Ditch the Label had the opportunity to chat with Sylvia Mac, an inspirational woman who after many years has decided to finally share her story with the world…
DTL: Hi Sylvia, thanks for chatting with us! First of all could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Sylvia: My name is Sylvia Mac, I’m 49 years old and a child burn survivor. I was severely disfigured on my back, tummy and leg aged 3 and almost died twice from my injuries. I was burned at home accidentally by boiling water whilst playing with my siblings. I spent my life suffering with PTSD, depression and low self esteem. I was bullied in my younger years and wanted to end my life as I spent a lot of the time hiding away and crying. Last year I released a video and became very active on social media in order to raise awareness for those affected by their appearance. Whether skin conditions, health conditions, burns, marks and scars.
DTL: You recently spoke out about your experiences for the first time in public, how did it feel when you finally told your story?
Sylvia: When I released my video and revealed my scars I felt free! It was like revealing a secret I kept for years and could finally be myself, liberated – the real me! I then went on BBC Woman’s Hour to talk about life with disfigurement. Now no-one could stop me from talking and accepting my beauty, my fight for survival, inner beauty and confidence.
“We are all unique and should learn to love ourselves so we can become confident humans who understand others and see everyone’s beauty.”
DTL: What motivated you to share your story?
Sylvia: I was motivated to share my story when I realised my children and family were being affected by my ongoing sadness. I believe this was the point of no return. I’d also gone on holiday with my mother last year and noticed how sad she was. My eyes were being opened to things for the first time and instead of me wallowing in self pity, I could see my loved ones’ hurt and pain. I began to blame myself and the only way to change things was by adopting a positive mindset. I had nothing to lose, so on the beach I put on a bikini, smiled, posed and told my mum I was happy and everything was going to be ok from now on. She looked at me and smiled. It was a feeling that I’ve never had in my life so I believe this was the day of no return. My life began at aged 48 and there’s no looking back for me.
DTL: Attitudes towards appearance is the number one reason why people are bullied with 52% of people under 25 experiencing appearance based bullying. Why do you think its so difficult for people to embrace difference?
Sylvia: I was bullied when I swam as a competitive swimmer for a club. They were very hurtful towards me calling me ‘snakeskin’, ‘witch’ and ‘disgusting’. I had to cover myself with big towels and this dented my confidence quickly which meant underachieving in galas and competitions. I had potential to become an Olympian but lacking confidence and low self esteem was a big factor towards never doing as well as I knew I could. If there was more awareness brought into schools, we could allow people to understand that many of us have skin conditions, health conditions and scars and we should all have respect for each other. We all have hearts and minds; each and every person is unique and beautiful in their own way. As a child who hid her scars, I had no help from teaching staff but this was over 30 years ago – I hope things have moved on by now.
DTL: Can you tell us a bit about Love Disfigure and it’s aims?
Sylvia: Love Disfigure is a not-for-profit organisation run by me alone and two wonderful mentors who help me out when needed. Love Disfigure has helped keep me focused and allowed me to be me. I may not have achieved in school, college and university but I have this special talent where I can see beauty in everybody I meet. I created my website after beginning a Facebook group where I shared pics of me mainly in bikinis or costumes to inspire others with disfigurement. I also set up a fortnightly swim for people affected by their appearance and I also blog weekly. I continue to reach out to organisations raising awareness and showing support for those affected with disfigurement. After releasing my story ‘my scar and me’ with BBC world news I received many emails of thanks from around the world. I was blown away by people’s comments and it just makes me want to work harder for those people who find it difficult to change their life. My aim for Love Disfigure is to continue shouting from the rooftops until we become recognised and understood for who we are.
DTL: Do you have outlet that you turn to when you’re feeling down?
Sylvia: When I’m feeling down I talk to people who listen. If no family member is available I find other inspiring people online who are always there to lift me up with wonderful words of inspiration. I would say to also join a group as there are many out there. It’s good to talk to others in similar situations so you can share experiences and turn to them when needed.
DTL: What would you say to a young person who has a disfigurement and is struggling?
Sylvia: Any young person who is struggling with a disfigurement, I would point them in the right direction of a charity or organisation to help them but also encourage to speak to family and friends. There is always someone to talk with and of course Love Disfigure group is a real positive group!
What is the importance of community for people who have had similar experiences?
Sylvia: Community is important for those with similar experiences because they’re able to help motivate each other and be understanding of each other’s difficulties. My swim group is a great community of people who encourage each other to become confident in their skin and many of them are amazing me each and every time we meet. They say I’m their inspiration but I’m beginning to feel as if they are my inspiration. This is about them and their life. I’m living mine to the point of thriving and even though I still have pain, for me to now reach my goals, I am able to support others and help them reach theirs.
“Community is important for those with similar experiences because they’re able to help motivate each other and be understanding of each other’s difficulties.”
Anything you’d like to add?
Sylvia: Often, when we’re faced with depression and bullying, we no longer wish to talk to anyone. Social media can become a great platform to help people. As much as it can also be damaging, as long as we have positive role models out there, we can continue to inspire and help change the world. I’m not asking everyone to share their story but we can all be inspiring in many different ways. Let’s inspire each other and accept us for who we are. Do not allow life to pass you by as I did me. Life is beautiful and so are we. ❤️
Follow @LoveDisfigure on Twitter