From Burn Survivor to Burn Thriver: Sylvia Mac’s Powerful Story

Passing the mic to our sis Sylvia in London, who has used the journey of accepting her childhood scarring to build a community for body empowerment and inclusivity.

burn | Mental Health | overcoming
Photo: IG @fordtography

My name is Sylvia MacGregor, but people know me as Sylvia Mac. I live in the East End of London and have done so all my life. And when I was just two and a half years young, I had a very bad accident that disfigured my body for life.

I lived in a very small flat with my sisters mom and dad. One day, I was playing around with my sister a game of hide and seek when I decided to venture into the bathroom and hide behind the door. My mother had told us not to enter because she had laid a bowl of boiling water on the bathroom floor. My sister pushed the door and I went flying back into the bowl of water. I am very lucky to be alive today as I spent most of my time on life support. I went on to have numerous surgical procedures and many skin grafts.

Growing up was a very difficult time for me as I had to learn how to maneuver my way around society so that I could fit in without causing alarm or bringing attention to my scarred body.

In school I learned how to keep myself as small as possible and that often meant sitting at the back of the class. In sports, I would do everything I could to stay away from other pupils so I did not bump into them Otherwise they would feel my scars. At lunchtime I would sit alone in the playground holding my tummy as I was unable to eat very much due to the tight scar across my tummy. I realized later on that this had cause me to have an eating disorder.

In my teenage years, I notice that boys seem to like me and that made me very scared. Whenever my friends told me how beautiful I was, I managed to deflect the compliments. Any attention towards myself was not good and I was angry, sad, hateful teenager always negative towards everybody. I did eventually date a boy but it didn’t last longer than one week as he told me just how much he loved me. Eventually I found someone who loved me for me and didn’t care about my scarred body.

burn | Mental Health | overcoming
Photo: IG @fordtography

Over the years, I became extremely depressed and struggled with my own body image. I struggled with my confidence and had very low self esteem. It was easier for me to cover my scars and forget about them. Even though I had times when I needed to visit the hospital for skin releases or undress In front of my doctor, that didn’t matter as this was something I was used to. From the age of 9 up until I turned 16, I was often asked to undress for student doctors so they could carry out their experiments and use me like a Guinea pig.

In 2016, I had a turning point in my life where I no longer wanted to live with this pain and realized that my mother was carrying a lot of guilt because of my accident. I decided enough was enough and that I would help lift that guilt so my mother could be free and know that I am happy. I met with my cousin who helped me create a video which I shared online so that others could see my scars, and try to understand what I had gone through. I also wanted to help other people learn to accept their body image so that they wasn’t suffering the way I did.

Building on this, I set up a campaign and online support network called Love Disfigure. I decided to challenge the fashion industry to become diverse of people with visible and hidden differences. The campaign was seen On TV and many newspapers including online platforms. The reason for me creating this campaign was because when I was younger I noticed there was no Representation of bodies that looked like mine.

I believe the fashion industry need to be held accountable for as their actions create a knock on effect whereby young people see only one body type or image and are brain washed into believing that this is the way to look. If you look at runway models most of them are one body size one ethnicity one look. During campaigning myself and a group of ladies with scars, health and skin conditions including disabilities stood outside London Fashion Week holding banners and calling for diversity on the runways. My campaign was later seen online and there began a talking point around inclusion & diversity So that the clothing worn on the models Also represented real bodies especially as we buy these clothes too.

Love Disfigure and my campaigns have been running for four years now and continue to change peoples perceptions on body acceptance and body image. I have seen many upcoming brand campaigns featuring people with skin conditions, scars and health conditions. It is good to know that everything I do is beginning to make a difference as this is what I set out to do.

There are many sectors that need diversity to be included so that people with visible and hidden differences feel accepted in society. 

Society itself needs change and educating so that the younger generation are able to learn to love their bodies, and carry on being represented whether in fashion, sport, TV and film or media industry. Things are slowly changing, and the more we hold discussions about body image, the quicker society will change & all the sectors/industries will become inclusive of all bodies, regardless of how they look.

burn | Mental Health | overcoming
Photo: IG @Dlpictureuk

One simple message I learned later on was to ‘always accept a compliment’ – for example, “You’re looking beautiful” – and replying with a simple “Thank you.” This was something I used to struggle with, always replying, “Oh no, not me.” When you deflect a compliment, you’re not accepting a positive comment and owning it. Learning to just say “Thank you” gave me a more positive mindset.

After spending 40 years suffering with my own body image, I realised that my body was amazing as I had survived and was still alive to share my story so that others could be inspired. My message to other women with scars or skin differences is that your body is unique, different, and beautiful! There are so many positive role models online to help lift you up and inspire you. I’ll end by leaving you with a motto I believe in: You might not be able to change your path in life but you can change the way you walk it.

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