Phyllida Swift's Life Story

Although Phyllida Swift’s world was rocked when she sustained facial injuries and a broken spine after a crash during her dream trip to Africa, she has successfully battled through periods of insecurity but now feels proud of her differences.

“Of course, the accident was terribly difficult but it’s also had a long-lasting positive impact on me because I now appreciate everything I have,” reflects Phyllida, 22. “I feel lucky to be here and have the opportunity to grasp every opportunity ahead of me.” 

The crash happened in July 2015, on the first day of her trip to Ghana, when a coach drove head-on into her group’s minivan. She had originally planned to spend her whole summer volunteering in the region.

She also broke her hips and ribs in the crash and found living with her scars very difficult immediately after it happened. “It can often be very isolating. I have my insecurities that sometimes get the better of me and it’s hard to remain positive at times. I’ve also had days when all I wanted to do was sit at home and eat an entire jar of Nutella – but doesn’t everybody?”

But over time, she has grown to feel more positive about her life than ever before. “I definitely had a young mindset in the past of feeling invincible and that stays until something happens that makes you aware of your mortality. However, I’ve moved on now. These days, most of the time I’m too wrapped up in the amazing things going on in my life to let my scars get me down. And if anything, looking different enables me to be more positive. With my scar being a mark of triumph, it has empowered me to feel as though I can conquer anything.

“Everyone has scars that they’re walking around with every day – some are physical and some are mental. Although mine are bared evidently on my face, it empowers me to discuss them. My experiences have grounded me to the point where others feel willing to share their own experiences with me. Through helping others, I have been able to turn negative experiences around to bring meaning to what I do with my life.”

She is also very grateful for the support from Changing Faces. “I think societal attitudes in general are subject to a stigma around disfigurement that ultimately comes down to ignorance. People tend to associate disability or inability to ‘fit the norm’ and quite frankly, people don’t know the correct way to react towards somebody with a disfigurement. However, Changing Faces has been very effective throughout the years in improving these public attitudes. 

“What’s been made clear to me through Changing Faces is that none of us are alone and the charity has opened up a network of others who can offer help and advice. I agree that it’s important to view looking different as an advantage. The charity helps us to see through the superficial nature of the modern day world we live in and prioritise what truly matters in life.”

“I think efforts need to be maintained to reach as broad an audience as possible. I am also grateful to Changing Faces for teaching me how to build true and meaningful relationships with people. If you work with the notion that you can overcome adversity and negative attitudes in society, it empowers us to achieve beyond our beliefs, living life to its fullest with a sense of confidence that comes from accepting the disfigurement as an asset. 

“So I have the charity to thank for its help with my own personal journey towards a strong sense of self and confidence. I feel passionately about repaying them.” 

In fact, she recently joined Changing Faces as its new Campaigns Officer. She says she will relish this role in the build up to Face Equality Day on 26 May, when it will raise awareness about the campaign. She will also support the charity with its other high profile events planned for this year, to celebrate the its 25th anniversary.

“As time went on with being a media volunteer I became a little bit uncomfortable with always talking about myself and being asked to repeat the dramatic story to the press. I wanted to keep spreading the message of Face Equality but do this instead by getting to know the powerful stories of other people, and help to broadcast their positivity and help them shine.

“There was only so much impact I could have made with just my story but my resounding thought was that I wanted to continue to work with the charity and be part of the efforts to shift attitudes and increase awareness. I am really excited about getting to grips with the role and the charity, so I can continue to learn more about what the charity does and meet some more of the people Changing Faces works to support.”

In April Phyllida is going to run the London Marathon for Changing Faces. Click here for her JustGiving page, and give her your support!