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ICYMI: Kellie O’Farrell, Burns Survivor

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Some years ago, I watched a really touching documentary about Kellie O’Farrell, a young Longford girl, who had survived a fire when she was two, which resulted in most of her body being covered in substantial burns. Her story has stayed with me ever since, and this week I was delighted when she agreed to write a piece for us about some of the frankly horrific treatment she has experienced over the years. I am stunned by her eternal brightness and optimism. We can all learn something from Kellie. Tammy x

When I was just two-years-old, I was injured in an accidental car fire. As a result, I sustained horrific burns on my face and hands. In fact, I’m very lucky to be alive. In the aftermath of the accident, I spent most of my childhood undergoing countless reconstructive surgical procedures. Teams of surgeons and health care professionals have worked wonders in minimizing the visibility of my scars, as well as restoring enough function in my hands to enable me to be completely independent, for which I am extremely grateful. Despite receiving amazing surgery, my scars are still very noticeable, which can at times prompt an extremely negative reaction from society.

The majority of people do not see my scars as a negative and thus don’t treat me differently. For the most part, people just can’t help but give me a few harmless inquisitive glances when they spot me in a crowd. I don’t think people realise that I notice their glances which last a few seconds longer than they should; but I do…. each and every one of them. I’m often asked if this bothers me, my answer is truthfully no, because most of the time people do not mean any ill intent, it’s just natural human curiosity. If the roles were reversed, I’d probably even do the same.

Sadly though, not everyone in society stops at just a few glances. I have been a victim of stigma, discrimination, bullying and inequality; initiated by different people from all walks of life. I can recall many hurtful instances where I have been made feel inadequate, just because I have a few noticeable scars.

For example, in pubs and club’s a few men have made it their business to shout horrific insults about my appearance. In shopping centres groups of people have openly taunted me. Some public transport passengers must think I carry the plague, because they move away from sitting beside me so fast. I have been called a poor thing countless times and told by strangers that my life must be terrible.

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Last year after another round of surgery on my face; despite still being a little bruised, I was confident enough to go out in public. To my horror a stranger walked up to me and took a picture of me on his phone. When asked why he took the picture, he said he wanted to use it to frighten his children.

In the past, I have experienced a few other incidences where I have been told that I’m less able than others. Some people prejudge me based on my injuries, predicting what I am able and not able to do. However, I do not believe my injuries define my abilities in any way, if anything, they make me more determined to reach my own personal goals.

We live in a world obsessed with beauty and perfection. Many in our society strive to conform to digitally airbrushed images of blemish-free beauty, like those showcased by advertising multinationals globally. Those who do not fit these socially constructed ideals of beauty are often perceived as less attractive or undesirable. In other words, people who look like me.

I don’t really care what others think of my scars, because other people’s thoughts are none of my business. What is important, is how I think and feel about myself.  I’m very comfortable in my own skin and I think my scars are fabulous in their own unique way. I’m not seeking to conform to digitally airbrushed images of blemish-free beauty, because that is not natural beauty, it’s the creation of a software package. Natural beauty comes from within and is illustrated through our personalities. I believe that there is no such thing as an unattractive or undesirable appearance. Everyone has their own unique beauty.

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My burns’ survivor status has brought me many great experiences and opportunities for personal development, alongside a few moments of terrible sadness. Looking the way I do, has forced me to be a wiser and more outgoing person. I’m happy in my own skin, burns and all.

In the twenty-six years that I have lived as a burns’ survivor, I have seen many great improvements in relation to appearance-related equality in our society. Nowadays most people treat me with kindness and respect. However, I still think a lot more advances could be made to achieve total appearance related equality for all.

My message is this; if you’re someone who has been negatively treated because of your appearance, it is vitally important that you never let those people take the shine off your sparkle

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