At the age of 20 I was diagnosed with a Teratoma, it was sitting just behind my sternum undiagnosed since the day I was born. Teratoma’s are congenital and are usually benign. I am happy to say that this was true for my Teratoma but none the less it was taking up a lot of room in my chest causing me a great deal of pain and problems with my breathing so it had to be removed. Though it took us around 2 years to discover it from the day that it began to cause me problems; once discovered I was referred straight to Addenbrookes Hospital for a biopsy and then subsequently onto Papworth Hospital for a Median Sternotomy. I was left with what is more affectionately called a ‘zipper’ scar: the full length of my sternum, along with a biopsy scar around 2 inches on my right breast and a few other little ones around my torso from various different drainage tubes and such like. At this time in my life I was attending a stage school in Cambridge called Bodywork. Whilst I have very fond memories of my time there, as you can imagine, this was a difficult place to be when coming to terms with the new additions to my body…
I did a big charity shop run with every item of clothing that didn’t hide my scar and replaced them with a wardrobe of high-necked tops/dresses and leotards for dance. I had scarfs for all occasions and as I became more inventive with hiding my scar, my large costume jewellery collection also grew along with some very expensive camouflage make-up concealer! I recall one morning; I was in the shower, I had not long had my dressings removed; As I began to wash my chest I closed my eyes but I could feel the scar all bumpy and uneven. I opened my eyes and looked down at my once untarnished, smooth skin to see what, at the time I thought was the ugliest scar I had ever seen and I just sobbed. I started scrubbing as hard as I could, wishing that I could just wash it off and be ‘normal’ again…
I would like to tell that young girl what I know now; I am and always will be eternally grateful to my Teratoma, for it gave me the life I have now! I can put my hand on my scar-covered heart and honestly say that without that experience I would not live my life the way that I do now. It gave me an understanding of just how precious and fragile it really is and it taught me what really matters. This has only grown as I have and it continues to grow with every day and every new experience.
I never wrote a song about my scar; maybe it was too difficult but more poignantly I think I just didn’t want people to pity me.
It was Christmas time and I was home with my family, a few years on from my operation and now with a little more confidence to occasionally lower the neckline of my clothing. Katie Piper– ‘My Beautiful Face’ was on the telly and I was glued. It was a documentary of a beautiful young girl who experience a horrific ‘revenge’ attack from an ex boyfriend. He hired someone to throw acid in her face and she was left with terrible burns that deformed her once ‘picture perfect’ face. After watching it I initially felt guilty for the shame and embarrassment I had had over my measly scar that I could easily cover with various different ‘costumes’ I’d perfected. I wanted to stand up and shout about my scar and shamelessly present it to the world in honour of the people whose scars and disfigurements were not disguisable. I guess this song (Stare At Me) was my way of doing that. Katie Piper subsequently brought out a documentary called ‘My Beautiful Friends’ where she met many people with various different disfigurements. She showed perfectly their beauty within and opened our eyes to their world. It was as if our desires united with our scars. Although my scar pales in comparison, it was my journey and my experience of it; Of people pointing and staring, talking and looking at me with this face of disgust, confusion or pity, of children brazenly and beautifully asking their parents what it was on my chest and their parents shushing them as if it was something so taboo that it could not be discussed.
Stare At Me was written from my experiences but was born from my desire to change people’s views of scars and disfigurements. I wanted to tell people that it’s ok to talk openly about it instead of averting your eyes in the hope that we won’t see you staring….
When I was writing the lyrics for this song I wanted to make my point without sounding argumentative, defensive or confrontational. Whilst the staring and pointing was a big part of my struggle to come to terms with my scar and have the confidence not to hide myself. I also understand that in many cases it comes from a place of compassion and a lack of understanding of the appropriate response. Even with my scar, I still don’t always ‘get it right’ but I just act from an honest place and hope that my heart is felt. The most important thing is not to fear someone who looks different.
As this song grew into its own and I performed it more and more I began to realise, this is not just a song for people with scars and disfigurements but for everyone who has ever felt judged or discriminated for their physical appearance. Which, lets face it, is pretty much all of us right? We are, at times such a superficial society and we place importance on appearance in such a way that prohibits us from truly loving and accepting our bodies and ourselves. Stare At Me is written with hope that it will help even one person love themselves and all their imperfections unconditionally, for they are what make us unique and beautiful.
I will be releasing Stare At Me on 18/11/16 to coincide with #AntiBullyingWeek. 50% of all the money made will go to The Katie Piper Foundation. ‘Helping to create a world where scars do not limit a person’s function, social inclusion or sense of well being.’
Listen to Stare At Me: