creates a better understanding of beauty. The freedom and strength to recognize, to see, to embrace that beauty in human diversity and above all, in their own reflection.”
Rick touches lives and opens eyes everywhere. His enthusiasm, energy is just incredible, amazing. It makes people not only feel comfortable, but visible, beautiful. I’ve experienced Rick’s gift myself, while walking around with him in L.A. while he was shooting photos of the athletes during the health screenings at the World Games of the Special Olympics. All the smiles, high fives, infectious enthusiasm, made me smile every single second, a unique and unforgettable experience.
RICK GUIDOTTI: “Give the people the permission to see beauty and interpret beauty in their own right, not to see beauty that is dictated by industry’s ideas of what is acceptable.”
Some people tell me that I’ve changed. I tell them that I didn’t change, before I wasn’t able to be my true self because I was judged for being different.
With this new photography project, I just hope people with a facial difference will be able to learn from other stories and embrace who they are, like how I embraced my true self.
It is about empowering people all over the world, all ethnicities, all ages, living with a facial difference, and educate the world around them. The community, medical education…
It’s about opening the eyes wider and wider.
Embracing people for who they are and seeing beauty in difference
Bieke Kreps is a Belgian pediatric and special care dentist. She is a world traveler, scientific researcher, teacher, and has also overcome challenges her own–being born with a cleft lip and palate; and later in life, contracting gastroparesis. Through it all, she has never given up, and continues to work for inclusion for everyone with differences.