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Meet the Watford teenager who can't smile
An 18-year-old from Watford has launched a campaign to raise awareness of an "isolating" condition that has left her unable to smile properly.
Maria Munir was born with facial palsy - a weakness of her face muscles caused by nerve damage.
For the former Watford Grammar School for Girls pupil this means that the left side of her face droops, making it hard to smile and close one eye.
She said: "Your face is always on display, you can’t hide it even if there are moments when you wish you could.
"I think people take smiling for granted.
"It’s a universal language, people communicate with smiles. If you can’t smile back at people when you’re happy, it can be quite depressing."
As a result of the condition, everyday tasks and scenarios can be difficult for Maria, who lives in Addiscombe Road with her mum Kalsoom, dad Mohammad and 17-year-old sister Kanwal.
"It can affect any aspect of your day-to-day life," she said, "for me, it is very difficult to get to sleep when one of your eyes is fixated on staying open. Eating is difficult because chewing is so hard.
"Then there are the times when you might be trying to express a normal emotion but someone might say, ‘Why are you pulling that face?’
"That’s when it has the biggest impact that your face is different to everyone else’s."
Maria, now studying politics with international relations at the University of York, has been working with the charity Fixers, which supports young people aged 16-25 to tackle issues that matters to them.
Maria said: "It’s important for people to know that there are other people with facial palsy out there so that they feel less alone.
"I think the greatest issue is the lack of support out there. People don’t just need medicines, they need emotional support."
She is planning a poster campaign to get her message across and raise awareness of facial plasy.
Vanessa Venables, trustee of Facial Palsy UK, said: "Facial palsy is no respecter of age, so it can happen to anyone whether they’re young or old. There are lots of different causes, the most common one is Bell’s Palsy.
"I think people with facial palsy feel very isolated. Even their family and friends may not realise the difficulties that that person is facing every day."
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