The Scale of Disfigurement

‘For me I was almost happy to be burnt [from the acid attack] because it meant freedom from my husband. But at the time, I just didn’t know the scale of disfigurement that I would have to face in the future. I was doing all the right things – eating the correct food, being a really good patient, and starting to move on. It was only after I was discharged from the hospital that my life took a turn.

It was then that my face started distorting and contracting. I had to take this face out to people, and it was challenging to live the life that I used to live. People were really scared of me because the face had really distorted to the extent where it looked horrific. It was difficult to get out of the house because children screamed when they saw me, and people plastered themselves to the wall to let me go by. They didn’t know how to react, and the insensitivity of stares and questions was continuous. I didn’t know how to deal with all this unwarranted attention that I was getting.

I was horrified as well because I was deviant from whatever was considered symmetrical [and beautiful]. And it wasn’t a pleasant sight. So for me it was justifiable for people to be afraid of me, and to think of me differently. But the scale of it was something that really traumatised me.

[The turning point came when] I started this burned support group, by joining various online forums. I also got invited to the World Burns Conference in the US. I think what really helped me at that time was the burkha, because it was really a blessing in disguise. It helped me move around easily, which gave me mobility. As soon as I started becoming mobile and going out independently, I started gaining confidence. What I also realized was that the more I spoke about my disfigurement, the more people were sympathetic. They understood. So that made me feel nice, like, “OK they are not all bad, but people are kind, too.”

There was this one gesture [that really had an impact on me]. I was standing at the bus stop, and a lady just came up to me out of nowhere and said, “You know what, I think you are so beautiful with your scars.” And then she went away. That’s all she said you know. It did wonders for me, because an absolute stranger who didn’t know how I looked before could see beauty in me now. And that really helped you know; it really made me feel good about myself.’ – Shireen Juwale, 27, disfigurement after acid attack