"I had such severe depression that doctors told me my mental health was as bad as a soldier suffering from PTSD," she said, addressing the bullying she faced as a child.
Even though her face can't express her happiness, Tayla Clement, also known as The Girl Who Can't Smile, is glowing with enormous joy.
The 24-year-old from New Zealand is living her "best life" after signing an international modeling contract. This will allow her to inspire others and share her story as one of a small group of people in the world with a rare condition called moebius disorder, according to PEOPLE.
This disorder affects just 1 in 4 million people and is a congenital condition where the facial nerves are underdeveloped. In Clement's case, that means "my eyebrows don't move, my eyes don't track from left to right and my upper lip doesn't move, which means I can't smile, hence the name 'the girl who can't smile,' " she told ABC News.
To be different from her peers meant she had a hard time growing up being severely bullied as a child. "People would bring plastic bags to school and tell me to put them over my head because I was so ugly they didn't want to see me, and I didn't deserve to be seen," she said. "I think when you grow up being told that you're ugly and you're worthless you believe it because you don't know anything else."
In a bid to help her smile, Clement underwent surgery at the age of 12 in which tissue was moved from her thigh to the corners of her mouth. But after 12 months of recovery, doctors were unable to wake up the nerves in her face and nothing changed, she told 7 News in Australia.
"I thought the surgery would solve all my issues because I was bullied so much," she said. "But it didn't."
The bullying kept getting worse, and by the age of 17, Clement started having up to 10 seizures a day, which doctors determined were dissociative seizures caused as a result of severe traumatic stress.
"I had such severe depression that doctors told me my mental health was as bad as a soldier suffering from PTSD," she said.
But soon after graduation, Clement tried her best to turn her life around and build self-confidence, in part through joining a gym and starting meditation. And now, she's going to have the opportunity to inspire others as a model with Zebedee Talent.
"I love being able to help others and empower others," she added. "It lights me up so much, and if I could smile it's like the biggest smile on my face when I talk about it because it truly lights me up so much," she shared.
Clement hopes to be the role model for others that she didn't have as a child. "I had no one to see in movies or in the media or on the front of magazines, and so I felt really worthless and not accepted because I didn't see myself anywhere," she said. Now, "to be so openly accepted and wanted, it just felt so amazing."
"It makes me kind of emotional, but I'm just so glad that it was me that went through everything because I get to inspire people and help people — it just makes me so happy.
Cover Image Source: Instagram | @taylaclement (The Girl Who Can't Smile)