Incredible images celebrate the stories behind people’s scars

Powerful photo series reveals the VERY emotional stories of people living with scars – from a woman who survived a nightclub explosion to a baby who had open-heart surgery

  • British photographer Sophie Mayanne wanted to capture 10 people with scars 
  • Mayanne has now done over 300 portraits of people from all over the world
  • Her subjects have suffered everything from house fires to gun wounds to cancer
  • Here she reveals some of her latest photographs exclusively with MailOnline 

A British photographer has shared her striking portraits of people living with scars – from a burns victim to a baby with a keloid ‘zipper’ scar across her chest.

Sophie Mayanne, from London, has captured hundreds of people’s scars in an ongoing project aimed at helping them to ’embrace their bodies’.

Sharing her latest photographs with MailOnline, Sophie reveals the story of a cancer survivor, a woman who’s undergone 63 operations, and the youngest participant so far – one-year-old Faith, who has Down’s Syndrome.

The freelance photographer has now launched a crowdfunding campaign on JustGiving to continue her project, and is hoping to raise £30,000 which will also help her compile a book of all the images. 

Here, she shared their emotional stories… 

FAITH 

One-year-old Faith, who has Down’s syndrome, underwent open-heart surgery when she was just nine months old  and her parents are keen to show the youngster is ‘beautiful’

Faith’s mother said: ‘Faith had open-heart surgery when she was nine months old. That part of her life story will be forever written in her skin by the keloid zipper scar that is still healing, even though she is now already one year old. 

‘When she was recovering in Glenfield Hospital, [her mother] was speaking to one of the cardiac nursers about Faith being signed up by Zebedee Management, who asked if she would show her scar.


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‘Behind The Scars means we can now tell her that they’re not just showing it, but celebrating it. 

‘Celebrating it as a testament to that nurse’s loving care, and the immense skills of her colleagues, and Faith’s strength and determination. 

‘It represents all of the extra love and joy her brother, sister, mummy and daddy will experience by having her in their lives for longer. 

‘It is beautiful, because she is beautiful. Currently we’d like it to just finish healing so she can get back to splashing in the bath, and on with the next stage of her development. 

‘In time it might help her connect with people who have had similar experiences to her – in the same way her Down’s syndrome has led us to discover a fabulous community offering a very warm, friendly welcome. 

‘But right now, Faith just thinks it’s a bit itchy.’ 

ABIGAIL 

Abigal had a series of operations following an accident when she was a teenager, leaving her with a prominent scar on her shin

‘I was in an accident when I was 13. I had six skin and muscle grafting surgeries, almost had my foot amputated, and went through years of pysiotherapy. 

‘I can’t recall an exact moment of accepting my scars. It’s been a gradual journey, and I’m still on it. 

‘I had an amazing support system of family and friends who helped me realised I had a choice: I could choose to be miserable and hide, or I could get on with it and live my life. 

‘Most of my stress was tied up in how other people might see me. I don’t think it was a question of whether I could accept what happened to me. I remember crying in the hospital because I felt certain that no one would love me because of my leg. 

‘It seems ridiculous thinking back, but it says a lot about how much we define our self-worth by others standards. Even as a 13-year-old girl I felt that. 

‘Feeling like you’re being judged or like you’re ugly or not good enough… it’s painful. But we all go through it in life in varying degrees.

‘As much as I struggled early on, covering up was never an option for me. On hot summer days, I’ve had people come to me and basically congratulate me on wearing shorts despite the appearance of my leg. 

‘I know they mean well, but I always laugh and think ‘Okay I know it’s bad, but I didn’t think it was that bad!’ My path to self-acceptance has been about altering my mindset and training myself to be confident. 

‘I’ve had to self-talk my way through a lot of situations that made me uncomfortable. Being around strangers, or meeting new people when my leg was visible scared the shit out of me. 

‘Walking down the beach in a bathing suit I would think ‘Fuck anyone who stares at me!’ I’d repeat that over and over in my head. I had to convince myself that I didn’t care what anyone thought. 

‘It’s not exactly quote-worthy, but now I can walk down the beach no problem! I try to have fun with it, too. I have a lot of good leg jokes in my arsenal.’

KATYA 

Katya was almost killed after suffering horrific burns to 30 per cent of her body when she was engulfed by an explosion outside a nightclub in October 2011

On 15th October 2011, Katya was leaving a night club at 12.30am when she felt a ‘shocking pain’ behind her back. 

She recalled: ‘I was completely blinded and disoriented by the darkness. The pain was shocking to the point where I could not even understand where it was coming from. 

‘I could barely move my legs as if I was making my way through the swimming pool with the water levelling at my knees. I could not feel whether this water was cold or hot. 

‘I questioned why the parking lot of the night club suddenly felt like a swimming pool. I [tried] to move somewhere while screaming at the top of my lungs. 

‘I was scared, I needed a voice to route me somewhere safe. But there was no voice.

‘I was alone in a death-like pain in a complete darkness… The water kept rising and in just a moment it was already covering my thighs. I felt drained and exhausted. 

‘I stood in the middle of this pool with no place to hide… I was dying. Above all the paid, I felt ashamed for my parents to die so stupidly.

‘As soon as this thought raced through my mind, I saw a silhouette of a person. “If he is able to stand, there must be a surface, I need to get there,” I thought – and I started moving towards him. 

‘I had to take a few steps down into the water as I was making my way through. My desire to keep on living was so strong that it gave me strength to battle the killing pain. 

‘As soon as I reached him, I took off my heels and put the legs up I could not believe my eyes; the skin on my legs was boiling into the inner muscles and tissues.’

Katya was whisked away in an ambulance, and the next morning read what had happened in the news: a big tube filled with steam had exploded outside the nightclub, and Katya had suffered 30 per cent burns.

She spent the next few weeks in intensive care, fighting for her life.  

‘For the next two years hospitals became my home,’ she said. ‘The forecasts for my life kept constantly changing. First, I was given a week. Once I survived that week, I faced the risk of feet amputation.

‘Then, I was getting ready to spend the rest of my life in the wheelchair… and if I were lucky enough, perhaps I would even be able to limp for short distances. 

‘In total I had 63 surgeries, including skin transplantation and amputation of eight and a half toes; sepsis; eight bouts of erysipelas and a burn-related disease.

‘All the best things I have now in my life come out of my accident. I am grateful to have experienced that pain.’

Katya added: ‘When I was in the hospital I promised myself to never let anything seriously upset me. My scars are always there to remind me of that promise. 

‘They mean a lot to me and their presence makes who I am today.’

Karol

Karol had plastic surgery to make her breasts more symmetrical, but the procedure has left her with prominent scarring which she says are her ‘biggest insecurity’ but also her pride

‘When I began going through puberty I noticed my breasts developing asymmetrically. My right breast developed into a C-cup but my left breast stayed at an A-cup. 

‘I became hyper conscious of the asymmetry and would wear shirts three sizes too big to hide myself. It started taking a huge toll on my mental health and that’s when I decided to see a plastic surgeon. 

‘We planned two surgeries. My first surgery was a breast reduction and reconstruction – to make my C-cup breast the same size and shape as my A-cup breast. 

‘The recovery was gruelling, as my incisions opened and closed – causing me to develop thick scarring. At one point my surgeon put six staples in my breast to ensure the incision closed. 

‘After a month of recovery, the incision closed and I was left with two A cup breasts that now did not fit my body. 

‘A year later I got the second part of my surgery – silicone implants. This was to give me a size that fit my body. The incision for this developed into a keloid.

‘Although my breast scars are my biggest insecurity, they are also my proudest quality. I speak about my surgeries and scars freely on social media and in real life – and through sharing my story I’ve realised that so many other people have asymmetrical breasts as well.

‘I wear my scars proudly and hope that by sharing my story and scars I can help normalise and humanise the body – and help those with scars feel as beautiful as they are.’ 

Pierangeli

Pierangeli had preventative surgery to prevent her birthmark from developing into a melanoma, followed by a skin transplant and a skin graft – leaving her with a scar on her arm

‘I was born with a hereditary birthmark i got from my great grandmother who died a few months after I was born, I’ve always felt conected to her because of it. 

‘As a kid my mother told me not to be ashamed of it and not to cover it. Sometimes people would stare at the mall or ask me about it but for the most part I was pretty OK with It.

‘When I was 19 both my mother and grandma had cancer and my birthmark was changing color, texture and shape all signs of melanoma. 

‘So I had a somewhat preventative surgery to remove my birthmark. I got a skin transplant on my arm from skin grafted on my inner thigh. 

‘The transplant was not successful and now I was left with two scars including some keloid formation on my arm. 

‘Recovery was quite scary. I was in college so had to clean and heal my own wounds and the sight of my raw flesh was very much like a horror movie.

‘At the time I was secretly dealing with body dysmorphic disorder so I just decided to wear covered clothes regardless of the weather and just never show my scars to anyone.’

Pierangeli added: ‘Sometimes I buy pretty strapless dresses and try to convince myself to wear them. Most of the times, I don’t. 

‘Other times I do and I go on a ride on the subway as if I’m testing the waters. I’m working on rewinding my brain to the days where I was a kid and very much aware that differences are what makes someone special and stronger.’

ADELE

ADELE had 11 surgeries in two years after being diagnosed with bone cancer in 2014

‘In 2014, I was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a bone cancer.  I had chemo for nearly a year and several surgeries for bone transplantations in my arm.   

‘They took pieces of bone from my leg and thigh. One time, my transplant broke, so I had a major surgery which took eight hours. In two years I had 11 surgeries.’

ANNA

ANNA was run over by a lorry in 2016, requiring five surgeries and bone and skin grafts

‘In August 2016 a lorry ran over my arm: the wheel stopped on my elbow before reversing off again, taking my bone and skin with it. 

‘Over the year I’ve had five surgeries, most recently a bone graft and a muscle-flap skin graft from my back. 

‘Clarissa Pinkola Estés says, ‘The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door’. I love this! In my scars I find pride, sensitivity and beauty. 

‘My arm was remade of myself. But there is also anger and deep pain: scar tissue is tough, dry, and inflexible. It limits further the movement of my arm. 

‘I don’t think my pain and my pride can ever be separated. 

‘They will always be connected. But I feel in touch with both states and this makes me feel multiple, it feels exciting.’ 

BARBARA

BARBARA had three surgeries on her chest after being diagnosed with a rare breast cancer

‘In 2014 I was diagnosed with angiosarcoma of the breast, a rare and aggressive cancer. 

‘Three surgeries and two chemotherapy treatments later these are the scars I bear. 

‘My recent operation was an innovative surgery which involved removal of my sternum and four ribs, which were replaced by surgical cement, muscle from my back and a skin graft. It took me a long time to finally embrace my scars. 

‘They document my journey and the courage and strength I did not think I had. Recently I was told the cancer had returned. Surprisingly I feel at peace.’

BILLY

BILLY, like Adele, had bone cancer, and needed to replace his thigh bone with titanium

‘At 18 I was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that predominately affects young people. 

‘Before my diagnosis I had never heard of Ewings and had no idea how much it would impact my life. 

‘Part of the treatment process involved having my femur replaced with titanium which resulted in a scar the length of my thigh. 

‘I often felt as if the scar would remain a constant trigger of the times I spent sick to my stomach in hospital, but I’m gradually learning to view them as symbols of health, recovery and a chance at a long life. 

‘I can now zoom out and see more than a sick body, but a person even more motivated in life than before.’

BINTU

BINTU was burned across her left shoulder with hot tea that she pulled off a counter as a child

‘When I was young, I pulled a cup of hot boiling tea off the counter. As a result, it burnt my left shoulder down to my left breast and stomach. 

‘My scar has been with me since I was 11 months old – it is all I know, I don’t even remember my body without a scar. 

‘I have my confident days where I say ‘it’s just a scar’. I’m sure everyone has a scar. 

‘I’ve definitely had my bad days, but only when I meet a new face and they stare at it in disgust. It makes me think OMG is there something on my body? And then I remember ‘the burn’ lol. 

‘I wear this scar because it is a part of me. It’s just a scar.’ 

CATRIN

CATRIN suffered burns on 96 percent of her skin in a coach crash that burst aflame in 2013

‘After I was severely burned in a coach crash in 2013, my life turned upside down. I fought for my life, for my physical abilities and my future. 

‘Now, I’m 23 and have learnt to love the skin I’m in, embracing being a 96 percent burn survivor, and seeing every scar as a step in a long journey.’

CHLOE

CHLOE started self-harming in her early teens, and it soon became an addiction

‘I started self harming when I was 13 and have struggled with it ever since. 

‘The issue with self harming is it gets progressively worse and you end up doing more and more damage to yourself than you think is possible when you first start. 

‘It truly is an addiction and you get to a point where surgeons tell you that plastic surgery can’t fix the appearance of the scars, so the only thing you can do is love your scars so much that all the negative connections that come along with self harm slowly disappear – along with all the pain attached to the scars.’

‘My scars tell my story, and I’m never going to let anyone else’s thoughts or opinions change that.’ 

DEBORAH 

DEBORAH was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. She says cancer does not define her

‘My body is full of scars that represent my cancer journey. Each one is a war wound that has meant I have faced cancer and kicked it head on! 

‘At first I hated my scars, but as time has gone on I’ve learnt to love them. I suggest we carry our scars with pride, knowing they have built us rather than defied us. 

‘Seven months ago my life was turned upside down when I was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. 

‘People say I’m brave to be going through what I am, but I’m not – I just have no other choice. I’m still me, I can still be sexy, I can still have fun – cancer doesn’t need to define me.’

ELIJAH

ELIJAH is a trans man, who started transitioning in May 2016 with top surgery

‘In one way or another, my scars are all self-inflicted. The scars from self harm cover the tops of my legs, and hints are on my arm.

‘I am a trans man and started medically transitioning two and a half years ago. In May 2016, I had top surgery (double mastectomy) to remove my breasts.

‘These scars are my new chest, the chest I have always wanted. They are my gender, my identity. I can’t remember having any other chest now. 

‘I have been liberated. These scars represent so much of what I have experienced.’ 

HANNAH

HANNAH received a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 26, and had surgery before 27

‘I was told I had breast cancer in April 2016. After various tests and biopsies (from which I have a few tiny scars), I had surgery a week before my 27th birthday. 

‘I don’t remember much about those first few days, expect I watched a lot of The Sopranos and I was in a lot of pain. 

‘The first time I saw my wound I was inconsolable. I had a lot of issues over the next few months – my nurses said I’d broken the record for longest time taken to heal after a lumpectomy. 

‘My body rejected the dissolvable stitches, and I had a couple of infections. 

‘One day I was out with friends, and my wound opened up on one side, by the time I got to A+E blood was pouring out and my shirt was drenched. So the scar is much thicker than the original incision.

‘It’s difficult to talk about still, and I’m definitely not totally liking my scar yet, but I’m getting there. It’s not easy having a scar on a part of your body that’s ‘Sexy’ – I don’t have that relationship with my breasts anymore.

‘This journey with cancer has taught me a lot, and I appreciate my body for doing it’s best and keeping me alive. I know that soon I’ll appreciate this scar too, as a reminder of how I had the strength to get through.

‘The scar under my armpit is from the same surgery, where they removed a few lymph nodes to check if the cancer had spread – it hadn’t. 

‘I’ve had a lot of issues with movement in my arm and tightness in my armpit from it – who knew being able to put your arm above your head would be such a lovely, joyous achievement.’ 

ISABELLA

ISABELLA suffered burns all over her body in 2015 from a house fire in London

‘In the summer of 2015 I was in a house fire. My clothes and way of life up in flames. I spent my summer in a burns unit on Fulham Road. 

‘My scars and scar tissue continue to change, but I have never felt more beautiful.’ 

LEO

LEO tried to climb over a gate after getting locked in a park, and caught his face on the spikes

‘When I was in my 20s, I was taking a short cut through the local park when I realised the gate had been locked. 

‘I decided to climb up over the railings and my footing slipped, catching my face in two places. The spikes passed through my face. Luckily the park attendant noticed what happened and called an ambulance.

‘I feel like my looks were ruined by the accident, but I carried on as normal. People often think I’ve been in a knife attack or fight, so believe I’m a bad person.’

MAYA 

MAYA has epidermolysis bullosa, a rare skin condition that causes blistering and tenderness

‘The last few months have been extremely challenging as the condition of my skin as deteriorated massively. 

‘From 18 months old when I was diagnosed with epidermolysis bullosa to earlier this year, I was able to live an almost normal life despite my skin, it was easy to hide and easy to manage.

‘But earlier this year it started getting rapidly worse and I am now able to do less of the things I once could. 

‘My confidence and self-esteem [are] almost nonexistent most of the time. So much of my day is spent managing my skin or being in pain from it. But now, more than ever, I need to remind myself that I am still the same old me. 

‘I am still beautiful and this condition that I will be lumbered with for the rest of my life, does not define me as a person. It will always be a huge part of my life but I will never let me take over my life.

‘EB is so rare that there is so little awareness for it and in a lot of cases it is life-threatening, so I’m posting this not only for me but for everyone suffering. 

‘Because of the lack of awareness, the funding towards trials and research is so limited that I probably will never access to a cure, as much as that upsets me, I just hope that future children will get access to more treatment and a possible cure. If anyone cares enough to find out more about EB, Google search Debra eb.’

MERCY

MERCY is a domestic abuse survivor who was forcibly burned in a fire by an ex

‘My scars are from a fire related to domestic abuse. I got burnt at the age of 29, and it’s been a difficult journey coming to terms with it.   

‘The comfort I take from my scars is they make me who I am today. I call them my most precious, and expensive piece of jewellery I own.

‘I have survived and if having my picture taken, and exposing my scars can help anyone else then that’s good for me!’

NELL

NELL contracted a fierce kind of pneumonia twice, and MRSA, that left her in a coma for 90 days in Montpelier, France. She had multiple surgeries and was put on a life support machine

‘My scars were made whilst I was in a coma for 90 days. 

‘The scars on my face, neck and groin are there because I was on life support known as ECMO – my lungs had been devastated by a necrotising pneumonia and they had to stop me breathing – the ECMO oxygenated my blood and kept me alive for 66 days. 

‘The other round scars on my body are from chest drains because both my lungs had collapsed and infection and air was trapped in my chest cavity. 

‘The scar on my back is from surgery I had because my chest had filled with so much blood that it was impacting my heart. 

‘All this began when I went on a school trip to the Ardeche in France. I left on the 26th June with the school and came home on the 24th October. 

‘I was in a French hospital in Montpellier, in intensive care all that time. They never gave up on me and fought with me.

‘My scars are the map of my survival and I’m very proud of them. 

‘They give me strength and individuality. It’s very rare for people to survive this infection – and in actual fact I survived two, because after the first pneumonia, I suffered a second infection – hospital born MRSA and went into multiple organ failure. 

‘We all fought on. I have a small scar on my throat where I had a tracheostomy – it was strange to have no voice when I woke up, but I wasn’t afraid – I only believed.’ 

HOW DO WE SCAR? 

There are three layers to the skin: the epidermis (top), dermis (middle) and hypodermis (bottom).

Scratches that merely touch the epidermis will rarely leave a scar, or at least not a permanent one.

Lingering scars form when there is damage to the dermis, which is the part that produces collagen.

First, the body sends blood rushing to that area to clot the blood from seeping out.

Once the wound has semi-healed, the scarring process begins.

In reaction to the wound, the dermis produces more collagen fibers to patch up the gap that is exposing the sensitive interior.

Particularly fierce wounds may trigger the body to produce more collagen than in other cases, making the scar protrude more. This is particularly common in dark-skinned people and children.

Surgical scars and acne scars can often appear sunken.

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