Ilka Brühl is a 26-year-old model from Germany who was born with a facial cleft. That means her nasal airways were not properly formed while in the womb and she is also missing a right tear duct.
Despite the challenges she’s faced — including harsh criticism of her appearance and numerous operations — she’s always maintained a confident, sunny disposition.
Today is that kind of winter day I love Cold but sunny – can't get enough from that. Everything is better when the sun shines. And I have 25 new books, so how could this day be better? Photo: @alexjurban (analogue photographer) Model: Me — #rsa_portraits #photoshooting #majestic_people #earth_portraits #photooftheday #ig_portrait #ig_muse #fotodome #sun #everybodyisbeautiful #bookworm
A post shared by Ilka Brühl (@ilkabruehl) on Dec 5, 2016 at 6:41am PST
Recently, as part of a project started by two of her friends, Brühl opened up about her story. Projekt Grenzenlos translates to Project Limitless and is a campaign to highlight the beauty of those living with deformities and differences. For Brühl, this project aligns perfectly with her own perception of beauty.
“I think EVERYBODY is beautiful in his own way,” she wrote on Instagram. “I often read comments like ‘You are not pretty just because you’re different,’ [and] that’s totally right! I am pretty because EVERYBODY is pretty. Never mind if you are a classic beauty, tall, small, stout, thin, black, white.”
I think EVERYBODY is beautiful in her or his own way. Never mind if you are a classic beauty, tall, small, stout, thin, black, white,… Except mean people, but that's another story. I read many mean comments in the last days about people like me. Don't worry they don't hurt me , I swear. But I know that other persons, who can't only laugh about such nonsense get them too. And that's the point where I get really really angry. So I will never stop to remind the world that EVERYONE is beautiful! Therefore I decided to show a baby photo of me. Because you see my "defect" there better. Furthermore I get many direct messages with the question why I look like I do. At first I hesitated to show this because some of you think that's too much. But that is wrong, it should be as normal as every other baby picture. So you see I have to remind myself too at times. And I won't stop until more people think like me. I had a facial cleft. In my own simple words it means that when my mum was pregnant, she got ill and that influenced the devoloping of my face. 1 of 1000 people have this. It's quite common. The small tubes in my nose were there because my airways were overgrown. So the first few month I lived in the hospital until it was sure that I breathe on my own. After ten operations I was looking like today. But that's nothing I'm proud of because I only remember the last three. I am proud of my parents who helped me through this. #everyoneisbeautiful
A post shared by Ilka Brühl (@ilkabruehl) on Jul 30, 2016 at 8:58am PDT
Brühl’s caption accompanies a photo of the model when she was first born. After undergoing 10 operations on her face, her appearance has changed quite dramatically — but the model still wants to change the way people view deformities.
“I decided to show a baby photo of me. Because you see my ‘defect’ there better. Furthermore I get many direct messages with the question why I look like I do. At first I hesitated because some of you think that’s too much. But that is wrong, it should be as normal as every other baby picture,” wrote Brühl. “Everyone who knows me can confirm that it is really important for me and that I want to help others. Want to help the ones with some defects, as well as the parents of babies who are afraid if their child will be accepted in the world.”
More black and white freckles love today. Don't you see the joy about the freckles in my face? Photo: @analora_photoart Model: Me #belgiumgathering15 #blackandwhiteisworththefight #earth_portraits #rsa_portraits #vscocam #freckles
A post shared by Ilka Brühl (@ilkabruehl) on May 28, 2016 at 10:38am PDT
Her post resonated with her follows, with many commenting that they hope society will eventually adopt her all-encompassing beauty standards.
“You have a very beautiful soul! Never allow the outside world to define who you are. We are all beautiful in our own way, society has been ignorant to the fact of what beautiful is…” commented one follower. “Life is so very precious, we are all here for a purpose and reason let’s learn to love each other, and the world will be a better place.”
“Real beauty is too rare these days. Keep up the good work,” added another.
Brühl told Projekt Grenzelos she started modelling two years ago for a couple of her friends. Due to her images being so well-received, she decided to continue posing for photos, and further opening up the conversation around appearance.
“There was so much positive feedback, that I got more and more courage to show myself as I am. Pure and unaffected,” she said.
War ein toller Abend beim WDR im Kölner Treff. Hier mit @christiane_stenger . Auch wenn ich seeehr schnell geredet habe, upsi. War wohl doch nervöser als gedacht. Danke an die lieben Nachrichten, die mich gerade erreichen. Ich werde jetzt erstmal schlafen und morgen antworten. Gute Nacht
A post shared by Ilka Brühl (@ilkabruehl) on Apr 20, 2018 at 2:50pm PDT
Forever an optimist, Brühl is continuing the conversation through various projects, whether she’s posing for the camera or raising awareness through public broadcasting initiatives in Germany.
According to her, there is only one way to be truly unattractive.
“There is only one way to be ugly: by having an ugly character,” she said. “No one has to hide because of their appearance!”