I can’t quite believe that we’re already on interview 8 of the ‘How Do I Look?‘ series. I started this series because I was so disappointed in the lack of representation of skin differences in the media, at the lack of information and support out there. But you can’t complain about something if you’re not willing to do something to change it. For the past 6 years I have used this blog to talk about my rosacea but I wanted to open the conversation about skin positivity and visible differences so I can cover (and learn about) lots of different topics. Every week I talk to an inspirational and interesting person in order to share their story and experiences to educate, help, and support others.
This week’s interview is with Grace Latter, a wonderful woman that I’ve followed on Instagram for years. She is an incredible body positivity advocate, a talented writer, a model, and all-round excellent human. She talked to me about her scars: one from a brain tumour and another from major surgeries on her intestines.
Tell me a little bit about your visible difference?
“I am the proud owner of two gnarly scars; one across the left side of my head, the other from above my belly button down to my pants line! I have also been rocking a grade 2 buzz cut since March 2018, which not only gives my scar the utmost exposure but also means people see that my face is a little uneven – I had a muscle misplacement after my second brain op in 2015, then went in for reconstruction in 2018, and I am still living with a bit of swelling, and a stubbornly ‘stuck’ left eyebrow.”
What are the common misconceptions, comments, or questions about your scars and your appearance in general? What do you wish people knew about scars like yours?
“Well, I can handle the very unsubtle stares and double takes in public when I walk by with my scalp quite visible or fabulous scars on show – in fact I often find meeting the eyes of the peepers and smiling confidently can make them catch themselves and, funnily enough, they’ll then smile back.
However, I particularly hate when little kids (who have ZERO social awkwardness or issues with telling it like it is) call out to me in the street, or loudly ask their parents ‘why does that lady have no hair?’ and then the parents either shush them and hurry them along, or say something like ‘she’s very ill’ or ‘don’t stare’ to shut them up. I mean, c’mon, parents. The only way children will learn about the importance of being open and receptive to new things, and that some humans look different out of choice, is if they get their questions answered properly. I have stopped a parent and child in this situation before, and explained to the young girl that I have had brain surgery, but I’m okay now, and simply enjoy having very short hair. She seemed happy with that explanation – and her mum looked satisfyingly sheepish.”
How does your appearance make you feel on a day to day basis?
“I have never felt more confident in myself than I have since my head shave last year. I was warned that making such a big change to my appearance – and having such an important part of my appearance removed – would mean I’d have to not just turn up the volume on my makeup and go bigger with accessories, but I’d also have to build up a thicker skin, and ‘own’ my look. And I’d have to do it FAST.
I had been insecure about my body since I was a teenager, so I often ‘dressed down’ a bit when I went out for the day, to avoid being stared at or mocked. I never felt properly beautiful, because I looked nothing like the popular girls, and also because I couldn’t find anyone in the media I identified with. I only ever saw the same kind of image, the same kind of people, used to define ‘beauty’. There was no sign of me in magazines, on TV, or on my social media timelines; nothing I could see myself in. It wasn’t until after my bowel surgeries in 2017 that I realised I needed to work harder to surround myself with more people like me, and make a change wherever I could. I needed to look into the world of Body Positivity, and form a better relationship with my own appearance.”
There are polarising opinions about make up/wigs/cover up clothing within the visible differences communities. What are your thoughts about these?
“I honestly think nobody should have a say in, or opinion on, how someone with a visible difference chooses to dress themselves, or deal with their own personal issues – unless, that is, they’re hurting themselves or someone else in doing so. I personally don’t wear wigs or makeup to cover my scars – but then I do sometimes love wrapping a scarf around my head to add a pop of colour, and yes, sometimes to stave off the stares and questions from strangers on days when I don’t feel quite as strong and sassy.”
What are your thoughts on the overall media visibility of visible differences and – more specifically – scars?
“I am so desperate for the media to wake up and start showing a wider spectrum of people on all its platforms. Fortunately we have photographers like Sophie Mayanne, whose project Behind the Scars is making serious waves on social media; influencers and authors like Megan Crabbe (Body Posi Panda), Joeley Bishop (The Vagaggle) and Michelle Elman (Scarred Not Scared – [Note from Lex: you can read Michelle’s ‘How Do I Look?’ interview HERE]), and also Dove’s Project Show Us is inspiring women all around the world by giving them places to see themselves. The body image world is finally changing for the better. Let’s hope it continues, and gets even bigger!”
Your recent work with Project #SHOWUS has been a complete joy to watch – can you tell me how that came about, what’s come out of it, and what it means to you?
“Project #SHOWUS has been the most amazing, empowering experience, and I will forever be grateful to Dove, Getty Images and Girlgaze for putting it together – and obviously to Sophie Mayanne, who originally put me forward for it! She contacted me in Autumn last year, telling me about this top secret project that she wanted to put me in, so we arranged a couple of days for her to come down to Hastings and shoot me in various locations and outfits. The rest has been a bit of a whirlwind (after the first few months following the shoot, during which I was sworn to secrecy, and had a few exciting virtual meetings about it!). I’ve spoken about it on TV, written about it for my own blog and other websites, had my photo pop up all over the place (in central Sydney, near Bruges, Oxford Circus tube station and of course at Spiceworld!) as well as achieving a little goal of mine in writing something for Stylist magazine (just a teeny piece, with others from the project, talking about our own personal beauty rules). The most wonderful thing to come from it, though, has been the many DM requests I get on social media from women young and old, saying thank you to me for being a face in the campaign and a voice for body positivity.”
How do you deal with bad days?
“I have been more open about my feelings in the past few years, after quickly learning that in times of trauma you must never bottle anything up. I’m 100% honest with those around me, and try not to feel any shame or failure in cancelling plans, or not being at my best in every social situation. It’s hard, after the many years of people pleasing that came before my health issues kicked in – but when they did, I realised I had to make myself a priority.”
You have had extensive contact with the medical community over the past few years, how have those experiences been?
“I cannot rate the NHS highly enough. They have quite literally saved me, time and time again. Both my craniotomies, plus radiotherapy, reconstruction work and continued after care and check ups to this day, have been on the NHS. Both my bowel surgeries, the hemicolectomy and laparotomy, were done on the NHS. My excellent team of doctors (yes, I need a whole team) at my local surgery always squeeze me in on their busiest days, and give me the most care and attention they can afford. I’ve also had 10 weeks of free counselling on the NHS, and that may have been just as important to me as the major surgeries. Please can we just appreciate the incredible, life-saving services available to us, as UK residents. Holy shit, I hope that never changes.
I’d really struggled with the prospect of reconstruction surgery, which I finally had last year. My neurosurgeon had been checking up on the muscle misplacement which had happened after he operated on me a second time in 2015, and he had to work very hard to convince me to say yes to getting it fixed. I had this awful idea that admitting I wasn’t happy with my appearance would a) upset him as I’d effectively be insulting his work, and b) make me seem soooo vain. Eventually I agreed to go under the knife again, so he could fix my dented face. Or rather, three very experienced and respected surgeons could fix my dented face. I’ll admit, the whole time running up to the operation (in September 2018) was stressful for me, simply because I kept feeling like I was making a fuss and a faff over nothing. It wasn’t until the day, when the cosmetic surgeon drew lines, dots and numbers all over my face (just like in the movies!), and then the three men stood together looking me over before I went into theatre, practically bursting with excitement, that I realised: they want to help me, and this is actually kind of fun for them!?
I’m currently struggling with the last bit of swelling that’s stuck around for almost a year after the op, but the cosmetic surgeon is checking in regularly and has said he’s happy to remove it if I’m still not satisfied. I cannot say it enough: I have the BEST care. And I’d never take it for granted.“
In the past few years there have been more conversations around the link between appearance and mental health, what are your thoughts?
“I have an immeasurable amount of thoughts on this. Of course the two are closely linked, especially in this day and age. I get genuinely scared for young people these days, especially with all the exposure to social media, because if my generation struggled with body image back in the day, how will they be coping!? All I can say is these young people (and the older community, too!) need more exposure to real people and real bodies. The only way that can happen is if the media listens to us, for a change.”
Have any positives come out of your operations?
“SO MANY. Obviously removing most of my tumour saved my life, as did the cleaning up of my infected guts and removal of the obstruction on my small intestine – but also the experiences of them have changed me, mentally, for the better. I’m finally truly accepting of my body, and the extraordinary things it’s done; I’m madly in love with my vessel and feel confident in my appearance… Most days, that is. There will always be times when I can’t get my makeup to do the right thing, or maybe I’ll feel a bit un-sexy in what I’m wearing, but that’s fine – that’s when I’ll call on my best friends or boyfriend to give me a little pep talk, and/or cuddles.”
What are your top tips for living with a visible difference?
“I’ll try not to say ‘just own it’, or ‘be strong, face the bullies and staring strangers’… allow yourself the time and space to get to know who you are and how you feel; don’t feel pressured to change or hide or speak louder for anyone else. And make boundaries. Boundaries are so important. I would be very selective about who I let touch what I affectionately referred to as my ‘water balloon’, after my second brain op in 2015 (CSF had leaked through my skull and left me with a nice lil squish ball on the left side of my forehead. Not ideal); my best friends could prod at it and jiggle it and ask me to lift my fringe up so they could get a good look, whereas my acquaintances and colleagues could only have a peek. These days, though, I get my crop tops on and flash my ‘tummy cleavage’; I rock my head scar, embrace the wonky face and have even learned to not worry about my slightly paralysed eyebrow. Time is a healer, yes, but it’s also important we get our own heads around what we’ve got first.”
What an interview! What a woman! A huge thank you to Grace for being so open with me and for being a huge source of strength and support to many. If you want to see and read more from Grace you can follow her on INSTAGRAM and on her BLOG.
Read the other posts in the How Do I Look? series here:
- MICHELLE talking about her scars;
- SOFIA talking about her acne;
- NATALIE talking about vitiligo;
- SUSIE on her Telogen Effluvium (hair loss);
- AMY on her port wine stain birthmark;
- GEMMA on psoriasis;
- AMARA on eczema;
- JUDY on her sensitive skin;
- SHANKAR on his Vitiligo;
- P. on their Acne Conglobata;
- and SOPHIE on her Trichotillomania.
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