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Face Equality Day: This is what it’s really like to live with a visible difference

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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How do you cope with being singled out for looking different? Burns survivor Tulsi Vagjiani shares her story.

 “If they’re gonna stare, they’re gonna stare,” says 39-year-old Tulsi Vagjiani.

She would know; at the age of 10, Tulsi lost both her parents and her brother in a plane crash. Tulsi survived but suffered second-and-third-degree burns across 45% of her body. Her life was forever changed. 

In a world where concepts like the ‘Halo Effect’ are mainstream knowledge and we automatically assume conventionally attractive people are more competent, intelligent and trustworthy, deviating from the aesthetic ‘norm’ can significantly alter the way people react to you.

“I felt the same, I spoke the same, so nothing had actually changed,” Tulsi tells Stylist of the immediate years following her accident.

“[But] when it came to finding employment, that’s where the difficulty [lay]. All I wanted to do was work in a hotel, front-of-house. But when I applied for a job, they said ‘Your face isn’t going to suit this hotel. I realised my burns were my limitation.”

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Yet after a period of severe depression, a medical emergency made Tulsi re-evaluate what mattered to her – and how she viewed her burns.

“At that moment [when I thought I was dying] I realised my burns weren’t my limitation,” she says. “They just held me back based on the fact that people were judging me. But they were just psychological, they weren’t physical.”

Almost a quarter of people say they feel embarrassed to venture into public because of their visible difference and research by organisation Changing Faces shows that 45% of 18-34 year-olds with a disfigurement have been discriminated against in job applications.

1.3 million people in the UK go through life with disfigurement – and nearly 570,000 individuals have facial disfigurements. Campaigners are asking for stricter equality laws to stamp out discrimination against those with a visible difference.

Which is why Tulsi wanted to her share her journey of acceptance and self-love with Stylist – watch the video above. 

Images: Stylist

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Moya Lothian-McLean

Moya Lothian-McLean is a freelance writer with an excessive amount of opinions. She tweets @moya_lm.

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