Dawn Shaw visits Puget Sound

Pictured: Dawn Shaw

“It’s not about how we look. It’s not about our appearance,” lecturer Dawn Shaw said. A small bunch of the campus community and Tacoma locals gathered on Tuesday, Feb. 12 to listen to Shaw’s motivational speech on “The Power of Choice.” She talked about her experience growing up with a facial difference and how her conscious decisions to appreciate positivity changed her life.

Shaw was born with a tumor on her neck. In the process of removing the tumor, the doctors left parts of her face paralyzed, with a misaligned jaw and hearing loss. Her talk, however, was not focused on what had happened to her. Rather, Shaw spoke about her growth in dealing with her facial difference.

Shaw has a lot of experience with motivational speaking and sharing her experiences. She has written three books on facial disfigurement, including a memoir of her life. She has also given a TEDx Talk called “Beauty Is an Inside Job.” Shaw’s TED talk is almost identical to the speech she gave on Tuesday evening, with similar messages of being empowered by choice and conscious decision-making. Shaw has a lot of experience speaking about facial differences, but most of her work is motivational.

Much of her speech was focused on one of her early relationships. In her 20s she had let a romantic interest cloud her perception of her self-worth. She spoke about this abusive relationship and how it was a pivotal moment in her understanding of herself and the power of choice.

As she grew up, she realized that she could make a decision about how she understood beauty and self. She spoke about her choice to stop having cosmetic surgeries when she realized that she could choose to be happy with herself. “I made an important choice — I decided that I was not going to allow my face to ruin my life,” Shaw said. She urged the audience to share this understanding: that life is crafted by your outlook. Her main message was that you must make conscious decisions to appreciate the positive and reform how you see the perceived negative aspects of your life.

In her talk, she also highlighted the importance of community. She spoke about her experience working in a movie called “Happy Face.” The movie features a cast of people with facial differences. Shaw described the film community as “like a family.” She spoke about how community has made her situation a shared experience and how support has changed her perception of her facial difference.

Perhaps due to multiple snow days and the challenging icy weather, Shaw’s talk was not very well-attended. The audience was made up of a few Puget Sound students and one or two members of the Tacoma community. However, her message was still strong and the attendees left the talk empowered.

Shaw also approached her situation with humor and positivity. She had a casual and confident air about herself and her situation. She made jokes as she stumbled through parts of her speech and approached the minimal attendance with a jovial attitude.