It’s that wonderfully interesting time of year again when dozens of beautiful, homogenous women slither into expensive evening gowns and tiny bikinis on live TV and compete against one another to be crowned the better American woman…and something something scholarship. But amid the spray tans, hair extensions, and fake breasts, there’s generally a few very real, and very grounding tales that steal the spotlight for a few hot seconds. This year, it’s the face of Miss Mississippi Laura Lee Lewis.
Lewis revealed that she was born with mid-facial hypoplasia, a condition that left the bones in her upper face underdeveloped, and the bones in the lower half of her face overdeveloped. It left her face “very disproportional,” Lewis told People magazine. “The physical pain was tremendous with my condition. I had trouble eating and speaking, and there was a lot of pain in my face, but the emotional pain was so much stronger.”
But, unfortunately, Lewis couldn’t live with her condition in silence. “’I remember walking through the hallways of my school with people yelling names at me like ‘Horse Face,’ and [asking] ‘Why do you look like that Laura Lewis? What’s wrong with your face?’” she continued. “It was something I had to go through everyday—constantly seeing people staring at me and poking at me and laughing at me.”
After 13 years in braces (yes, you read that right—13 years), Lewis’s facial plates had matured enough that she was finally able to have corrective surgery at age 18, which turned out to be one of steepest physical obstacles to overcome. “It was a seven-hour surgery, followed by six days with my jaw wired shut,” said Lewis. It was intense and all-consuming, but, as most Miss America stories tend to go, it had a happy ending, with Lewis recovering and continuing on to be crowned Miss Mississippi in June.
Even without the happy ending, the pageant winner says she would have been OK with her appearance. “I learned at a young age to focus on inner beauty,” she said. “I learned to focus more on character and service, because people were looking at the ugliness on the outside, but I wanted people to see the beauty I had on the inside.”