Beauty Bell’s palsy – Olivia Raffaele

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During the Miss Universe 2015, everyone saw how Miss Slovenia Ana Haložan courageously fought back despite having a medical condition that left parts of her face paralyzed. The unfortunate incident happened just days before the finals and she thought her dream of being onstage for the Miss Universe finals night was shattered. However, a special tribute was accorded to her by no less than Miss Universe 2014 and as she walked onstage, the audience gave Ana a standing ovation.

A similar story happened in Australia. A young beautiful woman thought her dream of competing in beauty pageants was over after she was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. She shared her story to Missosology to serve as an inspiration to every woman who faced adversity in their quest for the crown.

 

Competing in pageants was never something that I ever thought I would do. Growing up, I was never a girly girl, and was not at all a model of self-confidence. How did I manage to compete in a pageant with Bell’s palsy? I ask myself all the time. ‘Self-confidence’ is something that is uttered in pageantry quite a bit, along with the phrase ‘beauty is on the inside’, or something like that. I will admit that I was one of those people, saying those cliché lines, knowing the meaning but not entirely understanding what it really meant. Thankfully, now I do, and hopefully my story is able to give you a bit of insight as to what being ‘beautiful on the inside’ really means.

One week before the 2016 National Finals of Miss Galaxy Australia, I woke up to the strangest feeling. Touching the side of my face, I felt pins and needles all over one side, down my neck and on my chest. That afternoon I was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. Bell’s palsy is temporary paralysis of the face, neck and chest. Sitting in the doctor’s office hearing him tell me this felt so surreal. Surely this couldn’t be happening? I have nationals next week? I don’t have any numbness or drooping? As the thoughts ran through my head I noticed that my eyes were not blinking at the same time. I frantically tried to blink it away and that is when it sunk in; it’s only going to get worse. In the process of a few days I lost complete sensation on the left side of my face, and I had no control of my left eye. Another visit to the doctor confirmed my condition but stated that the symptoms would not get much worse. Unfortunately for me, he was wrong. My speech became so slurred that I was unable to communicate properly, I could hardly eat or drink, my vision came blurred in one eye, my face completely drooped and the constant strain on my face gave me incredible migraines. Oh, and I couldn’t do my pageant smile either.

I am going to be brutally honest, even if I come across a bit shallow; I cried a lot. All of my hard work, in that moment, had seemed to be for nothing and my dream of being the next Miss Galaxy Australia seemed to fly right out the window. I am not beautiful like this. I am so embarrassed of myself, I look and sound horrific. I still competed though, oh yes, I did. As much as I was embarrassed and as much as I wanted to give up, I still went.

Now, walking into a room full of beautiful women, looking the way that I did, has to have been one of the hardest thing that I put my self-esteem through. Hard enough that I walked straight back out in tears and had to try again. How did I feel adequate in a room full of pageant beauties, looking the way that I did? I don’t know. I just lifted my head, wiped my tears and hoped that my time at finals would get better. My symptoms caused me to sit out of a few physical activities due to my inability to co-ordinate (wearing an eye-patch), but I felt so INCLUDED.

Once I explained my condition to the other girls they were nothing but supportive of me. My sense of humour came out and I was able to thrive in a way that, majority of the time, I forgot that I was even sick.  However, the day that I was truly dreading was drawing near; pageant day. I still had to walk on stage in front of hundreds of people and perform like this. I was terrified, but I couldn’t back out now.

“Olivia Raffaele – Miss Cawwwwwindaaaalllee!” It was Miss Carindale for those who didn’t quite get that on the night.

I was very surprised at how well I did to be very honest. I strutted and I walked, I spun and I had a really good time! After all, I was allowed to. I was able to walk on stage and have fun, with no expectations of how I should walk, or turn or look. I was able to be myself without any judgement, and I felt so happy about it that I smiled my half/grimace smile with pride! On that night I re-discovered myself. From that point I could say that I was beautiful and that I was confident, on the inside.

 

You could still imagine my disbelief when I got called out as one of the top 15. It was the first time all week that I cried happy tears. The applause stunned me and humbled me. My time at nationals ended with a bang and a lot of congratulations and praise. The week that I was dreading became one of the best weeks of my life.

Am I competing again, you ask? Of course! I will be returning to the Australia Galaxy Pageants National Stage again in April of this year and you bet that I will be back and better than ever. Keep an eager eye, I may just be Miss Galaxy Australia 2017!

Anyway. The main point that I was trying to get across through my story was that confidence is beauty. HONESTLY! Not your face or your waistline or your $5,000 ball gown. It truly is you; and I just proved it.

Thank you,

Olivia Raffaele

 

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