Tapestry

"If I'm not ugly, no one is" : Robert Hoge owns his face

"I think we need to stop trying to convince people that differences in appearance don't matter by pretending they don't exist," says author Robert Hoge.
(Courtesy of Robert Hoge)
Listen37:47

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but author Robert Hoge disagrees with that notion. He thinks it's time we start accepting that some people are simply ugly and there's nothing wrong with that.

"I think we need to stop trying to convince people that differences in appearance don't matter by pretending they don't exist," he says.

Hoge was born with facial and body deformities which left him permanently scarred. In his memoir for young readers,  Ugly: A Beautiful True Story About Courage, Empathy, and One Very Ugly Kid, Hoge explains how his appearance created barriers between him and the rest of the world.

"I was sent off to the children's nursery before my mother even saw me and she refused to see me for the first week of my life," he tells host Mary Hynes. "She knew something was wrong but I think she thought if she didn't see me she didn't have to actually acknowledge that. Eventually one of the doctors convinced her to come and see me. She came up to the nursery and looked down into the cot with her ugly little son with his strange legs and his eyes at the side of his head and the big tumour in the middle of his face and she decided that she wasn't going to take me home."

Robert Hoge as a young boy after his surgery to repair his nose. (Courtesy of Robert Hoge)

After her initial hesitation, Hoge's mother did take him home and she became one of his strongest supporters. However life was never easy for Hoge. By the time he was 14 he'd already had 24 different operations and was the target of constant jeers from his peers and strangers. However, from these experiences Hoge found the strength to accept his own "ugliness" and confront the barriers that have always separated him from others.

In Grade 9, doctors told Hoge they wanted to perform one last major surgery that could potentially make his face appear "normal." But the operation had many risks, including the potential to leave Hoge permanently blind. For the first time in his life, his parents gave him the choice whether or not to proceed with the surgery. After months of careful deliberation, he decided not to have any further operations and that it was time for him to "take ownership" of his face.

"I might as well own this and I might as well say it is not worth the risk to just blend into the crowd a little bit better," he told himself.  

"I think we should stop trying to convince people that differences in appearance don't matter by pretending they don't exist...Politeness devalues my appearance. And it devalues my experience." - Robert Hoge (Courtesy of Robert Hoge)

Hoge has maintained that sentiment throughout his entire life and now says he seeks out opportunities to engage with people about his physical appearance. He says the stares or muffled whispers from strangers on the street don't bother him, in fact he welcomes the chance to share his story.

"Politeness devalues my appearance and it devalues my experience," he says.

Click listen above to hear how Robert Hoge came to accept his "ugliness" and why he believes sugar coating physical differences can cause more harm than good.


Win a copy of Robert Hoge's memoir 

We're giving away a copy of Robert Hoge's book, Ugly: A Beautiful True Story About Courage, Empathy, and One Very Ugly Kid.  If you'd like to be entered in the random draw, email us at tapestry@cbc.ca with "Ugly" in the subject line.

Read the CBC's contest rules here.