‘She’ll never make the catwalk’
I couldn’t let the doctor’s cruel words define me and my life
Katie Meehan, 24, Jarrow
Kids swarmed around in the playground, staring like I was from outer space.
‘What’s wrong with your face?’ one girl asked me.
I was only 4.
But it was already obvious I looked different.
My face was lopsided and my tongue lolled out of my mouth.
But I didn’t mind telling my classmates what was up with me.
‘I have cystic hygroma,’ I shrugged.
Tricky words for a little girl to say.
But I’d heard them often enough.
My mum Dawn, 56, had been pregnant when an ultrasound revealed
I had the birth defect.
A blockage in my lymphatic system – the network of tissues that helps the body get rid of toxins and waste – caused hundreds of blood-filled cysts to form inside my mouth and on my tongue.
When I was born in October 1995, my face was noticeably disfigured.
As years passed, my left cheek got bigger, my tongue poked out more.
Eating was hard and speaking, too. Although that didn’t stop me chatting away!
Mum and my dad Damian, 63, would tell me that I was gorgeous.
But not everyone saw what they saw. Bullies called me ugly. And, at least once a week, a cyst would pop and blood would pour from my mouth.
My parents were told I could have surgery, but it would be expensive.
So they started fundraising, collecting an amazing £60,000.
Then, in March 2000, aged 5, I was wheeled into surgery at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, for the first of four major ops.
Surgeons sliced into my jawline, cut away cysts inside my mouth.
I was bandaged up for weeks and needed a feeding tube.
Three more operations followed over the next few years, leaving a long scar snaking along my jawline.
But by the time I turned 7, my face was more even and my tongue fitted inside my mouth.
The surgeons couldn’t remove all the cysts, though. Strangers still stared. Still, I got on with life, working hard at school, enjoying dance lessons, going to parties.
By 11, I’d also discovered make-up, and would delve into Mum’s collection.
I loved playing around with mascara, blusher and lip gloss.
Just like other girls. Chatting to Mum one day, when I was 14, she admitted something.
‘One specialist said even if you had surgery, you’d never make the catwalk.’
Mum’s eyes filled with tears – she was worried that she’d upset me.
But I wasn’t sad.
I was angry. Fuming.
How dare he?! I thought. Like any other teenager, I’d gaze at celebs in magazines and dream of having my picture taken on the red carpet, dressed in beautiful clothes.
I was glad Mum had been honest, but now that doctor’s cruel words played on my mind. Was he right? Was I ugly?
Kids stared at me like I was from outer space
By that point, I’d already been through so much, the pain, the surgeries.
Now was the time to enjoy the life I had.
And what I loved most was experimenting with make-up.
Foundation, highlighter, blusher, eyeshadow, and lipstick…
I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, mind!
But then I discovered beauty tutorial videos on YouTube.
My favourite beauty blogger Lauren Luke had thousands of followers and only lived down the road.
Using her tips, I learnt to contour my cheekbones, and about brave, trendy colours.
How to copy looks by stars like Rihanna and Kim Kardashian.
Gazing in the mirror, smoothing on my war paint, I tried to forget my scars.
I even pretended to record YouTube tutorials of my own.
Only, I never had the guts to press Record, put my face out there for all to see. You’ll never make the catwalk, I’d think, remembering the doctor’s words to Mum. However, when I started a Business Management course at Gateshead College, aged 18, my tutor set me a task to come up with a business idea.
‘I’ll launch my own beauty channel online,’ I blurted. ‘How?’ she frowned.
I’d started a beauty blog a year earlier, but wasn’t making any money from it.
I told my tutor I’d start posting product reviews online, charge beauty brands to feature.
She was so impressed, I vowed to succeed.
So, I pushed my insecurities aside, and started filming myself trying out different products. I posted pics and videos on YouTube and Instagram.
Over the next few months, I racked up views, likes and followers.
Then, in March 2015, a parcel arrived at my house.
‘False lashes,’ I gasped, ripping open the paper – a cosmetics brand had sent me some to review.
They’d liked my videos, wanted their brand included. ‘I’m a pro!’ I thought. I worked harder on my blog and soon a steady stream of packages started arriving at my door to review.
Foundations, lipsticks, highlighters…
My followers reached out too, confessing their own insecurities.
Then a teenager with cystic hygroma – just like me – asked me to meet her and her mum.
‘You’re my idol,’ she said shyly, as we chatted away about make-up.
‘Don’t ever let your condition hold you back,’ I smiled, feeling so touched and proud.
I don’t Photoshop my pictures; what you see is what you get.
Though not everyone is kind. What’s wrong with you? trolls comment. I refuse to get upset, and use it to educate people that beauty is more than skin deep.
There’s no such thing as the perfect face, I reply. Every one of us is special.
These days, whenever I remember that doctor’s horrible comment all those years ago, I smile.
He was right, I’m not a catwalk model.
I’m a businesswoman working with world-famous beauty brands, with tens of thousands of online fans.
So I don’t feel angry about negative comments any more.
I’m too busy changing the world, one beauty tutorial at a time.
I’m not a model, but I have thousands of fans