Beyond My Face campaign highlights challenges of Canadians living with facial differences

Six children and youth with facial differences from across Ontario are featured in a public awareness video by the national charity AboutFace aimed at reducing stigma and building understanding of facial differences.

In the two-minute video, the youth speak about their interests and future goals and ask viewers to “see beyond their difference.”

Abigail Sans, 11, who participated in the campaign, said living with a facial difference has led to challenges in her life.

“Bullying has been an issue because of how I look … but really, for me, it’s normal — it doesn’t feel like it’s there,” she said.

Read more: GNM speaks with “AboutFace” an organization that supports the facial difference community in Canada

Her mother, Heather Sans, explained that Abigail was born with a facial hemangioma that nearly cost her her life.

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“Abigail has a facial hemangioma, beard distribution — it’s called that because it’s on the bottom of her face, she was born with it and it’s also in her airway and her ears,” Sans said. “She’s pretty lucky to be here, because the hemangioma is a tumour, it’s a benign tumour, and so they were afraid it was going to grow and block out her airway.”

The mother and daughter spent a lot of time in hospital when Abigail was very young, but she survived and is thriving.

Read more: Halifax professor examines harmful role stigma plays during coronavirus pandemic

“She’s a fighter,” said Sans.

A lack of public acceptance of facial differences makes a campaign like Beyond My Face vital, the team behind it said.

“There is so much diversity, especially in a country like Canada… How you look can obviously be a way of being discriminated against or to be unfairly judged,” said Kariym Joachim, president and chair of AboutFace, adding that the campaign is meant “to kind of challenge stereotypes a little bit and to show what somebody is like beyond their facial difference.”

Read more: Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working

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Given the pandemic, Joachim hopes the message the video conveys is one of acceptance and tolerance.

“People will be more acutely aware of how connected we all are and how when we’re disconnected it really isn’t a very pleasant feeling and that everybody deserves to be connected to one another, everybody deserves to be accepted,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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