I am Nicholas Nikiforou, I am 13 years old and I have a vision; for all individuals to be accepted in society for who they are. My outlook on life is, if we all embrace each other’s differences, no matter what they are, the world will be a better place. I have a passion for face equality and kindness. I campaign through my art, singing, and motivational speeches, seeking a future of acceptance in all communities and cultures throughout the world.
I was born with a pre-cancerous large congenital melanocytic naevus covering 2/3 of my face. I underwent removal, leaving me with a lot of scarring on my face. I’m considered ‘disfigured’ by terminology under the ‘Disabilities Act’. This is a term I strongly disagree with and whilst I want equality, I also advocate for facial equality.
I have been severely bullied all because of the way I look. I believed people when they told me that I was worthless, when they told me I wouldn’t be anything because of the way I looked. But throughout the years, I have learnt that what we look like doesn’t define us. The only thing that can define us is our drive for change, the dreams we have and our actions. But, throughout it all, we must always remain humble and true to what we believe in. It took a long time for me to realise the good impact I could have on the world.
When I was in year 1, my teacher asked the class to draw themselves. I just drew a face as any child would. I didn’t see myself as different, just a round face with eyes, with a nose, with ears, a mouth, that’s it. This is how I saw myself in the mirror.
When I got older and people started picking out faults, they believed were wrong with my face, I then noticed lines and scars….and it made me think ‘oh I have scars’. And whilst they were telling me these were ugly, which made me feel bad about myself, I realised that actually these scars, were simply scars. Nothing more, nothing less.
My scars simply told me and showed everyone that I have been through something; a long hard journey of countless surgeries and I am still here standing.
I am a survivor; I am not a victim.
Three years ago, my life changed for the better. Kinder Chocolate opened a competition in the UK, asking for children to send a self-portrait of themselves and the winning self-portrait would appear on the Kinder Chocolate bars across the UK. This really made me think…what did I see myself as?
So, when this competition came out, I thought ‘yeah, I have scars on my face, but this is me’…I am proud to be me. So, I entered the competition and my art piece took 3 days to produce. I submitted my picture and didn’t think any more of it. I felt proud I had drawn myself…my true self…not that round head with just 2 dots as eyes, 1 dot as a nose and ears…. but me…with all my perfections and imperfections.
After a few months I received the news that Kinder Chocolate had chosen my entry as one of five winners in the UK. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. I became the first ever person in history, a person with a facial difference, on a famous chocolate bar. I couldn’t believe it.
Even though I was on a high….. something still didn’t sit right with me. When newspapers in the UK were writing about me, I noticed some newspapers using the headline, ‘Birthmark boy becomes Face of Kinder’. I sat in my room repeating ‘birthmark boy’. Is that really what I was seen as by people? A birthmark boy? I felt deflated; rather than someone who has made history, I was seen as ‘birthmark boy’.
Why are we in the 21st century still being defined by the way we look? Why are we being discriminated against based on things that make us all different and unique?
I don’t have the answer and I still don’t know. But my vision is for all individuals to be accepted in society for who they are. I want equality.
Doing art was something that I found comfort in, as I lost my voice during my ordeal with bullying. Art was a place that I could be myself without any prejudice. My art always has a meaning behind it, and it advocates for kindness, love and compassion. I decided to come up with the initiative of printing my art onto thousands of cards and just handing it out to the public wherever I went. Even such a small act, can have a big impact. My art has gone global, all the way to America, Greece, Australia, Dubai and so on. This idea was so I could make people feel good because we do not know what people go through every day in their lives.
I am proud I have had the courage to change my life around. I know everything happens for a reason. My ‘difference’ will not go away with age or with more surgery; it will always be there. But I am happy with that, I am proud to be me.
My vision is for all individuals to be accepted in society for who they are. I want to encourage individuals to embrace what they do have and what they can be, rather than focus on what they do not have or may think they cannot be.