One resilient woman used her unique face to make others smile and her bullies frown.

It’s said that a smile is just an upside-down frown, but for Tayla Clement of New Zealand, her frown was a permanent nightmare.

That’s because she has Moebius syndrome, a rare condition affecting muscles that control facial expressions and eye movement. She literally can’t smile or raise her eyebrows.

According to 7 news, that made her constant prey for bullies, who would call her names and push her down hills. “I constantly felt alone and like an outcast, unaccepted, not seen or heard,” Clement recalled.

Yet there seemed to be hope when, at age 11, she had ‘smile surgery’ to ignite the nerves in her face. Sadly, it would only bring her more pain.

How Bullying Almost Cost a Girl Her Life

girl with a cardboard box on her head
Photo by Ryanniel Masucol

The surgery wasn’t just unsuccessful, it was a disaster. “I looked so horrible that nurses and my parents wouldn’t let me look in the mirror for a week and a half after the surgery,” said Clement.

It took Clement a year to recover from the operation. However the moment she stepped back into school, the bullies smelled blood and pounced. They put plastic bags over her head and kicked her to the ground.

She told PEOPLE that it was torture. “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,” she said.

At her lowest point, the trauma caused her to suffer 10 seizures a day and she tried taking her life 6 times. To add to her hopelessness, specialists told her that her condition was so severe, she most likely would never make a full recovery.

It was at her lowest point that the girl with no smile made her bullies frown.

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It’s hard to say exactly what cliché best describes what happened to Clement after high school. A switch flipped. A light went on. A moment of introspection. Even Clement was at a loss, saying, “I don’t know how I don’t know why, but I just did.” Whatever it was, all bets were off.

From that moment, Clement used her newfound motivation to start embracing her unique self instead of wishing she was different. With renewed self-esteem, she also practiced self-care by going to the gym and meditating.

Her biggest — and bravest — symbol of self-love was in creating her personalized Instagram page called ‘The Girl Who Can’t Smile.’ With the tagline “Inspiring the change I needed to see in the world,” she has 30,000 inspired followers from around the world.

In her most recent Instagram post, she announced that she is venturing into content creation for rugby and motorsports. You can follow her on TikTok, @taytalkssport.

Clement was then signed by modeling agency Zebedee Talent. No longer hiding from view, she’ll now rock runways.

How One Girl Proved That You Can’t Judge a Heart by Its Cover

"love yourself" on a black background surrounded by red flowers
Photo by Annie Spratt

Smile or not, Clement said that she’s beaming to be the face of inspiration for others like her.

“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 said.

Let me offer another word to describe what happened to Clement after high school: Fed up. Not just fed up with bullying, fed up feeling less-than. Fed up with comparing herself to others and feeling empty. Fed up with spiting her own life.

One thing’s for sure: Whatever force woke up Tayla Clement that day was lying dormant in her all along. Indeed, it’s buried, bubbling in all of us, often under hurt, insecurity and self-doubt. It’s right there if only, like Clement, you stop comparing yourself and look within.

Let this be a lesson to not only never underestimate someone’s heart, but to never sell our own short either. Now that’s something to smile about.