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Tulsi’s Visible Difference Story

Tulsi, 39, London    

 Have a visible difference story? Share yours using #MyVisibleDifference on social media or on our Tell Your Story page.  

Woman sitting in cafe

When Tulsi was ten years old she was in a plane crash in which she lost her immediate family and sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to 45 percent of her face and body. For years Tulsi was bullied for how she looked which affected her mental health and led to feelings of low self-worth.

It would be great to see better representation of people like me within films, TV and advertising.

“I couldn’t comprehend the extent of the accident and just how much my life had changed. I endured bullying and staring. I couldn’t understand what they were staring at. I accepted the fact that I looked different, but because I couldn’t see my face, I forgot I had burns.”

Tulsi says that throughout her recovery, she was affected by the negative reactions of others.

“I associated my scars with being ugly. I had no self-esteem and no self-confidence. I struggled to feel good about myself. I never felt beautiful, or accepted compliments about how I looked. I looked in magazines and read about celebrities and I wanted to look or be like them. They were beautiful, and I wanted to feel what that was like.”

However as Tulsi got older and started to meet positive people with visible differences, her own confidence grew. Yet she still has to deal with stares and comments.

“Every day people stare at me. People need to be aware of how that makes someone with a disfigurement feel. Having a disfigurement means never having a day off. I don’t get to take my scars off and forget about them. Every day when I leave my house I need to check in with myself to see how I am going to handle staring or comments people make. We need to get more awareness and have equality.” 

Tulsi’s visible difference has also affected her career. After initially working in the hotel and tourism industry, she gave up on that career after experiencing hostility.

“One company told me that my face didn’t fit their company. Another tried to make me work as a chamber maid, where I would be out of public view, instead of front of house which is where I wanted to be. I was gutted. It made me change career. I tried retail but it was the same kind of attitude, so I gave up on that too.”

These days, Tulsi is much more confident and uses her experiences to help others, including as a model for Avon as part of the Changing Faces Pledge to be Seen campaign which calls on brands to feature more people with a visible difference in their campaigns.

“I have now accepted my scars and wouldn’t want to change them now. I want to portray them in a positive light. I wear my scars with pride as each has its own journey and story to tell. They decorate my body like precious gems.

“Knowing you are not on your own is crucial. I would go to the supermarket and feel like the only one who looked like this. It would be great to see better representation of people like me within films, TV and advertising. We are part of society, so we need to be represented.

Looking different can be really hard to comprehend. You have to find your superpower and use that to shine. My superpowers are my scars – they speak louder than I do; I am wearing my story so to speak.”

“I feel empowered to be an Avon Model. Not only does Avon support and empower women, but they represent diversity so well. Avon is a brand, which has stood the test of time, and I think that is due to its inclusivity and accessibility.

I felt so comfortable and respected whilst at the recent photoshoot for their new campaign and that made me feel so good.”

 Have a visible difference story? Share yours using #MyVisibleDifference on social media or on our Tell Your Story page.  

Brenda’s Visible Difference Story

Brenda, 33, London

Have a visible difference story? Share yours using #MyVisibleDifference on social media or on our Tell Your Story page.  

When Brenda was 14 years old she woke up one morning to find her pillow covered in hair. She found out she had a condition called Alopecia Universalis, which meant that she lost all of her hair at a young age.

Now I work WITH my hair loss rather than hide away from it.

Throughout her teenage years Brenda had to put up with endless bullying. As a result, her self-esteem became very low and she felt isolated and lonely. She tried to cover up her condition with wigs, but the bullying at school was relentless and she was nicknamed ‘cancer girl’. Sometimes her wig would be torn off and used as a football or flushed down the toilet. Eventually Brenda decided to be home-schooled.

“I felt very out of place and as if I had no control over anything any more. I noticed older people avoided the subject of my hair loss, probably through fear of upsetting me. People my own age were much more brutal. I could not find a way to deal with it for the first three years and in the end I just shut down mentally and became agoraphobic.”

Brenda found that as she got older, working with children became her solace. Children were so accepting of her differences and she discovered a passion for entertaining and performing. She went on to lead a successful career as a children’s entertainer, travelling around the world working with children and young people. Even then though, there were days that were harder than others.

“Sometimes at work, I would have to fake confidence in order to get the job done, when really I didn’t want to leave my room. I’d sometimes get comments from management too, who would say things like “Oh, so you’re not wearing your wig today then?”. Once I was told I couldn’t do a show because the fact I wore a wig meant I’d take too long to do the costume change.”

In between contracts as an entertainer, Brenda would often work in retail. However, she found that people she worked with rarely took the time to understand the impact of her alopecia and regularly made her feel uncomfortable.

“They got annoyed with me for wearing a bandana and told me I had to wear a wig in order to keep the customers happy. But wearing a wig on a shop floor when I’d be under florescent lighting all day was very uncomfortable. It just wasn’t a welcoming place.”

Even as a customer, Brenda is often made to feel unwelcome in stores. She gets stared at regularly, and shop assistants will ignore her in preference of other customers.

“When this happens, I take my custom elsewhere as a result. Don’t they realise how much more money they’d make if they were more accepting of everyone? It wouldn’t take much to educate people a bit more. Whether it’s by being more representative in their adverts or training their staff – making people more aware would help so much.”

Brenda feels that ‘being unique is something that should be embraced’. She is a model and works with campaigning organisations such as ‘Changing Faces’ and ‘Models of Diversity’. She was delighted to be involved with the Portrait Positive campaign with Changing Faces and the photographer Rankin.

“My confidence has rocketed by a zillion miles now I work WITH my hair loss rather than hide away from it. Society constructs concepts and rules about what makes a person ‘beautiful’, but that’s all it is – a construction, not a reality. I hope to show others that the standard of beauty is not definite, we define it.

We live in such a vibrant society and everyones needs should be met and embraced when it comes to fashion and beauty, but there are still so many flaws in the industry that need to change. By challenging the outdated ‘social norms’, fashion and beauty can be a stepping stone towards a more open and self-loving society.”

Have a visible difference story? Share yours using #MyVisibleDifference on social media or on our Tell Your Story page.  

Prisha’s story

My name is Prisha, I’m 18 years old and studying for my A-Levels. I have Sturge Weber Syndrome and glaucoma, meaning I have very limited vision in my left eye. I also have a port wine stain (birthmark) on the left side of my face.

Talking about my port wine stain in my first YouTube video was difficult, but I did it because I’m passionate about raising awareness.

 

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Marie-Joelle and Benjamin’s story

Marie-Joelle talks about what it’s been like to be a parent to Benjamin, who was born with Goldenhar Syndrome.  

 It has got easier and I much prefer when people just ask me about Benjamin rather than stare.”

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Hilary’s story

The importance of visible difference in children’s books – as told by writer and Inclusive Minds ambassador, Hilary.

I didn’t have any experience of visible difference before my daughter was born. I know that it’s impossible to predict what issues she may face in life.

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Crystal’s story

Crystal’s story – She tells us why she’s challenging herself this year to get her story out there to help other cancer survivors 

“Day by day, I’m slowly getting used to the stares. No matter how upsetting it actually is.”

 

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Rhona

Rhona’s story – Member of the National Youth Choir, student in Biomedical Sciences with a cleft lip and palate

Our Portrait Positive model Rhona

“My parents were advised I might have difficulties with my speech but I think they have found greater difficulty in getting a moment’s peace and quiet!”

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Brenda

Brenda’s story – Children’s entertainer, business owner and model with Alopecia 

Brenda

 

“My confidence has rocketed by a zillion miles now I work WITH my hair loss rather than hide away from it. Society constructs concepts and rules about what makes a person ‘beautiful’, but that’s all it is – a construction, not a reality. I hope to show others that the standard of beauty is not definite, we define it.

(more…)

Tulsi

Tulsi’s story – Life coach, burns survivor, motivational speaker and pilates rehabilitation specialist 

Our Portrait Positive model Tulsi, a burns survivor

“I have now accepted my scars and wouldn’t want to change them now. I want to portray them in a positive light. I wear my scars with pride as each has its own journey and story to tell. They decorate my body like precious gems.”

(more…)

Sam

Sam’s story – Changing Faces champion with a cleft lip and palate

Sam

 “I want to say to those people ‘don’t always judge a book by its cover.’ It’s fine to look because I know I look different but please don’t keep on staring.”

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