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Halloween: A True Nightmare for Me

Having a cleft lip and palate made Halloween a very traumatic experience for me. Throughout the school year, other children regularly called me names like Quasimodo, Monkey Face, and monster.  On the days before Halloween, and even for a few days after, the taunting and bullying really intensified.

Here are just some of the things the children shouted at me:  
“Hey, You! You finally fit in at Halloween with your ugly face”.
“You don’t even need a Halloween costume, you are already wearing it!”
“You better not go trick or treating, you’ll scare everyone to death”.

Names like Frankenstein, zombie face, queen of the monsters, and fugly girl, along with the old standbys were thrown around by my classmates and other children like Halloween candy.  

Of course, like any child during Halloween, I wanted to go Trick or Treating. I would get so excited at the thought of dressing up as one of my favorite characters - Wonder Woman, Casper the Friendly Ghost, a cute bunny rabbit or a nurse. I was even more excited because if I wore a mask, no one could see my cleft lip. They would think I was normal just like them and I wouldn’t be teased or called names.  Sadly, that was not the case…

Me age 6 as Wonder Woman (Yes, those are Underoos!)

The Halloween masks of the 70s and 80s were nearly impossible to breathe and see through.  Because of my surgeries and scar tissue in my nose, I already had trouble breathing.  I couldn’t risk tripping and damaging my nose, lip or mouth with the limited vision from those masks.

Circa 1970-1980 Halloween Mask

When I did go trick or treating, it was without a mask and always with my sister and sometimes, my cousins.  When I encountered other kids along the way, even if I didn’t know them, they still taunted and teased me because of my cleft lip.  For me, Trick or Treating was an experience where I suppressed my emotions and buried the shame and disgust I felt about myself.  To help me cope with the shameful feelings, I learned to dissociate from reality and mentally escape to my own fantasy world where I was Wonder Woman, a beautiful female superhero that nobody dared make fun of.    

As I grew older and stopped trick or treating, Halloween became one of those holidays that I began to resent. Halloween parties in high school brought back traumatic memories of childhood bullying. Wearing a costume made me feel more ashamed because everyone would ask questions about why I wasn’t wearing a mask, what my costume was, or, on some occasions, even teased me about not needing a mask.  Cue the painful memories of my elementary school years.  

As an adult, things changed for me.  In 2015, I decided to go to Disney’s annual Halloween party.  Though I was still in denial about my cleft lip and palate, Disney was the one place where I felt completely comfortable with my appearance.  Perhaps it was feeling accepted at Disney, no matter what I looked like, or maybe it was that everyone was so busy having fun, they weren’t looking at me.  Regardless of the reason, I decided to dress up as Glenda, the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz and my sister dressed up a veterinarian.  

We had a great time, and it was one of the first Halloween parties that I was glad I attended in costume.  In 2019, I went to a local Halloween party where costumes were required so I decided to go simple and dress up in a butterfly costume.  Even though I felt a bit ashamed wearing a costume, I wanted to make new friends and socialize so, I faced my shame and donned the wings.  I had a great time, and felt the shameful feelings start to dissipate.  Maybe dressing up for Halloween isn’t such a bad thing after all!

Today, Halloween 2022, I’m dressing up as a Cleft Confidence and Transformation Coach.  Okay, so it’s not really a costume, it’s my every day attire, but it’s still something new for me.  As I mentioned in my TEDx Talk, it’s only been within the past 5 years that I accepted my cleft lip and palate.  Openly talking about my experiences growing up with a cleft is still new (and sometimes scary) for me.

Now that I’m older, and accept my cleft lip and palate, Halloween is no longer a nightmare like it used to be as a child.  I still have my moments where the memories creep back in, but I’m not afraid of them anymore.  Thanks to the work I put in to accept myself, I’m proud of my cleft and fully accept my appearance, costume or not.  While I doubt Halloween will ever be my favorite holiday (that’s reserved for Christmas), I am able to enjoy the day, the trick or treaters, all the Halloween Fanfare, and even dressing up in costume.

If you have a cleft lip or palate, or other facial difference, what was Halloween like for you growing up?  How do you feel about Halloween as an adult?  Drop a comment below and share your Halloween memories (or horror stories!) I’d love to hear about them!  

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