Bar­ing more than just their bod­ies, this group of women share their sto­ries about their fight, their sur­vival and their re­silience


bar­ing more than just their bod­ies, these women share their sur­vival and re­silience

Over two days in early au­tumn, a group of women came to­gether to have their pho­to­graph taken. But this was no or­di­nary pho­to­shoot. Hav­ing all gone through very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences, the thread that weaves these women’s sto­ries to­gether is the scars each has cho­sen to show. ‘The project was about be­ing able to al­low women to share their sto­ries, to en­cour­age them not to be ashamed of their jour­ney to re­cov­ery. And to meet other women who’ve gone through some­thing sim­i­lar, be­cause un­less you’ve been through it, you just don’t know,’ says Ni­cola Cooper, trend an­a­lyst and cul­tural strate­gist, who founded this project as a homage to the fight and brav­ery of the women around her; the women who’d sur­vived or were in the process of re­cov­ery. Ni­cola, her­self, was in­volved in a near-fa­tal car ac­ci­dent two years ago. Many of the women pho­tographed ex­pressed the hope that by shar­ing their story and their scars, they’d help other women feel com­fort­able with theirs. ‘So many women have gone through sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences,’ said one of the par­tic­i­pants, who dis­cov­ered she had breast can­cer for the sec­ond time while preg­nant with her son. ‘While be­ing pho­tographed for this project, we were ac­tu­ally look­ing the dis­ease, trauma or event in the eye and say­ing: “Fuck you! I sur­vived you and I sur­vived this.” It was ther­apy and I felt beau­ti­ful.’ The two days of shoot­ing were filled with kind­ness, re­as­sur­ance, shared sto­ries of courage and over­whelm­ing sup­port, says Ni­cola, whose hope for the project is for more women to wear their bat­tle scars proudly. ‘I re­ally hope this be­comes some­thing big­ger; that we get to share more sto­ries. They’re nec­es­sary in a world of ma­nip­u­lated im­ages of women and the pro­lif­er­a­tion of fil­ters on so­cial me­dia. There’s truth and hon­esty in this and there are au­then­tic sto­ries that will make some­one say: “I’m ex­actly who I’m meant to be. I’m ex­actly who I should be.” I want to help women feel like they are enough.’

ITUME­LENG In 2014, Itume­leng had surgery on her small in­testines due to a bowel ob­struc­tion.

The whole ex­pe­ri­ence was very in­tru­sive. I lit­er­ally just woke up with a big scar on my stom­ach. But it made me very, very grate­ful for my health. It took me a while to get used to it be­ing there, but it didn’t take me long to ac­cept it – it was a part of me now. And once you do that, you re­alise that peo­ple will ac­cept it be­cause you ac­cept it. I felt it was im­por­tant to tell dif­fer­ent sto­ries when it comes to how beauty’s per­ceived. Beauty isn’t one-di­men­sional. It’s not per­fect. It’s not flaw­less. You can have scars and flaws and all these ex­pe­ri­ences that you’ve had and still be a beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing per­son.

NI­COLA On 22 Novem­ber 2015, Ni­cola was in­volved in a head-on col­li­sion while driv­ing home. She woke up three weeks later in hos­pi­tal, not know­ing what had hap­pened.

The whole ex­pe­ri­ence changed me. Do­ing the small­est things for your­self and be­ing able to re­pair your own body and be re­spon­si­ble for your­self is spe­cial. It felt em­pow­er­ing to be that weak and then get back to be­ing strong. My scars have be­come a sym­bol of who I am. I just [wish that we could] rather make women look at some­thing that’s per­ceived so neg­a­tively as a del­i­cate illustration on their skin. It’s a map; it’s a jour­ney; it’s a lit­tle line that de­fines your char­ac­ter.

ME­LANIE Me­lanie was born in 1984 with a cleft lip and no palate. Now 34, she’s had seven fa­cial and two jaw op­er­a­tions.

Whether it’s phys­i­cal, men­tal or emo­tional trauma, ev­ery­body has – at some point in their life – ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing that’s go­ing to leave a scar. I think it’s just about how you use that to cre­ate your own story. Your scar isn’t you: it doesn’t de­fine you, but it sort of cre­ates your story. It’s per­sonal; it’s yours. Even when I take a photo of my­self, I strug­gle to look at it. I al­ways look around it, at the make-up, the eyes, the hair – ev­ery­thing else. I wear gold, shiny shoes, so peo­ple no­tice my shoes and not my face. I think now there’s nowhere to hide be­cause this is a photo of my face. Don’t let the thing that hap­pened de­fine you.

“You have to be very strong and re­alise that the way you look is just one facet of who you are. It’s not the to­tal pack­age”

PEARL In 2002, Pearl was in­volved in a car ac­ci­dent. The driver was drunk and rac­ing an­other driver. The car went over a bridge and landed on the street be­low. Pearl suf­fered many cracked ribs and tan­gled in­testines and her spleen had to be re­moved. Her scar is a re­sult of the surg­eries to save her life. LEONI Leoni was born with con­gen­i­tal con­stric­tion band syn­drome (a con­gen­i­tal dis­or­der caused by en­trap­ment of foetal parts in fi­brous am­ni­otic bands while in utero). She had to have nu­mer­ous surg­eries straight af­ter she was born, one of which in­cluded her back mus­cle be­ing trans­ferred into her right hand. She’s had many more surg­eries over the years.

I think it’s made me very re­silient. If you look slightly dif­fer­ent from what the norm is, peo­ple judge you. As a re­sult of that, you have to be very strong and re­alise that the way you look is just one facet of who you are. It’s not the to­tal pack­age. I think it’s im­por­tant to live your truth. We need to cel­e­brate some of the things that we’ve been through. Liv­ing with a scar is a bit chal­leng­ing, but they had to open me up to put me back to­gether. To save me. Some­times when peo­ple see it, they ask: ‘What hap­pened!?’ I like to keep it pri­vate. I don’t like ex­plain­ing, be­cause peo­ple do ex­ag­ger­ate about it. But I’ve learnt to live with it. I’m just glad I’m alive. And now, maybe it comes with age, but I’m at the point where the older you get, the more you say: ‘I don’t care how I look, as long as I’ve got a good heart. And I’m a good per­son.’ I just want to be my­self. With­out hid­ing any­thing.

SAM Sam has mul­ti­ple scars on her arms and legs, all self-in­flicted.

I am – well, I was – a cut­ter. It started when I was 13 and it’s been go­ing on for a re­ally long time. Cut­ting is more than what it seems. It’s an ad­dic­tion. I’ve bat­tled this ad­dic­tion for 17 years. It’s about find­ing other cop­ing mech­a­nisms. It’s not that there’s some­thing wrong with it. There are other ways that aren’t per­ma­nently scar­ring if you need to feel that kind of pain, like an elas­tic band. But it’s OK if you’ve done that. You need to be proud of your stripes. I be­lieve that men­tal ill­ness is still too much of a taboo. I’m no longer ashamed of the scars. They’re now part of me. I do look at them some­times and feel re­morse, but there’s noth­ing I can do about them now. It’s very strange, par­tic­u­larly be­cause the idea of beauty is so per­fect, com­pared with what I am. This shoot was em­pow­er­ing. Hope­fully, it will help peo­ple who per­haps are go­ing through the same thing.

CHRISTIE AND NATASHA Sis­ters Christie and Natasha were in­volved in a car ac­ci­dent in 2014 when their ve­hi­cle was pushed off the road by an 18-wheeler truck.

CHRISTIE: Our en­tire uni­verse was shifted. Tash for­got ev­ery­thing. She for­got who I was, she for­got who our par­ents were. And slowly, over the months, she re-learnt ev­ery­thing. I con­stantly wanted to for­get, whereas Tash con­stantly wanted to re­mem­ber. One thing I learnt is when you go through some­thing hec­tic in life, you ei­ther be­come con­struc­tive, like you want to fix your­self, or you want to de­stroy your­self. There’s no ex­cuse – you just have to deal with the grief and the re­sent­ment, and you just have to push through it. And we have. Our re­la­tion­ship’s a lot bet­ter now. NATASHA: In the be­gin­ning, I felt like a Franken­stein. I felt like pieces of my body had been stitched back to­gether. I felt al­most hu­mil­i­ated by my­self, as if I shouldn’t be alive. And when I’d worked through that, I started to be­come aware of im­ages, of art. I started to be more aware of things around me. I started be­com­ing a lot more grate­ful for be­ing alive and kind of ac­cept­ing that there was a higher power and there was a rea­son for me be­ing here.

“I was grate­ful for be­ing alive and kind of ac­cept­ing that there was a higher power and a rea­son for me be­ing here”







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