tayla clement/instagram Tayla Clement
Tayla Clement may be the "girl who can't smile," but she's glowing with happiness.
The 24-year-old from New Zealand is living her "best life" after signing an international modeling contract, which 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 call moebius disorder.
The disorder, which affects just 1 in 4 million people, 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.
That made growing up difficult, and Clement was 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."
At age 12, Clement underwent a surgery that was intended to help her smile by moving tissue 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."
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The bullying continued through Clement's school years, and by age 17 she started having up to 10 seizures a day, which doctors determined were dissociative seizures brought on by 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.
Clement said that over the next few years, after graduating, she was able to build self-confidence, in part through joining a gym and starting mediation. 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 told ABC News
And 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."