‘My facial scars held me back in job interviews... But now I don’t let things like that stop me’

Lucy Dunn
Tulsi, 39, was 10 years old when she was in a plane crash, in which she sustained second-and third-degree burns to 45 per cent of  her face and body

In our age of filters and Insta-perfectionism, The Telegraph meets six people with visible differences who proudly post images – just as they are. 

Tulsi Vagjiani

Tulsi, 39, a Pilates instructor and crystal merchant, was  10 years old when she was in a plane crash, in which she lost her immediate family. She sustained second-and third-degree burns to 45 per cent of  her face and body

Tulsi Vagjiani, 39, a Pilates instructor and crystal merchant, was  10 years old when she was in a plane crash, in which she lost her immediate family. She sustained second-and third-degree burns to 45 per cent of  her face and body. 

‘What do I hope this selfie says about me as a person? That I’m fun,  like playing around with make-up,  but don’t like covering up my scars.  For years, I used loads of heavy foundation, whereas now I play with bases and highlighters to enhance them even more. People assume that I’m insecure about my appearance, but in fact it’s the opposite. 

‘I remember the time before I had my scars. As I got older, I think there were times when they held me back – especially with things like dating and job interviews. I used to be in the hotel industry, and one company rejected me, telling me, “Your face doesn’t fit our brand.” At the time, it really didn’t occur to me what they meant by that, then suddenly the penny dropped.

‘I don’t let things like that stop me now. I love to post selfies on my Instagram account and I don’t hide behind Facetune and filters, like many people do. 

‘Life is not airbrushed. You can look  at someone for three seconds and admire them, but what you will continue to admire long afterwards is their personality and what they are doing to serve humanity. That’s what makes someone attractive.’  

Michael Boateng

Michael was eight months old when he became trapped next to a hot water pipe and was burnt down the side of his face. The 32-year-old is now married with two children, and works for Virgin as a network engineer

Michael Boateng was eight months old when he became trapped next to a hot water pipe and was burnt down the side of his face. The 32-year-old is now married with two children, and works for Virgin as a network engineer.

‘I hope this selfie says that I am a normal person, that nothing about me is out of the ordinary – I have two eyes, a mouth and all the things that make up a face. I rarely take selfies day to day, but my wife takes loads.

‘My scars bring out all sort of  reactions in people. I’ve had assumptions that I am into gang violence. Someone once came right out and asked me if I’d been in a gang fight. Instead of getting angry, I just tried to explain to them about what happened to me. The best way to tackle prejudice is to educate people.

‘I have two kids – Jacob, four, and Thea, two. A couple of years ago, I lost the prosthetic ear I’d had since the accident, because the skin around it got infected. The NHS wouldn’t pay for a new one so I decided to crowd-fund it. I raised £1,500 and then a relative kindly chipped in and helped with the rest. 

‘It was the first time my son was aware about my visible difference. When I told him I’d burnt my face,  he thought I was in pain because he associated it with when he’d recently burnt his little finger. Kids are really curious, not malicious,  but I feel I’ve given my son an advantage for when he meets someone who looks different.’

Shankar Jalota

Shankar, 24, is studying business and economics and is in his final year at Manchester Metropolitan University. He developed vitiligo, a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin, when he was a teenager

Shankar Jalota, 24, is studying business and economics and is in his final year at Manchester Metropolitan University. He developed vitiligo, a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin, when he was a teenager.

‘I used to hate pictures of myself. I had no self-confidence and used to cover up my vitiligo with make-up from the Red Cross. (I was terrible at putting it on, too. I don’t know how girls do it – total respect for them!) But then, a year or so ago, I had an epiphany: I was staying over at my girlfriend’s and realised I’d forgotten my foundation. I was on a work placement at the time and had to go into the office for the first time without it. Despite my initial fears, my colleagues were all fine. Some asked me questions, some didn’t say much, but the whole experience didn’t feel as terrible as I’d imagined it would be.

‘I get so many different reactions when people meet me for the first time, but I have to be patient – if I got angry, it would just knock my confidence, and the last thing I want to do is throw myself back into the old days. I am proud of who I am and embrace it now. I love my white patches.

‘I have an Instagram account called @thevitiligoman. I use it as a platform to showcase vitiligo and all the brilliant things around it. People contact me from all round the world, telling me their stories and asking for advice. For me, it feels great to give back and help people through what I’ve been through. I get so much strength from this.’

Brenda Finn

Brenda, 34, a candlemaker, discovered she had alopecia universalis – a condition that results in a complete loss of hair, the causes of which are unknown – when she was 14 

 Brenda Finn, 34, a candlemaker, discovered she had alopecia universalis – a condition that results in a complete loss of hair, the causes of which are unknown – when she was 14. 

‘I’ve worked hard to get to the stage where I can even take a photo of myself. I was 14 when it happened. One night  I went to bed with my hair and the next morning I woke up with just half of it. In the space of four weeks, my long hair had gone, and so had the hair from my arms, eyebrows, nostrils – you name it, it all just disappeared. 

‘My parents saved up enough money to buy me a wig, but back in 1999 they weren’t great. I don’t think that helped my self-confidence, but nowadays I think, if people can’t take me for how  I look, that’s their problem, not mine.  I still get frustrated when people assume I’m not feminine: we’re brought up from such a young age to believe that our femininity is dependent on our hair and our appearance. People are still surprised to this day when they see me wearing a dress.

‘I uploaded my first selfie without my wig about five years ago, after I was inspired by Jessie J shaving her head. I was a bit nervous about doing  it. I thought people might have avoided commenting or liking the picture,  but I’d say it’s been about 80 per  cent positive. You do get people who shoot off a quick comment, such as  “Hi, baldy”, because they find it entertaining, but they don’t realise  that words like that can stay with  you for weeks.’

Catrin Pugh

Catrin, 24, is a student at King’s College London, where she is studying physiotherapy. Five years  ago, during her gap year, she was in a coach accident that left her with 96 per cent burns 

Catrin Pugh, 24, is a student at King’s College London, where she is studying physiotherapy. Five years  ago, during her gap year, she was in a coach accident that left her with 96 per cent burns.  

‘This selfie shows that I am a confident, positive, smiley person.  I don’t wear a lot of make-up and I like having my scars on my face and on my neck on show. 

‘I think one of the biggest things people assume about me is that because my accident was so traumatic and my scarring is everywhere, I’m not happy – but that’s wrong. If anything, my life is more fulfilling now, as it gave me a new goal in life and the opportunity  to work with charities. 

‘Staring is the worst thing that I experience. It happens all the time, but  I just try to remember that 99 per cent of the people staring are doing so simply because it is something different to the norm; they’re not looking because they want to attack you. But it can get a bit tiring after a while.

‘My view is that, at the end of the day, everybody looks completely different and it shouldn’t be out of the ordinary for you to walk down the road with  your visible difference on show.’

Rory McGuire

Rory, 24, is a personal adviser for a health-insurance company. He was born with a birthmark on his face. In 2016 he underwent an operation to have 85 per cent of it removed

 Rory McGuire, 24, is a personal adviser for a health-insurance company. He was born with a birthmark on his face. In 2016 he underwent an operation to have 85 per cent of it removed.

‘In my selfie I’m smiling and it shows that, yes, I’ve got a visible difference and I’ve been through a lot of stuff – but because of that, I’m a stronger person.

‘I feel so different to when I was a teenager; then I was very low and didn’t like going out in public. Rather than glancing at me, people would look at my face for a whole three or four seconds, which is a lot longer than you would a normal person, and you become very conscious of them doing it. That is not nice to experience.

‘I was 22 when I posted for the first time on social media about growing  up with my birthmark – it was shared worldwide on Facebook. A few newspapers wrote articles about me and I was interviewed on a Scottish television show. That gave me the boost that changed everything. 

‘I think it’s important to remember that nobody who has a visible difference chose to have it. In my case, it was something that I was born with, so it’s not fair to judge someone based on something that is out of their control.’