Vividly, I can recall sitting in the office of my soon to be surgeon, looking at the X-ray of my spine, being told I’m having surgery. This is a sad occasion for most. You expect a patient to be brave or upset; but I was neither. I felt ecstatic. Living with severe scoliosis, walking strange-I could have surgery to fix this! None of the complications or worries had any effect on me. I was ten years old, blissfully unable to understand the impact this would have.
For those unaware, I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis at age ten. Also known as curvature of the spine. A twisted spine that needed metal rods to help straighten it. Doctors prepare you for the surgery. What led me in a blur of confusion, was the after-care. Together I had six surgeries; every year I would go to hospital, have my titanium rods extended, until my upper body stopped growing and then the surgeons performed my spinal fusion.
Once my spinal fusion was done and the surgeries were long gone, I felt very vulnerable. I wanted to be sad but then I didn’t want sympathy. I wanted to complain but then I know people go through worse. Guilt wiped across my face as a man who wanted me to put makeup on his daughter for a photo shoot, spoke about the pain I must have gone through. All the while we both knew his daughter had a severe brain tumour. It took quite a few years to come to terms with it all. It never quite felt the same. Like an elephant in the room you are determined to ignore. And as I tried to grip the outcome, there was one thing my mind kept on pause; the appearance.
Being an awkward teenager with acne, the idea of then living with a huge scar down my back, one down the side, uneven hips, plus an apparent ‘hump’, my spine permanently twisted forty-three degrees (at my first surgery it was heading towards seventy), my insecurity was that of a sheep meeting a lion. On holiday, I walked around in a bikini wanting to explain to every passer-by.
Long before last year when I completely overhauled my lifestyle, I did manage to make peace with this. I use to dance before surgery, and I decided to try to exercise again. My house was lively at midnight as I attempted home workouts on ballet, yoga and pilates after work. I surprised myself by how I managed to adapt to the movements. Who needs to bend forward and touch their toes, I can stretch and do downward facing dog!
What I didn’t know back then that I understand now; a scar is nothing. A scar is lucky, a scar means you are healing. There is so much more in life you experience. We spend so much time fretting over every mark, scratch and flaw. I look back now and I’m proud. I don’t feel special, I don’t feel blessed, I just feel proud of my surgeons and proud of myself. My body dealt with it and it’s now apart of me.
You can cry, you can scream, no matter what you feel or what you say, life throws cards at you. It does not matter how much sympathy you get; it is not a competition on who has what worse. We can go through so much, that the physical imperfections we see, are just apart of us.
Living healthy has built up my strength as well as my confidence. When I signed as a model with my acne scars and uneven back, I reminded myself that these issues we expand and brand, do not have to define us. With every individual, there will be something ‘wrong’. Even models who look flawless on the covers of magazines, I have seen edited and moulded. My advice is to always take care of yourself, embrace fitness and health, and remember there is more to life than an imperfection on the body.