"In 1988 I got burned in a car fire and was left with severe burns to my face, arms and hands."

Melanie's Story

I was only two and lost most of my hair. Was I beautiful? I don’t know. What I do know is I would have looked “more normal” and fit snugly into society without trying too much.

My parents didn’t shelter me but made sure I was taken to children’s public places like play parks and swimming pools, even though these were the places I got stared at the most.  They taught me confidence and gave me the strength not to hide away or feel embarrassed about my appearance.  This has made me very outgoing even though things are not always easy. There are days when I’m out and just want to go home because people look at me or I over-hear a comment.  However, things were more difficult as a teenager because I constantly felt I didn’t match up to everyone else.  

I have good days and bad days.  Some days I feel I have been robbed of who I was or could have been.  I feel it’s unfair that I have to look like this while other people are blessed with “normal” looks.  I feel angry I can’t change it.  Other times it makes me more determined to do everything I want in life because I have to prove that this face won’t stop me.  

My mum heard of Changing Faces when I was a child. We were doing a TV documentary called ‘Spotlight’ on BBC1 in 1994 and James Partridge spoke on it. Unfortunately, at the time Changing Faces hadn’t established itself in North Ireland so my only contact was through newsletters and through some of my family members. There wasn’t much available support at the time for my parents and me.  As a result, everything was bottled up inside and I eventually became depressed. We went through a lot on our own and the support from someone, anyone who understood would have helped us all so much.

Because of the damage to my hands I cannot do very physical work so my hopes of entering health care have been laid aside. This hasn’t stopped me – I’m an admin assistant, and got involved with Changing Faces when they finally established an office near me in 2008. I give talks to small groups of people to increase awareness of Changing Faces and raise money for their good work.  Being able to help other people with disfigurements has truly helped me deal with my own issues. I have two young boys, and find myself back in children’s play areas again. Having experienced what young children are like, I don’t want other kids picking on my boys because of my face. I talk to my boys about my disfigurement so they learn how to cope with teasing.

Changing Faces presents an alternative image for people with disfigurements.  Society would say if you’re ‘ugly’ you won’t be able to have a good life, Changing Faces challenges that. Beauty can come from many things outside the ‘norms’ that society sets for us.  People are unique and beautiful in their own way and everyone deserves a chance to show who they are rather than be judged on how they look.  Before you stare or say something remember that it is a person you are looking at. How would you feel if someone laughed at your face, or body or clothes and attacked your self esteem?

I am aware that sometimes people stare because they don’t know any better. If you want to learn, why not get involved with Changing Faces so you too can make a difference?