Beauty Without Fuss

Thursday 24 March 2011

Katie: My Beautiful Friends.

I was approached to write this piece, and it's a little different to what I'd normally put on here - it's certainly a lot more personal, for which I apologise in advance - so I do hope people won't mind too much.

On Tuesday evening, I sat and watched the Channel Four TV show Katie: My Beautiful Friends and found it extraordinary. Normally, I find TV shows about disfigurement exceptionally difficult to watch, and I very deliberately avoided watching Katie: My Beautiful Face (which was the precursor to this show) a Cutting Edge documentary shown in 2009 about Katie Piper's recovery from being attacked with sulphuric acid by a man she met on Facebook, as I knew I would find it painful. 

Let me tell you why.

My problem - if you can call it that, I suspect that it's more a form of "over-identification", as you shall see - with TV programmes like this stems from my own - very minor - experience of disfigurement.  I was never what you would call a pretty child: pudgy, verging on ginger, and I had a gap between my two front teeth you could park a bicycle in.  When I was five, I went to bed perfectly normal, and woke up with strabismus.  Essentially I went cross-eyed in my sleep, which is pretty rare to happen so suddenly, especially when you wake up so severely cross-eyed that only the white of the crossed eye is visible, which is was happened to me.

I had to undergo major eye surgery several times to correct it, and endured brain scans, blood tests, and vision tests many, many times during my childhood, as they were worried about brain tumours and cerebral palsy, amongst other - scarier - things.  In the mid-70's, none of these tests were a minor undertaking (if you've ever seen the brain-scan scene in The Exorcist, it's based - almost entirely - on the actual medical procedure of the time).  Quite where my mum found her resources of strength to deal with all this, I will never know.

My childhood wasn't really a fun place.  Added to my gappy teeth, the pudginess, the nearly-gingerness, and the constant medical tests and surgery, I then had to endure a year or two of wearing eye-patches, and the adhesive on those things (no sexy black patches on elastic for this kid, no!  Industrial strength Elastoplast all the way, baby!) ripped my eyebrow out, every single time.  So, I was a one-eyebrowed, cross-eyed, chubby ginger child with teeth pointing both east and west, usually to be found wearing smeary pink NHS glasses.  I still have nightmares about those glasses to this day.

I was not popular.  I was not cool.  And I was bullied, unmercifully all the way through school, even after the eyepatch disappeared.  Possibly unsurprisingly, as I was also rather unpleasant.  Whiny, needy, and something of a smart-alec (some things never change).  I was rather isolated, and convinced I was horrific to behold - so I separated myself from people.  Usually via sarcasm (as I said, some things never change), but normally just by being by myself. I read a lot, and wasn't really good in groups of other kids.  Still not, as it happens.  Anyhoo.

I remember, on a family holiday not long after my first surgery, hearing my mother say to one of the holiday camp photographers (we were at Butlins and they followed you everywhere back then) not to take pictures of me as she was "ashamed" to see them. Once in a while she'd yell "no pictures!" if anyone else tried to take a picture too.  Even now, Mum will still make jokes about how terrible I looked back then, and the word hideous is usually used. It still hurts, the fact that my mother thought she couldn't look at me, even when my realistically, my "disfigurement" was very minor, and, as it turned out, purely temporary.  It wasn't quick though, I didn't really grow into my looks until I hit my late teens, and I have days where I'm still not sure I have.

I still don't like having my photograph taken to this day, and I can never ever take a compliment seriously - these things stay with you.  I am less than I look.  Or, rather, I feel that I am less than I look. Objectively, these days, I'm a perfectly ordinary-looking woman, but there has ever been a little corner of me that is still that ugly and unloved little mite, and I carry her everywhere with me.  My little blog about "beauty" is partially a response to that, I guess.  

I, myself, may never be a "beauty", but there's always the hope, every new cosmetic release, that there's something that might help lay the ghost of my five year old self to rest.  I think I use skin cream in the hope that I'll suddenly wake up "beautiful" or even just plain "pretty", instead of the "merely passable" being I see in the mirror every morning. These last few paragraphs have been the single hardest thing I've ever written for Get Lippie, and it's possible it makes no sense as a result - or worse, makes me look like an idiot. Or both! But, I'll take my chances, I think.

Because, my experience is nothing, literally nothing compared to some of the stories on display Tuesday evening, particularly the story of Chantelle and her AVM - a condition which causes blood vessels to expand uncontrollably, and because it is Chantelle's nose that is affected, her condition threatens her life.  Such a beautiful - in all senses of the word - girl, unable to hide her affliction, and dealing with everything that life had to throw at her, including the break-up of her marriage on the eve of her life-saving operation.  Katie Piper, too, dealing with finding out about her attacker's appeal against his life sentence with such dignity and grace, these women were strong, graceful and inspirational.

Having watched the programme in full, I feel a bit ashamed of my tale further up this post, it's such a little thing compared to some of the situations some people go through in their lives, but I know that even small things like those can leave a lasting impression, and I know too that my little blog makes a difference to some people's lives from the emails I get from my readers.  Cosmetics, whilst seemingly frivolous, are a serious matter for some people, which is why I'm here, still blogging away.  And, whilst I may still upon occasion complain about my looks, as a result of this show, I'll be thinking about how I relate to my face somewhat differently.

I'm glad I watched.  Looking beyond someone's appearance (even our own) is difficult, and the programme taught me I can face up to my own issues, and I'm grateful for that.  I'm nothing like as brave as Katie or Chantelle, and I'm very glad I haven't had reason to be, and that is a lesson I'm glad to have learned.  That Katie has turned around her tragic experience and it's made her reach out to people similarly affected is astonishing - the show is following her life as she sets up the Katie Piper Foundation, which aims to set up communities in order to support people similarly affected - and the fact that she's such a lovely, unpretentious and warm girl made the programme feel like a real slice of a life shared, and that's been a real inspiration.

Thank you, Katie.  I shall now watch My Beautiful Face, and really put my issues in order.

Watch the first episode here on C4 on demand and tune into the next episodes every Tuesday at 9pm on C4.

The Fine Print: This has been a sponsored post, however, I shall donate part of my fee to The Katie Piper Foundation.

This post originated at: All rights reserved.


  1. Oh dear... I've always loved your blog, but must admit I winced a bit at the "near ginger" comments. Is being "ginger" really so awful?

  2. I thought this was an amazing post, it made me stop and think. Thank you x

  3. When you're 5/6/7 years old, and constantly being called a ginger four-eyed spazz, (and worse) then yes, it's really awful.

    I'm not gingerist, I'm just stating MY experience as it happened.

  4. Amazing post Louise and one that has really made me think about a lot of things.

  5. I also watched that show thinking 'I'll never complain about my appearance again'. But of course I will. We all will. It's human nature.

    If Katie's aim is to bring the whole 'facial disfigurement' issue out of its previously taboo-ridden box then this post has clearly shown that she has gone some way to doing just that.

    Bravo to her and Bravo to you for putting yourself out there.

  6. Don't apologise children can be so cruel .

  7. Really touching post, well written.

  8. What an amazingly beautiful personal blog this is today.

    I found myself nodding and agreeing with every part.

    I think we all need to learn to accept our flaws and differences as they help shape us into the person we are.

    The words inspirational are banded around too often these days but Katie Piper truly is inspirational. She could've quite easily and understandably spent the rest of her life being angry and negative but instead has sed what has happened to her to give a voice to other people suffering from facial disfigurement.


    Ps, your mother sounds an exceptionally strong brave woman, can see where you get it from x x

  9. Fantastic post hun, really written from the heart. It brought tears to my eyes.
    I watched the programme as well and usually when i watch these types of programmes it affects me strongly.
    We as women are never happy with our looks but for the brave people who have no choice but to look different it must be such a huge obstacle to tackle.
    Katie herself is so so inspiring and might i add i found her absolutely beautiful.
    As to your ginger comment. I totally agree, it can be the biggest or smallest thing that can make a person feel out of place. Bullies will pick on any little vunrability that they can find in a person.
    We all have hidden insecurities which i feel the media often play on.
    It has given me personally a lot to think about xx

  10. So much of this resonates with me (long story), I'm trying not to cry because in a mo I have to go out there and put my professional face on and smile. So I'm sending you virtual brownies (I baked a yummy batch yesterday so would be happy to share IRL too) and thank you for this. You rock:)

  11. Thank you for being so honest. I can identify with a lot of the sentiment that you express, and still now think I am 'ugly' and 'fat' and I'm nearly 40 (cripes!). My mum used to constantly ask me why I didn't look like Olivia Newton John when she was singing 'the one that I want' in Grease. That did leave a huge mark on my self esteem that still continues. That aside, I think Katie Piper is such an inspriation to everyone - making me feel like my problems are insignificant (which they are) and beaking down people's perceptions and prejuduces of real facial disfigurements. Bravo her, and all the inspriational people in the programme.

  12. Well Done for sharing!

    Anything can be used as an insult, and yes Ginger is still being used like that even now. Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing is neither here nor there if it's being used to hurt. And hurt it does.

    A few years back one of my kids got the most horrible swollen black eye. Seeing how adults in the playground pointed and stared gave me a tiny insight into how people with disabilities or disfigurements must feel, and it aint nice.

    Once again, good on you for sharing and I hope it really helps a lot of people.

  13. Such an inspiring post x I can someway relate as I was always a gawky kid who thought that things would never change. Thank you for sharing your story, and the programme is incredible! xx

  14. What an insightful, thought provoking post. Thank you for sharing something so personal to you.

  15. Amazing post. I didn't watch this programme, but I saw the original, and it always makes me realise what a "different" childhood I had, which at the time, I don't think I even noticed that other people didn't have.

    I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I grew up with a physically (not mentally) disabled older brother, and I've always been in awe of how he and my mum coped with it all. He's always endured people staring at him, but he's such a strong-willed person, who has "the gift of the gab!" that I've never met anyone who didn't get along with him, and see past his disabilities, because he's always made sure to talk to people, so they realise that he's "normal" in every other way. I sometimes wonder what life would have been like for him, if he hadn't been disabled, but then I think, he'd be the same person he is today, just a lot taller!!

    Remember that it is our personal disfigurements, no matter how big or small, that make us beautiful, and unique.

  16. Thank you for sharing your story, L. It's stories like Katies and her friends to put some of my own insecurities in perspective.
    I have been blessed to not have any kind of disfigurement, temporary or permanent, but I always think that I would have such a hard time dealing with it gracefully if I did. Sarcasm is a great defense to hide behind (*it's my second language!) so I'm certain that would be my main way of dealing with it. I would like to think that your Mom may have been dealing with it that way, too, without realizing how actually hurtful it was to you. I am so glad that you have channeled your hurt into this helpful forum for other folks to learn from your experiences - whether that comes from a tube or life itself. xo

  17. Paula, you're exactly right, that's precisely what she was doing. It's still what she's doing now, it was very difficult to write this post without being sarcastic, so I guess I should cut her a break once in a while ...

  18. Amazing post and so brave to go into your obviously painful past like that, like everyone it has made me think, childhood can be such a difficult time if you don't fit in.

  19. I had no idea what to expect when I started reading this. It's written from your heart and it brought tears to my eyes..

    They say children are sweet and innocent.. hell no!!!! Kids can be SO cruel, much worse than adults. I'm really sorry you had to go through this, but just think that you're healthy now, you have MrL, all of us who read your blog and get inspired and so many other things. I know it's hard to let go, but we have to try and live/enjoy the moment and stop worrying so much about the future and what others will think about us.


  20. Big hug for putting it out there, you always come across as super confident and very likeable with no issues at all and, looking at your blog pics, beautiful, groomed and stylish. Who knew that what your readers see isn't the whole picture! I think to a greater or lesser extent most women have issues, many of them needlessly. Had a similar childhood experience as was blessed with v pretty, v slim, blond baby sister who my dad adored, he wasn't quite so enamoured with his chubby, dark haired, dour daughter, if my mum hadn't nagged incessantly you would go through our family photo albums and assume they had only had the one pretty kid!! That said as a direct result I developed a rapier wit (so I have been told!) in self defence which has stood me in good stead all my adult life and I too have finally, if not grown into, become accustomed to my looks and frankly its what's inside that counts.

  21. I can see why this post was so hard to write. Growing up and not conforming is extremely difficult to deal with (for both parent and child) and it can do long term damage.

    I missed the programme this week, but I did watch the one in 2009 and was profoundly moved by it.

    Speaking as someone who is visibly riddled with psoriasis, I have developed an extremely thick skin over the years (boom boom). I'm used to people looking at me in a disgusted fashion, not wanting to touch me, and having to sweep dead skin cells away from my desk every couple of hours.

    I think the message Katie is putting out there, and the way people have responded here is marvellous. And so are you.

  22. What an interesting, thoughtful post, something I'm sure we can all relate to in one way another.

    I have grown up with a severely disabled older brother (physically and mentally)and I still remember around 5 years old going out with him and the stinging realisation that everyone, adults and children alike, were all staring at him. Before that time I was blissfully unaware that there was anything different about him, I thought everyone had an older brother like him, but that changed very suddenly because of that experience. Nothing makes me as hurt and angry as people continuously pointing and staring at my innocent brother. Children I can almost forgive, but adults should know better. I experienced this myself when I fell ill and was forced to use a wheelchair for about a year, but somehow I found it easier when I was the one stared at, I can stick up for myself but my brother is hugely vulnerable.

    As a result, I strongly support anything that makes more people realise that there is no 'perfect' or 'normal', we are individuals and should be accepted as such. Hopefully this latest documentary and your post will help get this message accross and show that we are all so much more than just the body we inhabit. X

  23. You are beautiful. Even Gary Barlow thinks so! lol

  24. What a post. Just crying at my desk. Thanks xxx

  25. Your post brought tears to my eyes. Having severely bad eyesight I was made to wear an eyepatch and glasses from the age of 2, and had a similar experience that you did at school. As a beauty writer I really felt an affinity to what you wrote about hoping beauty products will magically 'change you.' I feel that no matter how much make-up I put on, how thin I am or how great my hair is, I'll always be that strange looking four-eyed 8 year old that noone wants to be friends with. People like Katie Piper are such wonderful inspiring women, and make me realise I have no right to complain about my lot in life.

  26. That took some balls and a whole lot of maturity, compassion and self-awareness to write...
    Thank you for a true moment.

  27. What a great post my love - all throughout my life I've have had negative comments regarding my appearance, one of less pleasant comments was are you quasimodos sister? nice eh - I have a condition caused by birth trauma called facial palsy which basically means some of the nerves in my face have been damaged and simply don't work - my eyes sometimes don't shut or open properly and my mouth is uneven and I can't smile normally - surgery is a option for me but I've come this far and am unsure of changing how I am - beauty blogging has been really cathertic for me and it's given me a lot of courage - I still get negative comments which do hurt but I am stronger than that - the work of Katie Piper and others on the facial equality campaigns is so important in helping us realise underneath we are all the same x

  28. Your post has deeply touched me for this is a topic close to my heart.

    My mother was beautiful. Stunning in everyway. She had the most perfect figure and flawless skin. Then one day. Her boyfriend's jealous ex, threw petrol over her and set her alight. She suffered the most horrendous burns and spent 6 weeks in hospital.

    She was never the same again. Her confidence disappeared and so did that twinkle in her eye. She covered most of her body and rarely left the house.

    BUT she spent the rest of her years helping others in ways you wouldn't believe. Her beauty was in her heart and in her actions and every part of her being......She is my hero and always will be. I havent met a woman that could face all that she did and remain so graceful and giving.

    I grew up believing that everything is transient or fleeting in life. I must not take anything for granted and I must appreciate everything I can.

    Thank you for this post and thank you for listening.

    I posted about my mum once here:

  29. As I told you on Twitter. I sat at my desk with tears in my eyes reading this post. I know from personal experience the extent of how unbelievably cruel children can be. Adults are no better in some instances.

    We all know that sticks and stones will break our bones, but names with never hurt us. But they do, don't they? They are just words and yet they can cut you deeper than any knife. People like to be able to put you in a box and if you don't fit, they don't have a clue what to do with you. So they belittle you, rather than getting to know you as a person. It's easier to keep your distance from something you don't understand or don't like the look of. People like Katie make you realise that you have to deal with the world and the people in it - just as they are. And just because they are not the same as you, doesn't give them any less right to have their place in the world. I have so much respect for Katie, and you for telling your story x

  30. A very thought provoking post. I saw the programme and foudnit hard watching. Like Caroline, I would like to say I wont complain about my appearanc again... bt I probably will becaus I am human. I will never forget those brave people though. Thanks for writing (and for donating the fee) x

  31. Thanks for sharing your story, it was very moving to read.

  32. After watching the programme I also wrote about my experience with my own disfigurement, I do hope that this hepls people living with such issues to see that they are not alone. It certianly empowered me on a new level


  33. Just want to say a massive thank you to everyone who commented on this post, sent me wonderful tweets, and especially to all who shared their stories with me too.

    My readers are amazing, I've always said so, and thank you so much for making me share this story something I'm glad to have done.

    (((you guys)))

    Normal, sarcastic, service will be resumed shortly.

  34. I'm finally catching up with my blog reading (I missed the tweets on this) hence the delayed response. If you hadn't written this piece, I wouldn't have guessed what you've been through. I can only imagine how you must have toyed with it in your mind to open up about this.

    I was also moved by some of the comments others have posted, especially Lipstick Luvvie. I too know what it feels like to have others point and stare at my mentally disabled brother, and it fills me with so much anger when you see it's adults who do this.

    Thank you for sharing such a personal account.

  35. That was such a lovely/sad post. I don't know what i'd do if my mum said that to me.

    Haven't seen the documentry but i might 4od it.

    Lovely blog btw *new follower*


  36. Only just come to this, what a wonderful post. Just wanted to say you are one of the most amazing people I know and inspire me regularly. As well as make me laugh a lot. You may have been a gawky kid, but you're a bloody marvellous woman.

    And Amber. I am ginger. It is not a terrible thing, I love my red hair. But the abuse I still get to this day is ridiculous. A few years ago I sat on a bus for 45 mins while a gang of school kids taunted me and other people smirked. It's nowhere near to what someone with a disfigurement goes through, but it does make you a target for abuse.

  37. I was an 'awkward kid' too - dyspraxic, so terrible at sports, fat (though looking at the sizes I wore, I was just tall and had no idea how to dress) and uninterested in mainstream fashion or trends. I was also what would now be classed as gifted and talented, but it didn't exist then, so I was thought of as weird and nerdy...and for various other reasons was pretty low on self-esteem. Funny how it still sticks with you years later, when you're a grown adult and perfectly entitled to wear and do what you like. (We had a bowling trip at work, and I didn't go, because if I try to do sports and can't manage them I feel incredibly humiliated even if rationally I know that it's only fun and nobody is seriously teasing me.)

    I can't imagine what it's like to have a constant, physical disfigurement.

  38. I can definitely relate to Mippy's story. I have only just discovered that I am dyspraxic, having spent a childhood of being teased for being bad at practically every sport. It's followed me into adulthood in the exact same way, in that I often decline invitations to go Bowling because I'm embarrassed that I can't throw in a straight line, no matter how hard I try. I know it's only fun too, but I always feel like people are making fun, because I grew so used to it at school.


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