Joel shows his real colours
When strangers would stare at Harvey’s Joel Whitwell, his mother would tell him they were only staring because of how beautiful he was.
Joel, pictured, looked different to other kids growing up, he was born with craniofacial deficiency and had only one ear and one eye.
But he said the acceptance and love he got growing up in the Harvey community, gave him the courage to go out into the world and show his true colours.
When I was born, my mother went out into the main street in Harvey and showed me off to all the locals.
“I was her son, she did not care that I may have been missing an eye or ear.
“She never hid me from the world, she was never embarrassed to call me her son.”
That love and support trickled through Joel’s childhood.
The popular kid was treated “as an equal” at school and in his early teenage years when he attended Harvey Senior High School.
He remembered playing marbles with his glass eye and getting sent get well soon cards from his peers after major operations saw him in hospital for long periods.
At the age of 10, doctors took a rib from Joel and used it to reconstruct his face. A decade later, they took a muscle from his shoulder to make a cheek.
The tight community knew Joel’s story and had his back.
It was not until a brutal interaction with a bully at the age of 18 that Joel began to doubt himself.
“I was at a party and this new guy had come into town,” Joel said.
He took one look at me and said I would have to be the ugliest person he had ever seen and that he would kill himself if he ever looked like me.
Joel recalled getting in his car and driving off after the incident.
“I cried for a bit, it was pretty hurtful,” he said.
“I guess a comment like that could have broken me, I could have hidden away from the world forever.
If I had not been supported by the community, it would have destroyed my self confidence.
Joel’s resilience and confidence continued to grow despite ignorant comments from strangers.
He decided to travel the world with his friends and said a mystery flight to Sydney with his friend Paul was one of his favourite memories.
We were at a bar and a stranger was staring at me, I remember thinking: ‘stare all you like mate, I’m with one of my best mates, having a drink in Sydney, life could not get better than this’.
Paul later died in a car crash on the night of the Harvey Show.
After the shock loss, Joel’s outlook on life changed. He mustered up enough courage to take a solo trip overseas.
“I had always wanted to go to Peru to see Machu Picchu, I really needed to do the trip and I ended up really resonating with the country and its values,” he said.
“Their culture is all about acceptance and finding the beauty in the heart and soul.”
The adventurous 41-year-old has also built himself a successful career. He works as an inspector for the Government and said it gives him the freedom to travel.
Joel has only recently started sharing his story. He gave a recent TED Talk where he spoke about the importance of never giving up and is writing an autobiography.
“I am not hiding from the world just because I look a little different, looks are not everything and it is what’s inside that counts.”
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