Judy Ann Benico, 25, was a victim of bullying and ridicule because of her facial deformity.
But she turned her suffering into an advantage by expressing herself and showing her true self on social media.
Her self-confidence returned when she became an inspiration to others, and as netizens showed their suppor to her.
In TikTok alone, Judy Ann has more than 920,000 followers and 5.3 million likes on the said video-sharing platform.
Some of her entries have millions of views.
Judy Ann’s facial deformity was caused by an accident that happened when she was three years old.
She said in the episode of On The Record: “Nung three years old po ako, kinukuwento po ng nanay ko na nadapa daw po ako sa tambang ng manok.
“Nasabit daw po ‘tapos nadapa. Bigla pong pumutok daw po yung labi ko…”
The GMA News and Public Affairs program aired on September 19, 2021.
Over time, Judy Ann’s facial impairment worsened.
She related in the show, “After two years, nagbabago ang itsura ng left side ng mukha.
“Based po sa pagkukuwento nila sa akin is hindi siya pumapantay doon sa natural na hugis ng pisngi.”
Doctors told her, “Sabi po ng doktor yun nga daw po, naputol daw po yung major nerve.
“Lumapit po kami sa mga neurologist. Ang advice po nila, kapag nakapag-eighteen years old na daw po ako, surgery na lang daw po ang nire-recommend nila para umayos po ang aking mukha.”
During the show, On The Record asked Dr. Mike Abenojar of the Phillipine Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons for his opinion.
The doctor gave a name to Judy Anne’s condition—Parry-Romberg Syndrome.
He said, “This is a developmental disorder wherein yung facial tissues mo, yung skin, yung fat bone, and cartilage sa isang side ng face mo, nagi-waste away o nag-a-atrophy.”
He suggested that the doctor Judy Ann had consulted might have misdiagnosed her case.
The surgeon clarified, “Yung condition na ito hindi nila alam kung anong cause nito.
“So matagal na itong condition na ito. Matagal nang na-identify, pero yung…cause hindi pa rin alam hanggang ngayon.
“Madami lang theories. Sabi lang nila viral infection, puwedeng auto-immune disorder, pero nothing’s for certain pa.”
Victim of bullying
Judy Ann’s deformity made her an easy target of bullying and name-calling when she was growing up.
She recalled, “Dati po kasi nabu-bully po ako ng mga bata. Pagkakita pa lang sa akin sa gate, nambu-bully po sila.
“Lagi po nilang sinasabi sa akin na ano, ‘Ay, hindi pantay yung pisngi’ ganyan, ‘Tabingi,’ ganyan.
“Parang bumaba nga po yung tingin ko sa sarili ko.”
When she realized what was happening to her, Judy began to question her sel-worth,
She was emotional as she recounted, “Bakit ako yung ganoon? Bakit ako pa?
“Yung time na iyon is lagi nila akong binubu-bully kahit wala naman akong ginagawang masama sa kanila.”
She turned to TikTok to divert her mind from her hurful situation.
To her amazement, her coming out has drawn close to a million followers.
Judy Ann said, “Nao-overwhelm po ako. Hindi ko po ine-expect kasi sinusuportahan nila ako, ganoon, sa lahat ng TikTok [videos] ko.
“Ginawa ko lang naman yung TikTok para malibang lang ako, hindi para magpasikat sa iba.”
It was also through TikTok that she met Christian, her avid follower.
The young man initiated their communication, and they eventually became friends.
They are now in a relationship.
Said Judy Ann, “Thankful po, tanggap niya ako or mahal niya ako,”
But more importantly, Judy Ann realized her value when she came to accept herself, flaws and all.
“Para sa akin po, natanggap ko ang sarili ko. Tanggap na po ako ng mga taong nakapaligid sa akin.
“Tanggap ako ng pamilya ko, tanggap ako ng mga katrabaho ko. So, para sa akin kuntento na ako kung ano pong meron ako.”
She emphasized, “Nakikita ko po yung sarili ko as normal, na walang diperensiya.
“Habang nanonood po ako ng videos ko, sobrang natutuwa ako kasi, syempre, meron po akong ganoong confidence na iharap ang sarili ko sa ibang tao.”