‘Cam­ou­flage make-up gave me back my con­fi­dence’

The Sunday Telegraph - Stella - - #ONEDAY - By Amal Khar­roub

Grow­ing up in the Mid­dle East, I was a happy, con­fi­dent child; com­fort­able in my own skin, I dreamt of be­com­ing a TV pre­sen­ter. That all changed when I was 13 and was in­volved in an ac­ci­dent that left me with third-de­gree burns to my face, arms and feet. They were so se­vere, the nurses at the hos­pi­tal hid mir­rors from me.

In my cul­ture, it’s im­por­tant for women to be beau­ti­ful. The lighter the skin, the bet­ter, and no ‘im­per­fec­tions’ are al­lowed. Af­ter four months in hos­pi­tal, I went back to school, where peo­ple did not hide their shock. (Some of the skin on my face is thin and slightly wrinkly, and there are light and dark patches.) The worst was the head teacher, who said, ‘It’s not nice for peo­ple to have to look at your burnt feet. Please cover them up.’ I wore socks from that day un­til last year when, aged 44, I felt con­fi­dent enough to show my feet for the first time.

Ten years ago, I was liv­ing in Lon­don, di­vorced, and had two young daugh­ters. My self-es­teem was so low, I’d avoid eye con­tact and even choose the least chatty-look­ing cashiers at the su­per­mar­ket. Aware of peo­ple’s eyes wan­der­ing, I was un­able to hold a con­ver­sa­tion, so I aban­doned my am­bi­tion to work in me­dia. I took re­tail jobs, where I’d beg to be put in the stock­room to be less vis­i­ble. I’d cover my face with my hair or wear foun­da­tion, but dur­ing the day it would fade and peo­ple would ask about my scars. It was trau­matic, hav­ing to tell the story of my life on a daily ba­sis.

Even­tu­ally, I went to my GP for help. He re­ferred me to the skin cam­ou­flage clinic at a char­ity called Chang­ing Faces, which was the turn­ing point. There, vol­un­teer prac­ti­tion­ers colour-match pa­tients with wa­ter-re­sis­tant, long-last­ing make-up. I was ex­cited, but if I’m hon­est, I’d al­ready tried Bio-Oil to re­duce the scar­ring, and I used primers and long-wear foun­da­tions, so I couldn’t be­lieve it would work.

Thank­fully, I was wrong. Cam­ou­flage make-up is harder than foun­da­tion and is pressed rather than smoothed on to skin. The trans­for­ma­tion only took 20 min­utes and I didn’t look in the mir­ror un­til the end, but when I did, I couldn’t quite be­lieve what I was see­ing and burst into tears. I could see my teenage face re­flected back at me. For the first time in my adult life, I felt like my­self. I felt con­fi­dent. I left with a pre­scrip­tion rec­om­men­da­tion for a tub of Der­ma­color foun­da­tion, my new best friend.

Walk­ing home with my hair up for the first time in years was so lib­er­at­ing. Best of all, I felt like I was blend­ing into the crowds. For the first time, I could buy sleeve­less tops, and not worry about hid­ing my skin.

My friends were so happy for me – they could see how pos­i­tive it made me feel. I started wear­ing the make-up ev­ery day

– it only takes 10 min­utes to ap­ply – and mostly I still do. But it doesn’t feel like the end of the world if I don’t wear it. Know­ing I have the op­tion of cov­er­ing my scars makes me feel more con­fi­dent even when I don’t have it on.

Two years ago, I also had some coun­selling ses­sions with Chang­ing Faces and talked about my ac­ci­dent for the first time. It was life-chang­ing. It gave me the con­fi­dence to ap­ply for a diploma in interpreting, which I passed with merit and I now work as a trans­la­tor for law firms.

I feel like a to­tally dif­fer­ent woman to the one who wanted to hide away in the stock­room. I’m look­ing for­ward to the sum­mer when I can wear sleeve­less dresses and pretty san­dals, I’m re­ally happy with my work and I dream about be­com­ing an in­ter­preter at the UN one day. And un­til now I haven’t felt con­fi­dent enough to think about dat­ing, but who knows what the fu­ture holds.

Chang­ing Faces is one of the Tele­graph Char­ity Ap­peal causes this year. To make a do­na­tion, please visit tele­graph.ct­do­nate.org or call 0151-284 1927

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