Kitchener-Waterloo

Woman with facial condition becomes viral star after CNN email

Penny Loker wasn't expecting to become a viral star when she sent an email to CNN in protest over a 'viewer discretion' warning.

Penny Loker wasn’t expecting to become a viral star when she sent an email to CNN complaining about a "viewer discretion" warning on a photo gallery.

But that's what happened after she wrote to the U.S. broadcaster about the advisory.

Loker, born and currently living in Waterloo, took issue with CNN's warning on a story about children who were disfigured in Vietnam because of Agent Orange. Loker has two rare birth defects, hemifacial miscrosomia and Goldenhar Syndrome, which affected the way the bones and soft tissues in her face formed, and so her face did not develop.

"I didn’t expect anything. I just sent it off, thought it would just go into cyberspace, never to be heard from again," Loker told Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Thursday.

"So when I got the email in my inbox I had to look twice," Loker said.

Loker said CNN first just thanked her and said they would look into it.

CNN did change the language on their gallery, but the story wasn’t over. CNN wrote a story earlier this week about Penny herself.

An editor’s note reads:

Penny spoke of the anger and sadness she felt over seeing CNN's "viewer discretion" warning on the gallery. She was born with a disease that left part of her own face malformed and felt compelled to reach out to us about the children who simply look different. "How can I not speak up about this?" she asked. "If not me, who will speak on behalf of these children?" We invited her to educate us all by sharing her story and allowing us to see the world through her eyes.

Since the story has run, Penny has received messages of support on Facebook, on Twitter, and by email. She estimates she has somewhere between 200-300 new followers as a result of her story. CNN invited her to do a Facebook chat on their page on Thursday night.

Loker later took to her own blog to express her feelings.

I know that I'm loved from my close friends, and my family but to have all of YOU, strangers just open up and tell me your stories to let me know that I have had such an impact has left tears in my eyes.

Loker also spoke about her desire to get married, the nasty comments she’s received and her preference to avoid going places alone. She also mentioned that she’d like to take a vacation to either Blizz-Con, a major gaming convention or Comic-Con, a comic convention, but told CNN the "thought of one is scary."

"Obviously there are looks and stares," said Loker about what it’s like for her in public, in her interview with CBC.

Since the CNN story ran, Loker said it looks like she’ll be able to travel to Comic-Con, and people have reached out and offered her places to stay.

Still, Loker says she doesn’t yet see herself as activist.

"I hope so, I hope I can get there, where I see myself as that. In my head, it doesn’t compute," she said.

"I don’t know if it’s really sunk in yet."

In fact, it was the first time Loker sat down and wrote an email about her experiences and protesting how others with what she terms ‘facial differences’ are described.

"I think that kids can really learn from having experiences meeting lots of people with lots of differences, not just facial differences, but people of different ethnicities, people of different backgrounds, even in their own homes."

Despite all the attention, that hasn’t meant special treatment for Loker from her family at home.

"I’m just Penny at home. I think privately they think it’s really cool," said Loker.

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