A beauty beyond skin deep

Story highlights

  • Birth defects left Penny Loker with a disfigured face
  • Growing up, she endured cruel treatment from others
  • She wishes she could open the dialogue and educate others about malformations
  • Loker wants to be a wife and mother, but accepts that may never happen
As a little girl, she never got a valentine at school parties.
As a teenager, she never had a best friend, a boyfriend or a date.
As a woman, she's never had a relationship. She's never been kissed.
Her dream to one day become a wife and mother is fading as she grapples with the reality that it may never happen.
Penny Loker, 31, was born with hemifacial microsomia and Goldenhar Syndrome, two birth defects that left her with a disfigured face. Hemifacial microsomia causes a malformation of the ear and/or the structure of the lower jaw. Goldenhar Syndrome is a congenital condition that produces abnormalities of the head and the bones of the spinal column. It usually affects the appearance of eyes, ears, facial bones and the mouth.
Both conditions are complex, as are their names. But for a little girl facing a big world, the names were simple: Monster. Ugly. Freak.
Loker was raised in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, in a home where love and acceptance were given freely.
Her father died soon after Loker's first birthday. Her mother, a strong, loving woman, readily took on the challenge of raising Loker and her sisters. That included arranging for multiple surgeries at hospitals far from home.
Loker's recoveries were lengthy and painful, recalls older sister Crystal Loker. "But even then Penny had a positive attitude. She was a trouper who kept her smile and didn't complain."
At home, Loker's looks were not an issue and she was treated the same as her sisters. She knew she looked a bit different, and she knew it caused her to be in the hospital a lot, but she had a child's innocence and accepted it as normal.
When it was time to start school, she discovered how different she actually was. She spent a lonely childhood excluded from nearly everything. She had no friends. She accepted the name-calling as part of her life and seemed to understand that crying or fighting back only made it worse. So she quietly endured it.
She remembers that pain and humiliation well. "As an adult, it's hard to stand by silently when you know what these kids are going through," Loker says. "But it's equally difficult to speak out when you don't feel empowered to do so."
As she got older, the name-calling was more often behind her back than to her face. By the time she reached high school, she had learned there would be no friends, parties or dates for a girl who looked like a freak.
"It hurt, but there was nothing I could do to change it," she says.
While day-to-day encounters with strangers brought the same hurtful stares and comments, Loker was used to it. Then came a day with such cruelty it remains a vivid memory.
"For graduation my sister gave me a gift certificate for a manicure and pedicure. I'd never had one before, and it was a wonderful experience. I left the spa feeling truly pretty for the first time in my adult life."
But less than a block from the salon, she encountered a carload of boys who slowed to look at her and began pointing and calling her names.
Distraught, she walked as quickly as she could to get away from them, thinking all the while that she was not beautiful after all.
"The pretty nails made no difference at all. Shamed and humiliated, I realized I was still the same girl that everyone made fun of," she recalls. "I remember that day as one of the worst."
But time can ease all wounds, and her determined spirit taught her to find the good around her.
She has a core group of girlfriends and relatives who cherish her as she is. She speaks proudly of being able to provide for herself, thanks to her job at Rogers Communications, where she spends her days handling customer requests. The company was recognized this year as a diversity leader corporation, a recognition that only adds to Loker's pride.
There are many adventures in life that she is hesitant to embrace, even though she is physically able. She prefers not to shop alone. She has never been on a true vacation, saying the thought of one is scary.
Yet it's a feat she is determined to accomplish. She is saving now for a trip to California to visit either BlizzCon o