My name is Tatyana, I’m 21, and a campaigner with Changing Faces. This International Women’s Day I wanted to share more about me and why I choose to challenge.
When I was 8 years old I was burned in a fire. Recovering in hospital was tough; having to learn to walk again and go to the bathroom on my own, but the real battle was with my mental health. I struggled with depression and low self-esteem, but now I’m in a better place. So, when I was offered the opportunity to be part of Changing Faces’ Pledge To Be Seen campaign partnership with Sleek MakeUP, I decided to say yes.
Growing up as a young, Black woman with burns, I can honestly say I didn’t ever see anyone who looked like me to aspire to, to have as a role model. And the 14-year-old me really needed to see someone that I could relate to. I think most teenage girls feel awkward, you just want acceptance from your peers. When you’ve got a visible difference, it feels like all that anxiety about fitting in is elevated 10 times over.
I didn’t enjoy school. I can remember dreading getting changed for PE; just trying to get into my own head space to try and block out the stares and the comments being made behind my back. It wasn’t a good time, and I had a lot of negative thoughts because I was so depressed. I had some good friends who stood by me though, my amazing Nan and church youth group – they all helped and as I got older and left school, my confidence grew.
Fast forward to 2020 and I’m a campaigner for Changing Faces. I’d just shared my experiences and thoughts about body image with the Women & Equalities Select Committee, including why I think fashion and beauty brands should use more diverse models, including people with visible differences in their ad campaigns, when I was told about an opportunity to model Sleek MakeUP products.
If you don’t know, Sleek is a cool brand, it’s accessible, it’s affordable and it was originally launched as a brand for Black women and women of colour. This is the brand I play around with, trying new looks and talking about with my friends. I was so excited to be asked but I was also incredibly nervous. I made a list of pros and cons, and the pro list was longer.
This was my opportunity to challenge the outdated stereotypes of what “beauty” is and who can be out there representing a make-up brand. I kept thinking of that little girl who really needed to see someone, unedited, showing her scars to the world, not covering up and being happy with who she is. She’s the reason I did it.
I was still worried. Sleek campaigns are online, they’ve got over 1 million followers on Instagram! I kept thinking about what comments I might get, waiting for the haters to say something. When I was a bit younger, I’d taken part in an interview with some friends who also have burns scars. Comments included, “People like you don’t deserve to live.” Reading that has such a negative impact on your mental health.
The day of the photoshoot was a bit strange, it was a Covid-secure set, with lots of sanitiser and masks and keeping our distance. I listened to Got7 my favourite band – their music means a lot to me, I got into my zone and I got to meet fellow campaigner Prisha who is brilliant. I found that being in front of the camera, the photographer was funny and made me laugh, we chatted about how we missed meeting friends for brunch, the best meal of the day! Being in front of the video camera was trickier, I felt myself shaking and couldn’t remember what I’d said.
There was so much going on, I wasn’t really thinking about my visible difference. Then in the middle of the shoot I got a call. The hospital telling me about another procedure I had to have for my burns scars. There I was having fun and suddenly I had to process a lot, my difference was suddenly in the front of my mind. I took some time, I focused on that young teenager who needs to know they can be comfortable being themselves and I got back into the shoot.
Seeing the images of me, Prisha and Amba go live was such a good feeling. I kept getting notifications and messages from friends, everyone was so positive.
I’m not stopping here though. More brands need to do this, I want to see more models with visible differences on my social media feed, on billboards and adverts. It’s so uplifting. It gives people confidence, it’s a chance to change how people see themselves and see difference. It’s not always easy, but I’m proud I’m choosing to challenge, and I think more brands could challenge themselves to be more diverse in who they choose to represent them.