‘My first experience with visiting beauty counters in stores was disastrous’ (Picture: Avon) What do scars represent to you? Today, my scars are a beautiful reminder of something I have survived, a map of my battle. But falling in love with each mark on my skin has been a long, difficult journey that began after waking up in a hospital bed in 2013. At 19 years old, I was involved in a coach crash and my whole life was turned upside down. Getting caught in the fire of the vehicle, I was left with 96 per cent of my body burned and fighting for survival. After 200 operations and many years of hard work and rehabilitation, I have overcome and accepted the physical effects of the accident. But the scars are a daily reminder that I am and will always be different. When I was receiving treatment for my burns in the hospital, I would read magazines to pass the time but never saw anyone who looked like me, just adverts that sold a very narrow view of ‘beauty’. My first experience with visiting beauty counters in stores was disastrous. I remember one particular trip with my mum, when I approached a beauty consultant for advice. The whole time we spoke she totally ignored me and addressed all her comments to my mum – it was as though I didn’t exist. The other assumption she made was that I wanted to cover up my scars, which was not the case at all. I began using my social media as an outlet to prove that you can live a happy, positive and fulfilling life with your scars proudly on show, despite what society says. I wanted to be treated as any other 20-year-old who wants to have fun with makeup and beauty products. We left the store quickly as it became clear she just didn’t know how to advise someone who looked like me. It was after this experience that I started to turn to social media influencers and YouTubers for advice on skincare and beauty instead. I would order products online so that I could play around with different looks at home and my confidence and self-esteem slowly grew. ‘This narrow perception of beauty represented by brands is completely unrealistic; these are industries that should be empowering women and making us feel excited to express ourselves’ (Picture: Avon) Once I knew what I liked, I felt confident to go into stores and chat to shop assistants. That confidence helped; they felt more at ease and understood that I wanted to express – to enhance my scars rather than hide them – so it was a better experience. Yet images around me of people looking ‘perfect’ still made it hard to feel beautiful. When I looked to popular culture, television and adverts for role models, all I could find were representations of women and beauty that were unrealistic and definitely unattainable for someone like me with a visible difference. I had lost so much of my old identity, including my appearance, and it only made me feel more isolated. This narrow perception of beauty represented by brands is completely unrealistic; these are industries that should be empowering women and making us feel excited to express ourselves. So, one day, I made the decision that this needs to change. I began using my social media as an outlet to prove that you can live a happy, positive and fulfilling life with your scars proudly on show, despite what society says. Meeting other people with visible differences online and through the charity Changing Faces made me realise that many other women and men have had similar experiences to mine. They too felt they were being encouraged to hide away, rather than celebrate their scars or skin conditions. Real beauty is being proud of who you are and having the confidence to express whoever that is. We need more brands to understand this and include models with all kinds of differences in their adverts and campaigns.
When people talk to me about who my role models are, they always mention the amazing Katie Piper and Winnie Harlow as an example. While this is great, I look forward to the day when they can’t name just one or two, but have a whole range of diverse role models to choose from. For people with a visible difference, the beauty counter can be such an intimidating place to go, because most brands champion traditional ideals. I would like to see better training for people working in shops or stores so that when they are approached for advice by someone like me, they take the time to listen and understand what they want – just as they would for anyone else.