December 2018

Sylvia Mac was badly burned with boiling hot water aged three. Here she tells her story of learning to accept her scars and empower others.

Sylvia proudly wears her bikini at the beach these days

‘Covering up’

‘Covering up’ was all I remember doing as a child. I heard the words often from hospital consultants, not realising that they would follow me throughout my life.

As a young child, my mother kept me out of the sun and covered in sunblock especially throughout the summer months.  I remember hearing a lady once say to my mother, ‘she’s so lucky it’s not on her face.’ To me, in my head I heard, ‘her burns are ugly and she is too’.

My most difficult years were in my teens, when I was spending more time in school around girls who liked to wear makeup and talk about boys.  I remember in the school toilets all the girls would congregate and spend time looking in the mirror.  I wouldn’t dare look at myself in the mirror because I felt like someone would tell me I’m too ugly or not worthy. 

In the classroom, I sat at the back of the class so that no one would come too close to me.  I was scared they would feel my scars through my clothing. After lunch I sat alone on the school bench holding my tummy as my scars were too tight and I often felt sick if I ate too much. 

Boyfriends were out of the question and didn’t last longer than two days just because I didn’t want them to touch me.  It was very strange living a life where no one knew of my burn scars and yet I was able to cover them up and keep them to myself.  It was almost like living a lie or keeping a big secret. What I didn’t realise at the time was that my scars were affecting mentally as well as physically.

My self-esteem and confidence were very low and I found it very difficult to concentrate.  Sadly, during exams my mind would go completely blank and I would have a panic attack.  I loved art and had potential to do very well but my anxiety took its toll on me. 

When I left school and had to look for a job, I lied to my family and told them that interviews were going well, whereas I wasn’t even attending them.  I was always worried and scared that I wasn’t capable to achieve anything great in my life.

As I grew older, I found myself becoming severely depressed and crying every day. I just wanted to fit into society and as much as I wanted the help and support, nothing seemed to work for me. 

I continually searched the internet for help but the word ‘face’ came up in everything.  I then began to think that having a ‘hidden disfigurement’ meant nothing and I had no right to complain or have a voice in society. 

Two years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to carry on living my life like this, so I decided to launch a video telling my story and revealing my scars. Today I campaign for anyone who looks different facially and/or bodily so that everyone can have a voice in society and become included in every area of life.

Sylvia Mac

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