Danielle Morales used to hate having her picture taken. Of the obligatory school photos, the 26 year old says, “I would smile really big so no one really noticed my lip, and then I would just hope they got a good angle for my nose.”
Born with a cleft lip, deviated septum, and a large dorsal bump on her nose, Morales has undergone five surgeries in her life to correct her abnormalities. She was 10 days old for her first surgery, performed on her cleft lip to allow her to latch onto a bottle. Additional lip surgeries followed at ages four, 15 and 16. Rhinoplasty to correct her septum and smooth her dorsal bump was completed in October of 2015.
Morales’ different appearance didn’t start to affect her until upper elementary school. “People would notice more of your physical features,” she explains of that time in her young life. Her previous surgeries to correct her cleft lip left a permanently puffy area on her upper lip. She would try and explain away the puffiness by saying she fell.
Middle school brought even greater self-consciousness. “It was a really awkward time period for me,” she says. Morales had a large bump on her nose, and, combined with the bump left from her previous lip surgeries, she had a lower sense of self-worth.
In sixth grade, Morales attempted to expand her social experiences by attending a school dance. “I was too shy, I wasn’t comfortable,” she explains of seeing her friends mingle and speak to boys.
Before Morales began her sophomore year, she had her last lip surgery. Still with stitches the week before school, she did not want to start her sophomore year of high school sporting black stitches. She got tweezers and alcohol, and removed her stitches herself before school started. “Sophomore year was actually my first yearbook picture that I really liked,” Morales says fondly.
“I feel the most confident I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” Morales explains of how the surgeries have changed her.
Morales says those with physical deformities should not be so hard on themselves. “Everybody’s different, and you can’t look like the girls in the magazines or the girls on TV. Just try your best to love yourself and be happy with yourself and good things will follow,” she says.