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'Game of Thrones' Actress Emilia Clarke Says She Felt 'Unattractive' After Her Brain Surgery

Since revealing in March that she’s experienced two brain aneurysms, “Game of Thrones” actress Emilia Clarke has been open about how the experience affected her, both physically and emotionally. On Tuesday, Clarke shared in an interview with Stylist that her confidence also took a hit, as changes in her appearance caused her to feel “deeply unattractive.”

Clarke’s first aneurysm occurred after she finished filming the first season of “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series in which she plays Daenerys Targaryen, the “Mother of Dragons.” She experienced a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke caused by bleeding into the space around the brain.

Clarke had surgery to stop the bleeding and seal off the aneurysm, and though it was successful, doctors found another small aneurysm on the other side of her brain. This second aneurysm didn’t warrant surgery until doctors discovered it had doubled in size nearly two years later. However, a massive bleed in Clarke’s brain during the operation necessitated an even more invasive procedure.

“The second one – there was a bit of my brain that actually died,” Clarke explained in an interview with CBS Sunday Morning. “If a part of your brain doesn’t get blood to it for a minute, it will just no longer work. It’s like you’ll short-circuit. So I had that.”

During her recovery period in the hospital, Clarke struggled to stay optimistic.

Though she was most concerned about the long-term effects of the surgery, she struggled with her appearance as well. The surgery had left her with a drain coming out of her head, titanium in her skull and a scar from her ear to her scalp. Recovery brought on an additional set of challenges.

“I was so full of drugs from being in the hospital that I had a lot of water retention, and one half of my face was quite swollen,” Clarke told Stylist. “I felt so deeply unattractive. What I can see now is that I could see the pain behind my eyes. And no amount of anything can cover that.”

Emilia Clarke in the hospital for surgery after brain aneurysm
via CBS

For many people with chronic illness or health conditions, changes in appearance are common – whether they’re the result of medication, surgery or the condition itself. It can be tough to watch your body undergo changes, especially when you feel like you don’t have control over what’s happening.

“After my operations, I didn’t want to look at my own face,” Clarke added. “I don’t normally, but all my emotions were heightened.”

If you’ve struggled with a changing appearance, know you’re not alone, and your feelings are valid. Mighty contributor Alex Compton shared the following reminder in her essay, “I Never Thought Much About My Appearance – Until Illness Caused It to Change“:

Every day, I am fighting an invisible war within myself, and every day I have survived it; these changes in my body are proof of this. I shouldn’t be ashamed of how I look because of the battles I face, I should be proud. If anything, they are a badge of honor and I should not be worried about what others might think. … The beauty of my body is enhanced by its changes and, as it continues to transform, it will become even more magnificent.

Clarke has since made a full recovery, but continues to help others facing similar health challenges. In conjunction with several partner organizations, she developed a charity called SameYou that aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.

Though Clarke’s appearance hasn’t changed much over the years, she said her feelings about her appearance have. “[Now] I always err on the side of wearing less make-up,” she said. “When you can look at yourself in the eyes and feel OK with what’s looking back at you, then what more do you need?”

To read more about changes in appearance due to chronic illness, check out the following stories from our community:

Image via Creative Commons/El Grillo Amarillo