We like to say that physical appearances don’t matter, but kids notice when we then spend our time fretting over which suits to wear or what haircuts to get, writes Robert Hoge.
When it comes to talking about how we look, kids are a thousand times more honest than adults. We do them the greatest disservice when we try to shake that honesty out of them by pretending to ignore how different people’s appearances can be.
And trust me, I know what it’s like to be different.
During my development as a baby, a huge tumour formed where my nose should have been. The tumour was the size of a newborn baby's fist. It consumed my nose and pushed my eyes to the side of my head. Like a fish. I also had two deformed legs, which ended up having to be amputated.
My parents had no warning. Pre-natal scans didn't exist in the early 1970s. My mother must have known something was wrong when I was delivered, though. Instead of her first question to the doctors and nurses being, "Is it a boy or a girl?", she asked, "Is my baby okay?"
"No, Mrs Hoge," the doctor said. "He is not okay. He has a lump on his head and something wrong with his legs."
Click through the gallery below for more photos of Robert Hoge and his travels...(Post continues after gallery.)
Since I told that story in my memoir Ugly in 2013 and in an episode of Australian Story, I've spent a lot of time talking to people about appearance and disability. I've come to realise that adults and kids treat these conversations significantly differently.
Whenever I talk to groups of children, I always start by eliciting a promise that we'll be honest with each other. Having secured that promise, I ask, in order, who thinks I'm "beautiful", who thinks I'm "normal", and, finally, who thinks I'm "ugly".
Usually I'll get a few kids who put their hand up for beautiful (bless them), none who think I look normal, and quite a few who think I look ugly. I have an opinion about what the answer should be, but I really don't mind which one the kids choose. It's just a great starting point for a discussion about appearance.
When I've tried it with adults, it has always fallen flat. Adults have an opinion, I'm sure, but society has taught us to politely pretend that appearance diversity doesn't matter by pretending it almost doesn't exist.