Not everyone is born with the same advantages in life, but we all deserve to be here. That’s something a woman named Mui Thomas took time to realize growing up after abandonment, bullying, and mental health issues took a toll.
Thankfully, her inspiring story is now motivating others around the world to accept themselves for who they are, as well.
A Rare Condition
Thomas was born in Hong Kong with a rare genetic condition known as harlequin ichthyosis. That means her skin is thicker than usual and is dry and flaky. As a result, she is prone to infection, and her skin has a red hue. Her bones are brittle, and she needs to watch her sun exposure.
When she was born, her parents abandoned her. A couple named Tina and Rog Thomas came across her when she was a year and a half old, and even though they were told Mui didn’t have long to live, they decided to foster her.
“We wanted to give her a family life in the time she had,” Tina explained to CNN.
The couple could not have a child of their own, and they thought their time with Mui was temporary. So, when she began thriving at the age of three, they decided to adopt her.
They learned to care for the condition and bathed her twice daily for two hours each bath. They also equipped her with a backpack filled with three or four creams that she needed to use to prevent her skin from drying out.
Through it all, Mui continued to grow and is currently the fourth-oldest person alive with harlequin ichthyosis at the age of 30.
Dealing With Bullies
Growing up, things weren’t easy for Mui. At first, she wasn’t aware she was different than other kids. When she began secondary school, however, things changed drastically. At school, she needed an educational assistant, which made it hard for her to make friends.
Online things were even worse as a result of cyberbullying, and Mui considered taking her own life. She stopped taking her medication or applying her creams, she refused to bathe, and she considered jumping off the balcony of her home.
“They’d say things like ‘You shouldn’t have been born’ – and very personal things that only people who knew me would know,” she told CNN.
“It made me very wary of everybody. Even when people tried to be nice, I didn’t repay it. I didn’t trust them.”
After about 10 months, the police became involved, and the bully was outed. He turned out to be someone Mui thought was her friend.
Turning Things Around
By the time Mui left school, it was with no qualifications due to the things she’d endured. Still, she wanted to make a difference and speak out about her experiences. Eventually, she found a job working with people with special needs and began booking public speaking engagements. On stage, she speaks about living with a visible difference and the dangers of cyberbullying.
Today, people contact her via her online platform, The Girl Behind the Face.
“It’s difficult for her because she spent so long denying it,” her father told CNN. “The more she confronts it, the more she is aware of it – it will build confidence.”
On the weekends, meanwhile, Mui has unlocked another passion: rugby. The sport is dear to her father, and she wanted to get involved. She knew playing wasn’t an option, so she became a ref for kids’ matches instead.
“Being in the kit allows me that feeling that I’ve always dreamed of, fitting in with everybody else because if people shout at me on a rugby field, it’s one of the coaches complaining about a decision that I’ve made,” she shared in a TEDx Talk.
Now, Mui has a whole new outlook on life.
“Meet people, make connections, have a really strong support network, and also be open,” she shared online. “If you’re struggling, it’s okay to speak out and smile — smiling helps a lot.”
Embracing Our Differences
It isn’t our job to judge others for how they look or live their lives. Our job is to love. This story reminds us of that and of the importance of treating others with kindness and respect no matter where we are, in person or online. Words matter.
More importantly, this story reminds us that while we cannot control the actions of others, we can choose how to view ourselves and tell our story.
So the next time you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, remember The Girl Behind the Face and how she used her experiences to inspire an entire world.