‘Camouflage make-up gave me back my confidence’
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