Winnipeg woman who can't smile expresses herself through art

Twenty-seven-year-old Tracy Harper doesn't have much facial expression. But she can express herself with her artwork.

Tracy Harper, 27, has a rare neurological disorder affecting muscles that control facial expression

Tracy Harper holding her artwork she has entered in an online contest to raise awareness about Moebius Syndrome. (Tracy Harper)

Tracy Harper doesn't have great control of her facial expression, but the 27-year-old can express herself with her artwork.

Harper has Moebius Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder affecting the muscles that control facial expression, a condition she was born with.

"I can't smile," Harper said.

Not being able to smile, something most people do without even having to think about, has been very difficult at times.

"Growing up I was picked on a lot," she said. 

She realizes many people don't understand her disorder — especially younger people.

"Even now I get kids, they'll look at me. I'll roll my eyes. In order for me to blink, I have to roll my eyes, so I'll roll my eyes at them, just to kind of freak them out."

Harper doesn't have any lateral eye movement, so she rolls her eyes back to moisten them.

Surgery at 12

When Harper was 12 years old, she had surgery on the left side of her face.

"At that young age, I wanted to be like everyone else," she said.

But after several weeks of an often painful recuperation, Harper decided not to undergo any further operations to restore her smile.

"I made peace with it after my first surgery."

Tracy Harper's picture of herself - looking out. (Tracy Harper)
Harper is now expressing herself in new ways and hoping to raise awareness about Moebius Syndrome.

She has submitted a picture she drew of herself to an online contest. Winning entries will be displayed in Washington, D.C. as part of Rare Disease Week, Feb. 23 - 27.

Harper describes the artwork as her looking out.

"If you can look at me and you're judging me on my outer appearance, then I can look at you and judge you on your inner appearance," Harper said.

Harper said being looked at in an often negative way much of her life, has made her a stronger person.

"I'm able to read people I think a little bit better, too," said Harper. "If they're really interested in knowing who I am as an individual then I can kind of sense that." 

January 24 is Moebius Syndrome Awareness Day.