My scars made me feel I'd never deserve respect
I am a disabled, queer woman with a catalogue of chronic conditions, and I am beautifully scarred.
I have had hundreds of different labels thrown at me, but it took a long time for any of them to truly stick. Sick, crazy, damaged, scarred, freak, disabled – each had its own venom and felt like a punch to the gut.
By allowing others to label me, I became trapped in a box and the only logical answer was to start colouring outside the lines, so I threw the stereotypes out the window and refused to be defined by society’s narrow view of disabilities and visible differences.
A myriad of ailments wreak havoc with my body daily, but a rare autoimmune condition called scleroderma is responsible for my most visible difference.
The condition has torn a scarred path across my torso and back, and significantly impacts my body.
For years, believing that people would judge me for my scars and my disability, I hid them from the world and myself.
As a teenager, I stopped looking at my skin entirely and, after a traumatising experience on a beach where a mass of strangers stared and commented on my ‘car crash’ scars, I swore never to wear swimwear again.
By refusing to face my condition, I paid a heavy price.
My relationship with my body broke down, I exacerbated my mobility problems and, because I was unwilling to check my skin or my symptoms, I missed flare-ups of my condition, which delayed important treatment.
My self-esteem also suffered, especially when it came to romantic relationships.
I firmly believed that no one would ever want to touch my scars and, if they did, I let them overstep my boundaries because I was just grateful that someone saw past my ‘disfigurement’.
I mistakenly thought my self-respect was a worthy sacrifice for attention.
The worst occasion of this happened when I broke down in the middle of a one-night stand, unable to bear the person seeing my scars, and they brushed past it without a word.
Afterwards, my self-worth plummeted; I was convinced that being disabled and scarred would scare off romantic partners for good.
This was reinforced on several occasions when partners would refuse to acknowledge my scars or encouraged me to cover up. I became convinced that only unscarred and able bodies could earn respect from people.
Eventually, I forced myself to examine the damage I had done to myself and my body and started the arduous journey to actually loving myself, and my labels.
It kicked off when I made the decision to get involved in awareness work. I took part in a body positivity march organised by mental health campaigner and writer, Natasha Devon, and became a champion for Changing Faces.
Suddenly I found myself strutting down Carnaby Street in swimwear and the first layers of self-loathing began to fall away.
I eventually learned to see my body objectively and to appreciate all its scarred and disabled glory.
Now I share my story in the hopes that other people will embrace their differences and harness the power of labels.
More than anything, I hope to see a future where visible differences are no longer hidden and are not a cause of shame. Where disabled people can date without fear of judgement.
But to get there, we have to learn to use labels to form connections, instead of letting them divide us.
Our labels should be a handshake, open and ready to be accepted by anyone we meet.
I am a rainbow of labels. Who are you?
Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different. If you or a loved one have a visible difference and need some advice or support, call 0345 450 0275 or visit the charity’s website for more information.
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