05 December 2016

My face scared my cleaner away today

This is my face up close. It's red, shiny and a bit lopsided because of a dodgy lymph node that flares up because of my inflammation. It's usually very smiley. Sometimes my hair is out of control, and sometimes there's a few bits of wayward skin hanging off my face and hair. This is who I am. 


Earlier this year my face scared the post office worker. Today it scared the cleaner. So much so, she ran away without completing the job. 

It's exhausting having a face that can scare people. Even more exhausting worrying I'm seeming like a victim as I recall events like these. 

I work from home now. Every second Monday a cleaner comes. I usually leave the house to go to the library when they come, but today I needed to stay home until I finished something. 

I greeted the cleaner, saying hello. She jumped, visibly shocked at my face. I let that one go. 

A few minutes later I went out again to tell her to let me know when she needs to vacuum the room I'm in, and I'll move for her. I spoke before I was in the room. As she turned around to look at me, she jumped again. 

I told her "please don't be scared of my face", and said this is just how I look. I returned to the other room. 

20 minutes later, I finished the task at hand, and realised I couldn't hear or smell any cleaning being done. I looked through the house. It's not very big. She wasn't here.

She just left. Didn't lock the door. Didn't let me know. She left because she was scared of how I looked. 

After a couple of calls and texts, I eventually spoke to the cleaning agency manager - angry and upset. The manager told me the cleaner did not know how to react to my face so she left. She was scared of my face and so she left. 

The manager tried to placate me, saying this is a misunderstanding. She said this wasn't cruel or unprofessional, nor is this discriminatory. 

I told her that I'm quite familiar with people's reactions towards me, and I don't need a service provider reacting like this in my own home. She apologised and she will come to clean my unit herself. 

About 15 minutes after the phone call, the cleaning agency manager came and she was extremely apologetic. And empathetic. She did say it's understandable because the cleaner had not encountered someone like me before, and that it's not often I'm home. I said it is not justifiable, and as someone on the receiving end of curiosity and fear, it's exhausting to deal with stuff like this. 

I had specifically chosen this cleaning agency because they gave me a chance to be up front about my skin, and I didn't have to explain it to each cleaner.. I am also really nervous about my skin, so I didn't want to freak a cleaner out about the skin on the floor.  

I asked the cleaning agency manager if I can deliver training to her staff, so they might understand the firsthand impact of such ignorance and unprofessionalism. I said that although the cleaning agent has already spoken to this cleaner, it might help if the cleaners learn the impact of this behaviour from a person who's been on the receiving end of it. 

As I got in the car to go to library, the cleaner was outside my block of units. She was there to give back my keys, which the cleaning agency manager now had. But why was the cleaner still there? I asked if she was ok, you know, just hanging around. No apology. She just looked away.

There might have been more to the story, as a friend asked on my Facebook today. But cultural background and working visas should not have played into whether someone is too scared to do their job they're getting paid for. Would it be acceptable for a waitress not to serve me because they were scared? Or a doctor not to treat me, because of this cultural perceptions of people with facial differences? No.

This is what I envisage will happen. The cleaner will get a talking to. She will giggle to her friends about seeing me. She won't be rostered on to work with someone "different" again. And her small-mindedness and reluctance to see anyone who looks different as human will continue.

Some people who don't get it will say "it's understandable that people are scared" or "of course they'll be startled if they haven't seen someone like you before..." But they will never say "this must be tiring." There's an expectation to be polite, to educate, to take it because my face is unexpected. But I'm angry. And upset.

These are the microaggressions I face - about my face - on a regular basis. It is not up to me to make someone else comfortable about the way I look.

Here's a simple guide for encountering someone who looks different: 

  • Say hello. Smile at us. 
  • Apologise if you showed you are visibly startled. 
  • If we provide you an explanation like "I was born like this", accept it and get on with what you're doing. 
  • Ask polite questions, only if you feel it will add to your day. Preface them with "I hope you don't mind me asking.."
  • Don't just leave a job we've hired you for because you're scared of our faces. 

Has this blog helped you or made you think? Why don't you "buy me a drink" by contributing to my Patreon? Or better still, hire me to give your company some training in diversity. Thanks! 


  1. I am sorry that you went through that today, Carly. xx

  2. I thought the cleaner's refusal to clean your house based on your appearance was discrimination?

  3. It's really disappointing that people still behave this way... I hope the agency does ask you to have a chat to the staff.

  4. Carly, this is a shitty thing you've had to endure today. There's no excuse for such unapologetically poor treatment of you.

  5. Of course it's never okay, but the fact this happened in your house, by someone you were paying! makes me even madder on your behalf. The manager was no prize either - it is cruel, unprofessional and discriminatory. And it's not your job to go through life having to provide a Valuable Learning Experience to everyone who just doesn't get good manners.

  6. I agree, this is unforgivably rude and unprofessional - and childish and stupid. I don't care where she's from. And if you're going to come back, then come back and be an adult and apologise - even if it's just cynically to cover your own ass. You were incredibly generous to offer to give training. And if I were you, I'd sack the company purely because the owner said it was 'understandable'. It may be understandable to be somewhat taken aback at first but to show it is rude - to then run away without finishing the job like an idiot five year old is inexcusable. Also, if you'd chosen that company because you could be upfront then they should be making a particular effort to ensure that you are getting mature and sensible cleaners in there. Pshaw! I'm sorry you had to experience that in your own home. xxx

  7. I'm so sorry Carly some people are so ignorant. It's never OK to behave like this. I can't believe she wasn't even embarrassed by her behaviour later on. Keep up the good work trying to make change. Maybe the cleaning agency will reconsider your offer if you ask again in a week or so?

  8. There is nothing scarey or frightening about your face. You have beautiful eyes and a friendliness that shines through. Xxxx Tracey @scardeycat

  9. I'm so terribly sorry that this happened to you. What a horrific experience to have (especially in your own home, your safe space).
    I'm in utter admiration for how you've handled the situation. Especially on offering to help eductate their staff. I sincerely hope they take you up on such a generous offer. Your words have helped me with how to handle myself when dealing with stares or whispers directed towards my husband. He has an illness that means he no longer appears as "normal" to others and this has been a huge life change for us. Gradually it's becoming something that's more noticeable to others. The stares and whispers and filthy looks that we get when using disabled parking spots are core crushing. But I'm going to take your words and how you handled yourself in such a horrible situation and try to be the bigger person and act like you have. It's still hurts ridic amounts and is stupid that it has to be this way but well done to you for the approach that you had when it would have been far easier to hide away and get made and hate and all the things that won't help us to feel any better at all.
    Again, I'm so terribly sorry for such an experience to have and that it even happened at all. Sending lots of virtual good vibes to you. Thanks for helping me to try and have a different approach to the world and to others.
    Ps - I think your face is just beautiful.

  10. I was just reading Carly's blog as we travel down the national highway in northern India. I just wanted to send hugs, but I'm also so moved and inspired by her checklist in the end! It should be rules we apply to all people, all situations. I'm in the middle of nowhere halfway across the world and this shero is still inspiring me!

  11. This is not OK. I can't believe that you even have to give an explanation for your face, who on earth deserves an explanation for the way you were born?
    On any human level it is not OK to act how she did, but the way you reacted showed amazing strength character. I'd say this is her problem, not yours,but I won't because don't want to tell you how to feel and invalidate your feelings. I'm just sorry it happened.

  12. I am so sorry Carly. I was disturbed to read what had happened to you. That cleaner's behaviour was disgusting and inexcusable. If I were you, I would publicly name, shame and boycott that company, and use another one next time. Not out of spite, but because no-one else should go through what you did. You have beautiful, petite features, beautiful eyes, hair and as Tracey said, a friendliness that shines through. And you know what? Even if you didn't have all of those assets, the cleaner would still have had no excuse for her behaviour.

    The manager saying that it's 'understandable' to react to your face is ridiculous. Everyone is different, some maybe more visibly than others; welcome to humankind, all 200,000 years of it. That cleaner/excuse-for-a-human needs a reality check and some compassion.

    I know it'll be easy to feel really unhappy about this situation, and with very good reason. But try to remember your immense inherent worth, how much you offer the world, and how thousands of people respect, admire and like you, who quite rightly have NO PROBLEM with your appearance.

    You are a joy to follow on Instagram and on here. You remind me daily to be positive, even when times are tough. You deserve nothing but good things. I'm always so happy to see your cute insta posts about clothes, your super husband and your travels. You live by example, not letting your condition dampen your spirit. Ignorant, cold-hearted and weak-spirited individuals live half the life that you do. Let that console you.

    Good luck with everything. Sending lots of love from the UK. You're fabulous.

  13. This breaks my heart. I'm so so sorry this happened to you. Sending love from my corner of the world <3

  14. I really don't understand, how can someone call this understandable. To behave like this, run away without saying a word, even not to apologize for such a behavior? Would it be still that understandable, if she did it to someone else, to someone who look ordinary, "normal"? Why do people think that this is normal behavior to people who look "different"? This is rude, for everyone. I just can't understand this. I have though that the world was wiser...more polite. Things like this can really upset me. For me it's unthinkable.
    I'm sorry for you have to go through this... but it's not your fault that people are stupid. ;)
    And mu dear, you are beautiful the way you are, and your difference doesn't make you less beautiful. It makes u unique ;)

  15. Oh Carly, I'm so sorry. I've not had that exact one happen, but I'm sure you can relate to me driving for an hour on Friday to have a friend who's a hairdresser cut my hair rather than any one of a dozen places all within 10 minutes of my home specifically because I knew she'd not have a problem with my skin as other hairdressers have in the past.

    We are allowed to remind people that we are people, too. She wasn't used to seeing someone with a face like yours, well, you shouldn't have to get used to people treating you like that. I know I haven't gotten use to it, it still breaks my heart every time. Big hugs.

  16. You don't know me, but I am super sorry you went through this today. There is no excuse for an adult to treat someone that way. Children get leeway because they are learning and don't have much experience in the world or ability to control their impulses. Adults who are working are expected to treat people with respect. You deserve respect, and your face isn't scary. I look at your pictures and I see someone who's friendly and smiley! I hope your cleaners will be more professional from now on.

  17. How revolting. Every time I hear you say this, Carly, it shocks me. It's hard to fathom how, in this day and age, people have any expectations around what someone should look like (of all things!). Not the brightest spark, as you say. And I still worry that 'reactions' are just a passive-aggressive (or aggressive, really) code for defining what they think is normal.

  18. What I want o say is unprintable in this G-rated blog. My heart reaches to touch yours in solidarity with not looking "normal". May this bring a level of awareness to the cleaning company that heretofore didn't exist. Hope your December improves immediately and your holidays are everything You and Yours want them to be, Carly.

  19. As all above have said, no excuses for cruel and unprofessional behavior. Sending hugs and all good wishes for delightful and kind blessings always and especially during this holiday season. xo

  20. The stigmatization of "seeming like a victim" is so oppressive. People are victimized, if they speak out they are accused of "acting like a victim". What this really says is that good victims keep their/our mouths shut. Fuck being a good victim.

  21. I continue to think about this 24 hours after I first read it. Carly - you express the situation with more grace than I could have mustered. I hope you are able to provide some education to the employees. May I use your story as an example of what not to do when encountering the unexpected when I speak to a local community health worker class next month?

  22. Carly Findlay Morrow I shared your photo with my children (ages 5 and 8) and my son immediately said, "There's nothing scary about her, she's just unique." I've been reading your blog and talking to my kids about how to treat people with visible differences using you as an example (thanks for providing such incisive guidance on how to manage these conversations!), so they wanted to see what you looked like. I agree with my 8 year old's assessment: you are unique, and I wish everyone could see you as he does. I hope that came out all right. I'm having a bad brain fog day and probably rambling on a bit!

  23. This really got to me and I'm tearing up a bit. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this BS on a somewhat regular basis.

  24. Carly, I'm so sorry you've had to experience this. Your post is beautifully stated and a great help for anyone.

  25. I'm sorry you had to deal with someone unwilling to show kindness and understanding. I hope lots of people take your advice on how to treat people.

  26. That's so fucking unfair -- I'm sorry. And I don't find your face scary at all -- different, maybe, but you're pretty gorgeous, and your smile is radiant.


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