Jess shares her advice to help us all win the self-esteem battle
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These amazing readers will inspire you to rethink the way you see yourself – and others...
ith a recent survey indicating that one woman in five worries about how her body and skin look every day, it seems many of us need to find ways to be more accepting of ourselves. We know: easier said than done. So we asked three readers who’ve battled to accept their ‘flaws’ to talk us through their self-esteem journeys. Prepare to be inspired…
Kate Wilson, 27, is a student midwife from Newcastle
‘When I’m out in public, I often see people stare as I walk past. But I’ve learned to ignore it, because the cause – a large, port wine birthmark on the right side of my face – is something I’m proud of.
I struggled for years to feel this way. It didn’t help when someone said I’d be really pretty if it weren’t for the mark, or when I overheard a neighbour ask my mum, “Has someone dropped an iron on her face?”
My parents encouraged me to be confident about my looks. But despite their love, as a teenager I wore thick make-up, which ended up drawing more attention to my face. I was bullied and called names, but the support of my friends and family helped me through it.
At the age of 17 I was so low I decided to see a counsellor, and discovered a support group called Changing Faces; it was a relief to find other people like me. I came to understand that not everyone would accept my appearance, but the most important thing was that I embraced how I look – and as a result, I found it easier to deal with stares or horrible comments.
I’m more confident now. Not only am I happy to go make-up free, but when I do wear make-up, it’s as a tool to enhance my looks, rather than as something to hide behind. To me, my birthmark is a sign of unique beauty, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.’
I came to understand that not everyone would accept my appearance, but the most important thing was that I embraced how I look
• ‘The word “birthmark” is a generic term for any skin marking that’s apparent at birth or soon after.
• Some fade naturally, and some can disappear by the time a child is 10. But others, such as port wine stains, don’t fade, and can actually become more prominent over time.
• There are options, from camouflage creams to laser treatment, which a GP can advise on. But…
• It’s worth remembering that many people learn to love their birthmarks and embrace them, seeing them as distinctive, beautiful marks that set them apart from everyone else.’
‘Kate looks fantastic and doesn’t really need make-up, but I know she enjoys wearing it sometimes. A good place to start is with a colour-correction concealer, such as No7 Match Made Concealer in Warm Ivory, Boots Exclusive £7.50/750 points, as it will give light, natural-looking coverage. To reduce redness, I’d opt for a product with green tones, or a yellow-toned product to reduce darker pigmentation. It’s a good idea to use a foundation brush to buff the concealer into skin, as it helps ensure that it blends in well. A brush also offers more control, because it can build up the product gradually without it looking too heavy. Foundation can be applied in the same way, and finished with a light dusting of loose, translucent powder.’
Victoria Denard, 36, is an actress from London
‘I was born with a cleft palate, which can affect speech, hearing and the development of teeth, as well as cause problems eating. So my childhood was filled with lengthy, painful operations and sessions with speech therapists, all to make me look, feel and sound “normal”.
Luckily, I had the love and support of my family and friends, as well as the backup of cleft palate groups. Yet I still felt self-conscious, particularly if strangers were staring, or when people would say things such as, “With your looks, you’re really going to have to rely on your personality.” I resigned myself to feeling my cleft palate would always bring negative attention.
My school drama teacher had other ideas, however, and encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming an actress. She helped me see that I had talent, so after university I went to drama school in London. I realised that when I was on stage I could forget the fact I had a cleft palate until the house lights rose and I was back to being “me” again.
Yes, I missed out on roles because of the way I looked – which made me feel disappointed. But I refused to give up. And the more I appeared on stage, the more confident I became. Naturally, there were times when I still felt uncomfortable, such as when I went on dates or was introduced to new people, but all that changed when I met my fiancé, Andy, two years ago. He’s always telling me how awesome I am, and knowing that he loves me so much and wants to spend the rest of his life with me has helped my confidence.
As for make-up, I don’t wear it all the time, but I use it to give me a boost rather than as a disguise. Sometimes, wearing a bright-red lipstick really helps give me a lift. I no longer see my cleft palate as an obstacle to overcome or hide – it’s simply a part of me, like my ears or nose, and I don’t let it define who I am.’
• ‘A cleft lip or palate occurs when a baby’s lip or mouth doesn’t form properly during development in the womb. A cleft lip results in a gap or split in the upper lip, while a cleft palate occurs if the tissue in the roof of the mouth doesn’t join together completely.
• Many children undergo surgery to help make the condition more manageable, usually when they’re babies, which can cause some scarring. Once healed (recovery times tend to differ, depending on the procedure), massaging the affected area with silicone gel can help the skin stay hydrated. This, in turn, helps with the overall appearance of a new scar.
• Use SPF when outdoors to help protect the newly formed skin against damage from the sun.’
‘Victoria is clearly confident with or without make-up. But as she says, we all need a boost sometimes, and make-up can help. I’d start by cleansing and moisturising, for a clean base, then apply a primer – such as No7 Airbrush Away Primer Boots Exclusive £16.50/1,650 points (30ml) – to help even out the skin. It can be effective to use a concealer that’s a shade lighter than the skin tone, buffing it into the scar with a concealer brush to help blend it in. To set it, dust a small amount of translucent powder over the top, before applying a base of either foundation or tinted moisturiser to brighten the skin. For a natural pout, finish with a neutral lip liner to balance out the lip line.’
Kate McShane, 22, is a shop assistant from Nottingham
‘Staring at the images of my naked body on the wall, I felt so proud. I was studying photography at university, which meant I was always looking for interesting subjects – but the last thing I’d expected to display was my psoriasis-covered skin.
I was diagnosed two years ago, when I noticed dry patches of skin all over my body. A visit to my GP confirmed psoriasis, an autoimmune condition. I left the surgery armed with creams, and hospital appointments for UV and coal-tar treatments, which would help manage my condition – along with the knowledge that it was incurable.
I felt devastated and ugly. Here I was in the prime of my youth, yet my skin was weeping and scaly. I stopped going out and my confidence plummeted. My friends and family, as well as my boyfriend, Liam, 20, told me that I was gorgeous, but I only heard the silly comments – such as the time a rather thoughtless friend told me she didn’t want her sheets ruined by all my gels and creams when I stayed over at her place one night. It made me paranoid.
But when I found the online support network Getyourskinout.com, my attitude changed. Seeing other people living happy lives, regardless of their skin issues, made me remember that we only have one body, and that I should honour that.
Then in 2015, one of the nurses at the hospital said my skin was so full of beautiful patterns that it should be in an art gallery. I had a light-bulb moment: I’d make my final-year project a photo exhibition of my condition! It enabled people to see psoriasis as something other than an incurable skin disorder, which boosted my confidence.
Now I keep it under control by moisturising, avoiding alcohol, eating properly and getting enough sleep. Yes, I wear make-up – not to hide behind, but because I love how it changes my look. I’ve learned that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what kind of skin you’re in – it’s still a part of you, and for that reason alone you should love it. After all, I loved myself enough to become an art exhibit!’
• ‘Psoriasis affects up to 3% of the UK population, and occurs when the body produces too many skin cells. It can start at any age, but usually develops before 35.
• Why psoriasis happens isn’t fully understood, but it’s thought to be due to problems within the immune system, causing the body to attack healthy skin cells by mistake.
• Treatments such as steroids can effectively manage the condition, but keeping the skin well-moisturised is also key.
• Sticking to simple, mild soaps when bathing can help avoid drying the skin any further. It’s also a good idea to apply an emollient, as it deeply moisturises but doesn’t contain perfumes or preservatives, which can irritate sore skin.’ [We like Epaderm Ointment, £6.89/689 points, 125g.]
‘Kate obviously enjoys playing around with make-up – and why shouldn’t she? But when dealing with psoriasis, the important thing to remember is to keep the skin well-hydrated. A 10-minute pamper with No7 Beautiful Skin Hydration Mask Boots Exclusive £12.50/1,250 points (100ml), which is suitable for sensitive skin*, before applying make-up will help to provide a plumped up and smooth base. Following this with a colour-balancing primer all over the face will neutralise any red tones and help ensure make-up stays put. Foundation should be a shade with a yellow base, rather than pink, as this will help to naturally balance the skin tone without looking too heavy. Adding a finishing touch of highlighter along the cheekbones will brighten the whole face. ’
Interviews Fiona Ford Photography Kerry Harrison Hair and make-up Claire Portman Styling Angela Barnard
*If you have sensitive skin, we recommend testing products first.