Dating with Facial Difference

A couple of weeks back, I had the chance to talk with Jenny Kattlove about dating with facial difference and her overall experience. Jenny was born with several hemangiomas, benign tumors, on her face. She grew up in southern California, in a highly appearance-conscious community. Her career has focused on social justice, in part, because of her experience growing up with a facial difference in a fairly homogeneous community.“I struggle with the word disfigurement because it makes me feel that the difference in my face is bad, that it should be fixed,” she tells me minutes into our conversation.

“Everyone looks different; I just happen to look much more different from the average face.” Instead of being labeled disfigured, Jenny prefers that we look at the importance society gives to appearance and work to change this, so that we can accept and celebrate people’s differences. At the end, she says “we are all human.”  

When asked what bothered her the most about her difference when she was growing up, she singles out loneliness. “When I was in high school, I remember feeling so alone.” There was no group of people who looked like her to offer support, she says. So she tried assimilating in different ways, even if some ended in self-deprecation. “I would play along and make fun of my difference, but then quickly the joke would escalate and I no longer felt in control,” Jenny said. 

Jenny also remembers the one-too-many times people have given themselves license to talk about her difference at her expense. One time while renting skis, a cashier abruptly interjected. “Wow, you were in a real ski accident!” pointing at her face. Then, the cashier felt the need to share a story about her friend who had been in an actual ski accident. “I didn’t have any escape,” Jenny remembers. “People feel uncomfortable by my difference so they share these stories to justify their experience and make themselves feel comfortable,” she admits.

"I started dating later in life because it seemed like individuals were not mature enough to take the risk to see beyond my appearance,” Jenny tells me. In her mid- to late twenties, she tried online dating and was quickly discouraged by the superficiality of it. “I would be corresponding with this guy, everything would be going right until he asked for a photo and all of a sudden, he said we weren’t compatible.” 

Eight years ago and a divorce later, Jenny met her current partner. “What sets him apart is his empathy and understanding, he sees me for me.” One of the things he likes most about Jenny is his ability to talk to her. They are both passionate about social justice and have long conversations about making the world a more equitable place. From the beginning, he has been an attentive listener who empathises with Jenny when others make a big deal about her appearance. They just got back from a hiking trip in Canada and are still enjoying their intellectual talks today.

Below Jenny has shared her dating tips, take a look:

  1. Do what makes you comfortable. If you want to be single, be single. If you want to date, date. Don’t feel like you have to date if you don’t enjoy it.
  2. Make sure you have support. Dating may be more difficult, as there are many superficial people out there who may judge you for your looks.
  3. Assess your risks. Although putting yourself out there can be scary, you might meet some interesting people and even make a few friends. If you focus on meeting friends, rather than significant others, you take pressure away from a situation that can already be high-stress.
  4. Make sure you are out there pursuing things that you like to do. If you are out there doing what you like to do, you will meet new friends that have similar interests. 
  5. It is YOUR choice, never compromise just because you think or someone says you will never date, marry or find better. Don’t let anybody take advantage of your difference.


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