Written by Kirsten Macdonald
All over the world, scars are perceived as a trauma, a wound, and something to be repaired—damaged goods.
Scars have been a big part of my life. Born without an eyelid, I had multiple surgeries from birth to teenager to repair this eyelid. This was vital to keep my eye viable. A country first; Prof Billson, a pioneer Ophthalmologist, did an excellent job saving that eye.
However, there was noticeable scarring along with a distinct lack of eyelashes. People would ask me ‘What did you do to your eye? How did you hurt your eye? The best one was; She is such a pretty kid, shame about the eye. The ugly duckling was another, one day; you will be all fixed.
When I slept, I slept with one eye partially open.
This became a hilarious joke to those around me if I fell asleep first. I often stayed awake all night at birthday parties to avoid such a thing if I could.
One bus trip in primary school, a fellow male student, whipped out a camera and took a photo of my eye, much to the amusement of others. Not sure what he did with the developed shots. No social media back then, thank goodness.
High school bought an array of trouble in this area. Makeup became my best disguise. But my identity formed around being scarred and ‘unpretty.’ I developed other parts of my person, like humour and silliness to detract and distract, to amplify and make up for the broken bits. We adjust our sails.
Reading and writing became an escape too. So Much to Tell You, by John Marsden, changed my life. Teenagers can be very cruel.
Enter brain surgery in 2012 and neurosurgery meant a saw and drills were used to open my skull up like a coconut. There’s no way around scars, lumps and bumps when these pieces of nifty equipment are involved. People told me to cover it up with my hair. Or, ooooh that’s nasty swelling; will that go away?
An aid came to our home and asked who the pretty lady was on the wall, I said; it is me. She said; “OMG that doesn’t look anything like you!” No kidding. Or what about the postman who asked where Kirsten was; it’s me, I said. “What a shame, you were so pretty.” Ouch.
Once again reinforcing and validating the belief that I was very lucky to have my life, I was so pleased I had a great sense of humour and am a nice person because I was not considered pretty. Who cares? Other people care.
My self-confidence plummeted all over again.
The good old ego-self was attaching to the perception of others about how a body should appear, or when it is ‘broken.’ My sense of identity was internally associated with this.
I love a challenge, and this epiphany presented a big one, releasing the perception of others from my being.
There are many incredible options now for non-invasive procedures for the assistance of healing and scar reduction. I had a wonky cheekbone repaired and some foundation work to help stop my face from dropping after severe stretching in my skull tissue. As a kid, the scar tissue on the inside of my new lid rubbed on my eye, often causing infections. So that person is not just dealing with a world who thinks beauty is symmetry, but they are often dealing with physical discomfort. Scar thickness, nerve damage and infection are only some aspects.
This was just an eyelid. There are much larger scars out there. Fact; scars can cause big physical issues; it ain’t all about the pretty.
I would have jumped rainbows not to have those experiences as a child.
Traumas have the potential to form us positively. But I would be telling you porky pies if I said the psychological impact was positive.
I am not alone. Acne scarring, burns and growth of scar tissue can create an array of problems. The Australian Journal of General Practice reports that scarring can have a negative impact on adolescent wellbeing leading to social isolation, a decrease in self-esteem and an increase in anger, and are significantly correlated with suicidal ideation.
For kids and teens to have options available now is so positive and essential. One very cool breakthrough in the last decade was by NASA. They developed LED technology to help improve healing in space and for long-term human spaceflight.
LED therapy is a multi-use therapy and can help heal surgical wounds post-op. Scars can get infected, become itchy, cause extreme skin conditions and problems of all kinds. Massage therapy is another, along with the brilliant progression of burn healing medicine.
Identity of self is tricky business.
We must do all we can to foster a sense of acceptance for children, and at the same time continue to develop technology and help make it accessible to everyone to help scar reduction for ease of pain and suffering.
I no longer allow the identity association of others to rule me; enjoying “inside me” to shine brightly; as unencumbered as possible.
With each grey hair, I have discovered I am not my body, not my face, not my eyelid, not my scars, not my lumps and bumps, not my even my humour or ability to moonwalk. (I can) This vehicle is the wonderful shell in which I reside, and it works for me. There’s a whole lot more going on behind that driver’s seat.
I enjoy getting dressed up (maybe too much? lol), like makeup and love feeling good, but this comes from a place of fun and impermanence. They no longer stem from a “self” belief based on fear or worry. Do you know how much joy can come through without the worry of appearance?
Some boundaries remain; photos continue to bring me extreme discomfort; I only take them for my family and the odd one or two for Ponderings when I have to. Selfies are occasional; with sunglasses on, and I don’t look at them again. I am a work in progress.
To this day if I don’t wear makeup, I always get comments from new people or strangers.
A fascinating insight into human behaviour is the response to appearances. Those not fixated on finding faults in others never notice, and those who have known me a long time don’t see it either. But there is a shift; I don’t get embarrassed or ashamed, and I don’t feel less than.
While you can “own your scars”, until we live in an emotionally intelligent Utopia, scars can and do profoundly impact the psyche of a growing child.
My scars are the footprints of my experiences here. They adorn my body with a story of restoration and survival. But I do look forward to living in a place where the world reflects this belief to the child.
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