Now, I would like those who are reading this to take a moment to commemorate their life at 16. Personally, I have many memories from that time, both good and bad. But overall, it was a period when a lot of things were changing. There were more hormones, an overload of emotions, and sometimes even mental challenges that I had to face.
Ilka Brühl – born with ectodermal dysplasia
Overall, I hope it was a positive period in your life, as it was in mine.
Now, imagine that at 16, you are called “Freak,” “Alien,” or “Pig Nose.” Picture that no one wants to play with you at school, and when other kids see you, they point and make fun of you.
Most of us have never been subjected to such cruelty. For the young German Ilka Brühl, however, it was an everyday reality.
Ilka was born with a cleft nose and lips. This is ectodermal dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder that affects the facial structure.
She endured this malformation for a long time before undergoing surgery to correct it.
Afterwards, she realized that her appearance was not defined at all by her malformation. On the contrary, Ilka understood that beauty couldn’t be created through surgery – and managed to accept her face as it was.
Today, Ilka is a role model for millions of people worldwide. Through her own work, she aims to help others.
Ilka Brühl – Early Life
Until the day of her birth in January 1992, Ilka Brühl’s parents believed their daughter was in perfect health. In fact, she was. However, doctors noticed that the little girl struggled to breathe. The airways in her nose had, for some reason, become obstructed.
Emergency surgery was necessary, and surgeons operated on her cleft palate. At that point, it was evident that something was “different” about little Ilka.
School can be a very tough place for many children worldwide. Unfortunately, Ilka understood this better than anyone. The children at her school didn’t comprehend that she was just like everyone else, even though her face was slightly unusual.
According to reports, schoolchildren would ask her questions about her appearance and mock her.
“At first, I thought, ‘What else am I supposed to look like? This is how I am!’ But then, I consciously looked at myself in the mirror and realized that my nose was different. That’s when you start to question things,” she shared with the German newspaper Kurier.
Even though she was a beautiful little girl, the bullies at school were relentless. They called her “monster,” “alien,” or “pig nose” and never wanted to play with her.
“As a child, I often had eye infections because my tear duct was not developed, and headaches because my paranasal sinuses were very sensitive to moisture,” Ilka recounts.
“But I was always able to live with these symptoms.”
She didn’t want photos of herself at home
She added, “My parents always made me feel that I was fine as I am. As a child, I could confidently counter stupid expressions or looks. Nevertheless, the question arose during puberty: ‘If I’m supposed to be so normal, why don’t I see people like me everywhere?'”
Ilka even intentionally made funny faces in photos so that her parents wouldn’t hang them up at home.
“It was my avoidance strategy,” she says. “If I make the photos look so silly that my mother doesn’t hang them up, then I don’t have to see them either.”
When Ilka became a teenager, she developed even more self-doubt. Not only because of what she heard at school but also through television advertisements. Companies were constantly airing ads that gave people social ideas of what beauty was, she recalls, and Ilka felt like she was nowhere to be represented. As a result, the young girl felt ashamed to show her face, claiming that it was even more shameful than being seen naked.
Although she heard a lot of mean things at school, she refused to let anyone pressure her. Ilka was an excellent student and had the best grades in her year.
“It was like a kind of double life,” she remembers.
Everything changed before the photoshoot
Due to her lack of self-esteem and confidence, Ilka struggled to make friends.
She underwent ten operations, and although she found it difficult to accept herself, things eventually improved. She realized she was no less valuable than anyone else and quickly transformed into a confident woman who wanted to be an inspiration for others.
Everything changed in 2014, as she headed to her first photoshoot.
“On the way to [the photographer], I was about to turn back several times because I was so terrified at the thought that she would make fun of me when she saw me in real life,” she wrote, as reported by Insider.
“Being in front of the camera made me understand that every flaw and every mistake is a part of you, and that’s okay. You just have to make the best of it,” she added.
At the age of 20, Ilka underwent a nose correction surgery. It was primarily for medical reasons, but until the operation, Ilka believed that this intervention would finally give her the courage to love herself.
After the operation, however, things took a different turn.
“If you accept yourself, then you can shine from the inside.”
“As soon as the wounds had healed, I noticed the next spot. At that moment, I understood: Beauty cannot be created on the operating table,” Ilka told BILD.
“For me, [beauty] is only a matter of appearance. If you accept yourself, then you can shine from the inside, and that’s more delightful than the most perfect person who doesn’t love themselves.”
Instead of undergoing further surgeries, Ilka realized there were other things she could do instead of changing her appearance. It wasn’t about others seeing her as “normal” but rather about learning to accept herself better.
“I approached people more openly, and I learned to love myself. And I noticed: Others are not withdrawing from me at all; I am withdrawing from them!”
Ilka knew she looked “different,” but it was nothing negative. On the contrary, she wanted to embrace her differences. The German-born woman realized she could help others accept themselves as they are and wanted to provide insights into her life and struggles.
Brühl thus launched a podcast on how she manages her lack of self-confidence. She also gives advice on how one can love themselves more. She even published her book, “Differently Beautiful – How I Learned to Love Myself.”
Back in 2018, she launched the Project Grenzenlos, which can be translated as Project Limitless, with a few friends. The goal of the campaign is to highlight the beauty of those living with malformations and other differences. For Ilka Brühl, this aligns with her perception of beauty.
Ilka Brühl today – photos
Today, on Instagram, she wrote, “I think EVERYONE is beautiful in their own way. I often read comments like ‘You’re not pretty just because you’re different,’ [and] that’s totally true! I am pretty because EVERYONE is pretty. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a classic beauty, tall, short, curvy, thin, black, white.”
Ilka shares her story, as well as glimpses of her life, on her blog and on Instagram. Recently, she has worked on a children’s book, and on a few occasions, she has shared pictures of herself as a child.
“I decided to show a picture of myself as a baby. Because my ‘flaw’ is more visible there. Also, I receive many direct messages with the question of why I look like I do,” she wrote.
“At first, I hesitated because some of you think it’s too much. But that’s wrong; it should be as normal as any other baby pictures.”
She added in a Facebook post, “Anyone who knows me can confirm that this is really important to me, and I want to help others. I want to assist those with imperfections, as well as parents of babies who fear their child won’t be accepted in the world.”
Furthermore, after the launch of Project Grenzenlos in 2018, Ilka has increasingly engaged in modeling work – and she looks truly fantastic!
Today, Ilka has become a significant role model for many. Her journey is highly inspiring, and through her social media, people worldwide have the opportunity to be part of her daily life. As of now, she has over 33,000 followers on Instagram.
She has found love with her beloved Philip
Ilka has not only become a role model for others, but she has also embraced her own appearance. She has also found the love of her life.
Last year, she and her new husband Philip got married. And they look so happy together!
Ilka shared a photo of herself on Instagram wearing her wedding dress.
“The wedding itself was indescribably beautiful for me. When I woke up the next day, I couldn’t believe how well everything went,” Ilka wrote.
“The weather was sunny, everyone was in a good mood, and my husband (I still want to say friend) was so beautiful. I was so moved and shed so many tears. Loving someone this much is a great privilege, and I am infinitely grateful. I am so excited about everything to come. I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to call such a wonderful person my husband now.”
Nobody is perfect. But even if some people look “different” or have a disability, we should always treat each other with respect.
Ilka Brühl is an inspiration to others, and her story deserves recognition, especially because it can help people. Please share this article with your friends and family on Facebook to pay tribute to Ilka Brühl.