When my 8-year-old daughter came home one day and asked if she was “beautiful,” I was at a loss for words. What exactly is the definition of this word? My husband and I are both Indians living in the United Kingdom. However, our daughter is British. She might wonder why her skin is darker than that of her other British friends one day.
I don’t want her to come to me one day and ask me the same questions that defined my concept of beauty as a child. I want her to be able to move beyond these limitations. Define her own definition of beauty. Accept that true beauty lies in the fact that we are all unique and different from one another.
That is how this series came to be. It’s called “changing the conversation.” Changing the conversation about what it means to be beautiful. Changing the conversation about “scars.” How far can we look? Are we all becoming a part of a world where scars must also be “pretty”? Just enough to remind us that our lives are better, but not so much that we can’t bear looking at them?
This is a continuing series, but I wanted to share stories from the lives of the inspiring people I’ve met along the way on my creative journey. Through this work, I hope to “change the conversation” in my own small way. Living in this world through the eyes of my daughter has altered my artistic language. For a long time, I avoided the conversations and focused on the magical innocence of childhood, but now I hope to find an alternative to the way we conventionalize this world through my work. In my endeavor, I hope to receive your love and support.
She was on her way back from a ski trip in the French Alps when the brakes on the coach failed and the crash occurred. “I remember thinking of my family in those final moments before the crash.” The chauffeur was a hero. He did not leave the coach. Instead, he warned all passengers about the current crash. “He died, but he saved all of our lives,” Catrin recalled. 96% of her body was burned to the third degree, giving her a one in a thousand chance of survival. Catrin defied fate after three months in a coma, 200 surgical procedures, and four years of rehabilitation. She is alive… and she is alive with zeal. She motivates, inspires, and starts conversations that redefine “beauty”… and help humanity grow.
Catrin went to a coffee shop with her mother a few weeks ago, and the lady behind the counter patted her on the back. When Catrin turned to respond, the lady inquired, “Sorry! “How did you end up?” Catrin politely and patiently shared her life story with that stranger, hoping that the next time she met someone with a facial difference, she would think twice about staring at them and then asking them a similar question. Catrin is so much more than a 96% burn survivor.She is a young woman with a million hopes and dreams. She recently graduated from one of the world’s most prestigious universities, King’s College London. She now wants to be a physiotherapist. Catrin had just finished sending off her application for a job opening, hoping to be chosen solely on merit and the amount of hard work she has put into achieving her goals. She is a person. She’s a lot of fun and very thoughtful. She is an excellent listener as well as a superb orator. She is a warrior. She represents a movement.She is the voice and face of change; she is the face of normalizing facial difference. She is all of this and so much more… She is more than just her scars..
James and Ashley
“I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have more than one child if I had to hold them both tight at the same time,” James joked. There isn’t a trace of sadness… Not a single moment was wasted in wondering why them? In an accident 9 years ago, James lost both his arms and legs. Ashley was born with a congenital amputation. This means she was born without the lower half of her right arm.
I went to their house for this photo session expecting to see pain… a hidden moment of anger… silent grief, but instead I was met with strength, belief, and, as they put it, “persistence.”
“I didn’t want children because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to hold her.” How will I keep her head supported while she feeds? How am I going to tie her shoelaces? Or change her clothes… but it all worked out in the end. Elara realizes that mummy and daddy must change their ways. So she collaborates with us to find solutions.” “You know how it is… with having different limbs… you just have to be persistent.” Ashley is a successful model and an advocate for families who have a member with a different limb, including sharing helpful tips on her social media platforms.
Since his accident, James has collaborated with Japanese video game giant Konami to design and develop his own advanced bionic arm, earning him the moniker Metal Gear Man. He’s since become a speaker, BBC presenter, and model. They have a lovely 2-year-old daughter named Elara, who is a true ray of sunshine. Meeting them shed light on my own personal capabilities. So many times have I questioned life and circumstances… given excuses and stated that if life was fair to me, I could do better… No longer will I wait for life to correct itself… Instead, I’ll fix mine. Because your circumstances do not define you… You do!
Joanné’s Instagram profile initially drew my attention. A woman with her heart on her sleeve… loves deeply and freely forgives She has a carefree attitude, as if she has invisible wings. She asked if she could play some music when I invited her over for a shoot with her beautiful son Marcus. “For good vibes,” she explained. I inquired about her journey.Bullying became an important part of Joanné’s childhood as she grew up with Albinism and attended a mainstream school. But when she spoke of it, it was as if she had released that anger from her soul, anger for a lost childhood, innocence stolen. As if she had forgiven everyone who had called her names… said she looked like a ghost… There was this silent strength where I expected to find anger… a sense of freedom where I expected to find self-doubt. Freedom from the constant fear of being judged and criticized.
Freedom from the fear that her condition would set her apart from others… Instead, she believes that her “difference” is profoundly beautiful and infinitely unique. “I choose to live my life without apology,” she told me. She certainly does. Introduce yourself to Joanné. She embodies generosity, passion, forgiveness, and the belief that our lives are the result of the choices we make, not what others choose for us.
“The 101 Dalmatians.” Dough for cookies Spotted Face Those were the names that my classmates had secretly saved for me. I used to despise myself. Everyone around me made me angry. Nobody resembled me… I didn’t resemble them. I thought I was hideous… horrible. Those emotions led me to a very dark place. My relationships suffered… with the people I cared about the most… Until three years ago. My children were a watershed moment for me. I recall that day vividly.
We were going on a family vacation, and I was selecting clothing that would allow me to cover myself. I didn’t want to be noticed… and I simply asked myself, ‘What kind of role model am I to my children if I can’t embrace who I am?’ I don’t want them to be concerned about fitting in. I want them to be happy with who they are. So I decided to be ME that day! Cheryl is my name. I was born with a melanocytic nevus (CMN). These are my wounds. This is my picture. I adore myself. I accept myself. For me, I wear me with respect, confidence, and boundless joy… “I am a cause for celebration!”
“My belly had grown so large that doctors thought I was expecting twins.” My stomach muscles had completely separated, to the point where the doctors couldn’t tell them apart during the C-section. They claimed it was the worst stomach muscle damage they had ever seen…. Then our Emilia arrived, weighing 12lbs 14oz. I became a mother to this wonder. “My little one…” “Hello! Hello, my name is Amber. I have a child. I’m covered in scars. My scars will be like a jewel on my body and soul. “I’m proud of my scars.”
“I was told that my child would not be born alive.” She was diagnosed with a cystic hygroma at my 20-week pregnancy scan, which is a fluid-filled sac caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system. Doctors feared that the large cysts compressing her airways would cause fatal breathing problems at birth, and we were told that Eden wouldn’t live past the first day. But on August 9, 2016, at 12:01 p.m., miracle baby Eden defied all odds and was delivered via C-section in a room full of doctors, pediatric surgeons, and nurses.She was born with a lymphatic malformation, which manifested itself as a mass on her face and neck. Eden has continued to surprise doctors and defy the odds five years and nearly 20 surgeries later to become a perfect, happy, and beautiful little girl. Since Eden’s birth, I’ve worked to dispel the stigma associated with her visible difference and disability. I won’t deny that Eden has received many negative comments about her appearance from online trolls. But none of that will stop me from being my daughter’s voice and advocating for Eden and everyone who makes a visible difference.” Chelsea, Eden Sue’s (the ‘differently special’ girl) mother