Home » Health » Scarred women refuse to cover up for beach – insisting "we’re bikini beautiful"

Scarred women refuse to cover up for beach – insisting "we’re bikini beautiful"

With this heatwave kickstarting summer, many of us will be ­frantically trying to tone our ­wobbly bits and slapping on the fake tan, ready to slip into that bikini.

But for some it is an almost impossible prospect.

Sylvia Mac has spent the last 45 years desperately covering herself up, after suffering severe third and fourth-degree burns during a ­childhood accident.

Now 49, she says the relentless, hurtful comments and stares from strangers left her considering suicide.

“I didn’t realise how bad my mental health was, I thought this was just a physical thing,” she says.

But in July 2015, Sylvia was on holiday with her mum when she sensed a man had started filming her around the pool.

Her mum looked so sad that someone could film her daughter’s scars like that, it made Sylvia embrace her body more.

She then decided to help others stop hiding in the shadows and be proud of their bodies.

Last year, she set up the Love Disfigure Facebook campaign group, running swimming sessions for people who might ­otherwise never swim because of how they felt about their bodies.

Since then she has met dozens of women who have learnt to love ­themselves again and they even agreed to pose in swimwear to show how far they’ve come.

“We’ve all been to some very dark places, but together we’re strong. We’re proud of our scars, our bodies. We’re ­survivors,” she says.

Here they explain why they decided to show off their scars…

Kizzy Brockall, 31, from Oxford

After a string of abusive relationships, I had severe depression. In July 2013, I tried to take my own life by setting fire to myself. But my sister’s partner saw the fire in my caravan and got me out.

In hospital, I was put in an induced coma for three months. I suffered 96% burns and was in there for a year. The first time I saw myself in the mirror, I felt I’d never be able to go out again.

My daughter, who was seven then, cried, saying I wasn’t her mum, which ripped my heart out.

But I knew I was lucky to have a second chance. I met Sylvia at a Katie Piper event, and jumped at the chance of being in the shoot.

Just being with so many other people who understood each other was amazing.

I hope this is a new beginning for me.

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Student Isabella Fernandes, 20, from North London

I was 17 and cooking when my shirt caught on fire. I managed to get it off quickly and put out the fire, but the burns were terrible. I needed skin grafts for the right side of my torso and my arm, which left scarring, along with discolouration on the skin-donor sites on my leg and back.

Seeing the new me after months wrapped in bandages was a real shock. Nothing can prepare you for that.

Since then, I’ve had touch-ups where the skin grafts have failed, steroid injections, derma roller treatment, and I’ve just been put forward for laser treatment to help with the thickness from scarring.

Thanks to physiotherapy, stretching, massaging and pressure garments, I’ve recently started rock climbing and swimming. But psychologically I’m scarred too. I was diagnosed with PTSD two years after the fire, a diagnosis that actually came as a relief, knowing I could have appropriate treatment.

I’m studying history of art at university. My first exhibition showcased the work of Sophie Mayanne, the photographer of the shoot.

I also model for mainstream brands, and hope by showing off my scars, I can teach people they’re beautiful because of their scars, not despite them.

I’ve had people come up to me in the street and in the loos in a club, telling me I’m beautiful. I’m just me and this is the body I am in.

Michelle Elman, 24, from South West London

Since I was one, I’ve had 15 surgeries for a brain tumour, a punctured intestine, an obstructed bowel, a cyst in my brain and a condition called hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid on the brain.

I felt so insecure about my scars, as well as alone and isolated.

Then in 2014, I decided I was just too tired of hiding and posted a photo of myself on Instagram wearing a bikini – the first one I’d worn since I was seven!

The response was incredible, people were so positive and supportive. Then I launched my own Scarred Not Scared campaign to boost body positivity and became a body confidence coach.

I’ve grown a following of over 140,000 people on my Instagram accounts @scarrednotscared and @bodypositivememes.

I love what Sylvia does. Taking part in this shoot was the least I could do to help raise awareness. There’s absolutely no doubt that the fashion industry needs to change and to accept we all have our own shapes, our own scars. We’re all different and special.

Nobody should ever feel unworthy, unattractive or alone. I look at my scars and feel proud of who I am and what I’ve achieved. Some of the other women arrived nervous, but left with friends for life and a renewed confidence.

It was a wonderful day – one I won’t forget.

Raiche Mederick, 24, from East London

I was 18 months old when I suffered 70% burns to my face and body in a house fire. As a result, my fingers and toes were amputated, I also lost my hair, ear and balance.

When you’re little, you know you look different, but don’t understand people are judging you. Looking back, people picked on me, but I just thought they were annoying.

Going to a special kids’ burns club gave me the tools to deal with what I was, rather than pretend it wasn’t happening. I was taught my so-called weaknesses are my strengths.

They encouraged us to push our boundaries, to climb trees, to jump into pools, to explore the world and live our lives.

Any notion of self-pity was quickly dismissed. Soon I didn’t have a reason to be negative any more.

By the time puberty hit, and kids become more self-conscious, I was strong enough to cope.

Recently, I started a charity, the R-Chaie Foundation, to support adult burns survivors through recovery with peer-supported activities.

We had a fundraising ball in March, and collaborated with the Katie Piper Foundation last year.

This is my first proper year running the charity, which is nerve-racking but amazing.

I did some modelling at the Ideal Home Show last year where I met Sylvia. We had so many mutual friends! Taking part in the swimwear shoot was a no-brainer. Anything I can do to encourage confidence, I’m there.

Corinne Cazeneuve, 33, from Hertfordshire

In 2015, I had a horrific accident with a highly corrosive sink-unblocking liquid.

It slipped out of my hands, tipped towards me and went all over my face and chin. I instantly felt like I was on fire, so rushed into the shower while my husband called an ambulance.

I had two skin grafts, which helped, but I’m still having laser treatment.

It’s hard having your appearance change overnight. You become a different person. I met Sylvia via her Facebook campaign – I used to love swimming, so asked if I could go to her sessions.

The first time I panicked and ran out of the pool, but Sylvia chased after me into the cold, in her swimsuit, and talked me back in. I’m so glad she did, because those lessons and the people I’ve met have become a lifeline for me.

Taking part in this shoot wasn’t easy, but each time I step out of my comfort zone I get stronger.

Being with those women made me see how we can be stronger, change the world and make it better.

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