Building up confidence and knocking down stigmas – Sylvia Mac is changing lives with Love Disfigure
After suffering severe burns as a child, Sylvia Mac now runs swimming sessions for those with skin disfigurements, offering them the chance to develop their confidence, and embrace their differences.
At the age of three, Sylvia fell into a pot of boiling water, leaving her with third and fourth degree burns. Sylvia recovered, but was left with scars across her back and various parts of her body.
As a child, Sylvia became a competitive swimmer and, while she loved being in the water, would work hard not to draw attention to herself or her burns by covering herself with a large towel up until the moment she got in the pool.
Now aged 49, Sylvia reflects on her life and sees how fear of judgement from others, and the stigma against those with disfigurement, prevented her from reaching her full potential. Determined to support others with skin disfigurements and differences, Sylvia founded Love Disfigure, where she campaigns for greater representation, and runs monthly confidence swimming sessions.
“During the sessions, I talk with the swimmers about their main concerns, then take them around poolside fully clothed,” Sylvia tells Happiful. “Afterwards, I take them back to the changing room and discuss areas that make them feel exposed or vulnerable, like showers, changing areas, poolside, and reception. I talk to them about people ‘staring’, and how we can learn to change our mindset. We then get changed together and walk around the pool before getting in.”
While Sylvia has seen incredible transformations in people’s confidence after attending sessions, the journey there isn’t always easy. “One lady who attended was so anxious that she had a panic attack outside,” says Sylvia. “It was the middle of winter, but I ran out in my swimsuit and brought her inside.”
The lady continued to come to the sessions, growing in confidence each time, before eventually becoming a model for Love Disfigure, and joining Sylvia and three other women on ITV’s This Morning, wearing swimsuits and showing off their scars.
But Sylvia’s work has only just begun: “I’m going to continue campaigning to open up opportunities in the fashion industry, TV and film, and the sporting world,” she says. “I hope to travel all over the country sharing our message, and fighting for equality and diversity for those with skin disfigurements and differences.”
You can find out more about Love Disfigure by visiting lovedisfigure.com, and by following them on Instagram @love_disfigure
Hero Image | Sophie Mayanne