Born with Clubfoot, Bullied and Assaulted Chloe Howard’s Confidence is Helping Others Stand Beautiful
Born with a debilitating foot deformity and undergoing her first surgery at a mere six months old, Chloe Howard has a courageous story about embracing physical differences. She went on to have five major surgeries by the time she was fifteen, but her parents kept reminding her she was beautifully and wonderfully made. It wasn’t until as a freshman in high school when she was not only bullied, but became a victim of assault when her peers pinned her down and exposed her foot against her will, that the way she felt about her clubfoot, and herself shifted.
Ironically, or divinely, it was Bono, the lead singer of the band U2, that inspired her after hearing her story, to find her voice and use it for those who have none. Howard took this to heart and has since authored, Stand Beautiful: A Story of Brokenness, Beauty & Embracing It All, as well as a picture book titled, Stand Beautiful. Howard talks with Risen about being bullied, meeting Bono, and her books to create a movement to STAND Beautiful.
Interviewed exclusively for Risen Magazine
Risen Magazine: Start off by telling us a little bit about your family, and upbringing, including your birth with one clubfoot. Also share how the Lord had his hand over your family during your mom’s pregnancy and your birth.
Chloe Howard: I wasn’t necessarily supposed to be born alive. The doctor saw a hole in my heart on the ultrasound just four months before I was due, and assumed I would have Trisomy 13 and would most likely be stillborn. My parents were advised to have an abortion, and instead they asked people all around the world to pray for me. When I was born in April of 2000 – happy, healthy and healed – doctors were surprised and confused. I was considered a miracle.
I was, however, born with a severe clubfoot and only three toenails total. I have had many painful surgeries to fix my special foot, but grew up seeing it as just that – special. Because of my parent’s faith (which I soon adopted and made my own), I grew up believing that my foot was beautiful because God made it just for me. I believed I was not an accident or mistake, but that there was incredible purpose behind my existence. I loved my foot and my growing collection of scars, and I loved Jesus. I trusted His plan for my life.
I was laying there in the hospital bed, and felt completely and fully alone in my pain. It was the first time I ever questioned if God was for me, and I knew in the terrifying isolation of that moment that I never wanted to have those thoughts again.
RM: You had your first surgery at six months and would go on to have five before the age of fifteen. How did you view what you were going through and what was your faith like at the time?
CH: Surgery was hard and scary, and a confusing thing to process at such a young age. It seemed like they were always imminent, and I have memories of laying in my bed the night before a surgery and not being in pain, consciously aware that in forty-eight hours I would be back in my bed and completely covered in pain. The first time I doubted God happened when I was in fourth grade, the night following my surgery. I was laying there in the hospital bed, and felt completely and fully alone in my pain. It was the first time I ever questioned if God was for me, and I knew in the terrifying isolation of that moment that I never wanted to have those thoughts again.
RM: It was the beginning of high school when everything changed for you. I found it interesting you were debating between a solid public school, or a private Christian school and you chose the latter. It was there that a group of girls not only bullied you, but assaulted you. Would you walk us through the incident?
CH: Yes, I decided to attend the Christian school instead of the public school. I made that decision because it felt so right; I got in, I was excited, and I selfishly wanted to be surrounded by people exactly like me who loved Jesus and weren’t afraid to talk about it. And then, in November of 2014, when that group of girls assaulted me, my world came crashing down. It didn’t feel right and it didn’t make sense, and I didn’t understand how or why God would have called me to attend a school that would completely break me. At lunch one day I was restrained, and without my consent, my shoe and sock were ripped off to expose my deformed foot to a group of my peers. I froze. Hot shame washed over me, and for the first time in my life I felt ashamed of the very thing I’d always been told made me special.
RM: Later when you talked with your parents about it, they wondered why you didn’t fight back and were angry on your behalf. You had mentioned in your book that you hadn’t gotten to the anger stage yet, you were still processing. It’s hard to understand unless you’ve been in that situation, but many have, and unfortunately many encounter bullying. What advice do you have when it comes to processing and healing?
CH: First and foremost, make sure to give yourself the time you need to heal. Forgiveness is, I believe, the most divine thing we, as humans can do, but it’s so hard. Take your time. Don’t rush it, because when you forgive not for yourself but for others, you risk hardening your heart. Forgive – on your own time – but don’t forget.
And to both those that are being bullied and the bullies themselves: only you have the power to determine what your labels are. If you’re being bullied, you aren’t stuck as the victim. You are strong and powerful, and your voice matters. Believe you were made with purpose, and rise above the pain that’s trying so hard to weigh you down. If you’re the bully, you aren’t stuck with that label. You’re more than that. You’re not “the bad guy”. Hurt people hurt people, and I see you and your pain. Choose to speak out, get help, fight the social pressure that says you have to make others broken to numb your own brokenness. Believe this truth: you are special. You matter.
RM: I love everything about your meeting with U2’s Bono. Share about your experience meeting the singer and why not only was the conversation powerful and divine, but how you could see God in the details of the gift you received too.
CH: My dad won a contest (which was hilarious, because we’re a family that never wins anything), and he and I were flown to Denver for the chance to meet Bono. I had been working up the courage to tell him about my clubfoot and my assault, and after I told him, he looked at me intently and he said, “Chloe! What happened to you is an injustice. And when you speak out, and tell your story, you speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.” He also said to me, “In my family we have a prayer. And whether we say it in the kitchen, or in the pub, we pray to make ourselves available for work. Because when we let God work in and through and around us, His plan for our lives washes over us.”
I also told Bono that his song – the (RED) single Invisible, really spoke to me and reminded me in the really hard time after my assault that I was, in no way, invisible. Part of the contest was being gifted one of Bono’s guitars, and we asked him when the last time he played it was. He wasn’t sure, but told us he’d find out and let us know. A couple weeks later my dad got an email from Bono’s people. It said the red Gretsch guitar that now sat in my bedroom was attributed to a recording session in Dublin where Bono was writing the lyrics to the song that ultimately became Invisible. If that isn’t God, then I don’t know what is.
RM: And that wasn’t your only interaction with Bono, he even drew you a picture for encouragement before you would go on to be one of the youngest speakers to give a TEDx talk. What did that mean to you?
CH: Bono sent me a drawing of what looked like me, and over it wrote the words, “Chloe – your head and heart are a perfect rhyme. Your fan, Bono.” And getting that a week before my 2016 TEDx talk was a big deal. I felt seen and affirmed in everything I was going through, especially with the craziness of TEDx preparations.
RM: You got the opportunity to go on a multi-country tour with the organization CURE International. How did you get connected with CURE and what was your experience like traveling and meeting other children with clubfoot?
CH: Traveling with CURE was amazing and one hundred percent life-changing. The opportunity, when observed objectively, was incredibly random and relatively insane. All of a sudden it was a reality out of nowhere, and I don’t think I fully recognized it at the time, but traveling with CURE was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
I had the opportunity to share my story and Stand Beautiful message of self-acceptance, love, and hope with children who have clubfeet in Central America, Kenya, and New Delhi, India. Being able to share the truth that these kids who’ve been told all their lives they are broken, aren’t actually broken, but beautiful. Watching the stories of pain these children felt trapped in be rewritten by Jesus over and over again…it was a summer of miracles.
Hot shame washed over me, and for the first time in my life I felt ashamed of the very thing I’d always been told made me special.
RM: You’ve written your story in a book Stand Beautiful, and also authored a children’s book with the same name. What went into the decision to share through these formats?
CH: I’ve always been a big reader, so when Zondervan approached me with a two-book deal, I was honored! What excited me most about publishing my story is the hope that no one would have to feel as alone in what they were going through as I did after my assault. Although I was surrounded by an incredible group of family and friends, I felt extremely isolated in what I was going through. To have had a book available, published by a girl around my age, with a story similar to mine, would have changed everything for me. I want that for young people everywhere. I want them to know that they are not, and have never been, alone.
RM: What do you hope to accomplish through the Stand Beautiful movement?
CH: I want people everywhere to rise up in powerful confidence. I want people to be so loud and passionate about how much they love themselves that they disrupt the current apathetic generation. I want the Stand Beautiful movement and the truth that fuels it to become the anthem of people everywhere. It’s only when we believe we are strong and powerful and worthy that we act confidently enough to illicit change.
RM: God has created us all unique and for a specific purpose. What encouragement can you share when it comes to embracing differences and developing passions.
CH: Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart. I’ve appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” There is so much relevant truth in this verse. God knew us before we were known. Before we even took our first breath, He was already using us for His glory. Last summer I got the word “beautiful” tattooed on my deformed foot, and now, whenever I look down at my clubfoot, all I see is beauty. I’m reminded of God’s purpose, God’s plan, and God’s overwhelming love. Accepting yourself means acknowledging just that; the reality that God made you just the way He wanted you to be made; that our bodies are purposeful and hand-crafted proclamations of praise. And I get that “accept yourself” is a rather large and daunting task to try and achieve, so you just take it day by day. You have to -seeing yourself the way God sees you is a constant battle against our unforgiving society. Wake up every morning and choose to believe the truth that you are beautiful just the way you are. God didn’t make us to be perfect; He made us perfectly.
RM: You are currently in college. What are you studying or where do you see your future heading?
CH: Yes, I’m in college!! A few weeks into my freshman year and loving it. I’m a communications major, and I don’t know exactly what the future holds, but I have one hundred percnet faith that God’s got me. I trust that He has a plan for my future and that it’s good. I want to keep traveling around the world and spreading the Stand Beautiful message, and I don’t fully know what that looks like, but I believe everything will work out in the end. I’m so, so excited to see what God has planned.
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