My scars: journey to body acceptance

My accidental fall into boiling water happened at home, when I was three. I ended up in hospital on life support. Many operations followed.

Sylvia Mac is a child burns survivor who wants to tell you about her story - finding body acceptance with her scars.

** Trigger warning: this story mentions abuse and suicidal thoughts **

The pain from the societal pressure of the 'perfect body'

Growing up in a society where we’re supposed to have perfect bodies left me screaming inside. No matter how much family support I got, I could never love or appreciate my body and all the pain it was going through.

When I hit my teens, one thing that stood out to me was body image and looking beautiful. My school friends spent most of their time grooming themselves in front of the mirror - and then there were the glossy magazines with their images of flawless people.

I overheard my mother’s friends say ‘thank God it’s not on her face’ – words that I converted into: ‘the scars on her body are ugly and she is, too’.

Anxiety around the doctors appointments about my scars

The doctors meanwhile told my mother that I should stay covered up from the sun. As most burn victims - or survivors – know, that means all year round.

Then there were all the hospital visits where student doctors inspected my scarring. Uncovering in front of a bunch of strangers really affected my mental health. As I went into adulthood, I was more and more anxious.

Toxic relationships and turning to alcohol to cope

Often I had panic attacks, believing everyone knew I was burned. And I attracted undesirables who took my insecurities for granted, so I let myself be abused physically, sexually and emotionally. I hit rock bottom, drinking copious amounts of alcohol daily.

Love couldn't fix years of self-hate

Then I met someone who fell in love with me and didn’t worry about my scars. We went on to have children together.

But no amount of love could undo years of self-hate. I was drinking heavily and often turning up at my children’s school intoxicated. Each day was different - I would be happy and attacking everyone one day, then thinking about how I could end it all.

I found myself trapped in a bubble of self-conscious thoughts and low self-esteem, lacking confidence in everything from school and work to relationships and society. On top of this, I had lifelong physical pain.

In 2016 my grandson was born but I was still locking myself in my bedroom and crying every day. My GP suggested I try counselling but unfortunately it didn’t work for me.

I could not find any support for disfigurement of the body

I began to research severe disfigurement of the body but each time I found information about facial disfigurement’. It was impossible to understand why, after I had almost lost my life twice and suffered 3rd/4th degree burns to my body, body disfigurement wasn’t acknowledged. I understood how difficult it was for a person with facial difference to deal with it every day but also knew that I was suffering.

At age 48 I started my own journey to body acceptance

Then in summer 2016, I was on holiday with my mother and noticed someone filming me. I dropped my sarong from my shoulders, leaving my scarring on display. We left the pool for the beach, where my mother asked about my scars and I realised she would have suffered PTSD, guilt and so much more.

I took the moment to help change her life by strutting to the water’s edge and uncovering my scars. I was 48. That was the beginning of my Love Disfigure journey to body acceptance and supporting others to come to terms with their visible or hidden differences.

I shared an online video reveal and spoke about what I had endured and also set up a Facebook group encouraging people whose faces and/or bodies look different to embrace the way they look. I don’t want anyone to endure years of depression and suicidal thoughts, as I did.

I was receiving messages from people all over the world 

It wasn’t long until I got messages from around the world. I was even more surprised to hear from people who had conditions including bipolar, depression and even stretchmarks, who wanted to become involved.

Now is the time for us to become more diverse and inclusive

I now campaign for more diversity within the fashion, TV and film industries and above all across society. Now is the time for us all to become more diverse and inclusive.

It might have taken a lifetime to get here but it’s all been worth it to help others. We are all survivors and should be proud of our bodies and how amazing they are, regardless of the way they look.

Sylvia Mac is the founder of Love Disfigure:

Good Thinking works with Sylvia and others who manage online communities to support the needs members and promote their own mental health. [email protected]

Practical tips to improve how you think and feel about your body

  1. If you see an advert in a magazine, on television, or online that you think presents an unhealthy body image as aspirational, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Read all 7 tips