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ELLE partnered with Justine to film powerful stories of women living with their battle scars - and gift them Justine Tissue Oil to help the healing process. Watch the full video here, and read the women's stories below:


Over two days in early autumn, a group of women came together to have their photograph taken. But this was no ordinary photoshoot. Having all gone through very different experiences, the thread that weaves these women’s stories together is the scars each has chosen to show.

‘The project was about being able to allow women to share their stories, to encourage them not to be ashamed of their journey to recovery. And to meet other women who’ve gone through something similar, because unless you’ve been through it, you just don’t know,’ says Nicola Cooper, trend analyst and cultural strategist, who founded this project as a homage to the fight and bravery of the women around her; the women who’d survived or were in the process of recovery. Nicola, herself, was involved in a near-fatal car accident two years ago. Many of the women photographed expressed the hope that by sharing their story and their scars, they’d help other women feel comfortable with theirs. ‘So many women have gone through similar experiences,’ said one of the participants, who discovered she had breast cancer for the second time while pregnant with her son. ‘While being photographed for this project, we were actually looking the disease, trauma or event in the eye and saying: “Fuck you! I survived you and I survived this.” It was therapy and I felt beautiful.’

ITUMELENG

In 2014, Itumeleng had surgery on her small intestines due to a bowel obstruction.

I literally just woke up with a big scar on my stomach. But it made me very, very grateful for my health. It took me a while to get used to it being there, but it didn’t take me long to accept it – it was a part of me now. And once you do that, you realise that people will accept it because you accept it.

Itumeleng illustration by Heidi Fourie

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NICOLA

On 22 November 2015, Nicola was involved in a head-on collision while driving home. She woke up three weeks later in hospital, not knowing what had happened.

The whole experience changed me. I just [wish that we could] rather make women look at something that’s perceived so negatively as a delicate illustration on their skin. It’s a map; it’s a journey; it’s a little line that defines your character.

Nicola illustration by Tulips And Chimneys

MELANIE

Melanie was born in 1984 with a cleft lip and no palate. Now 34, she’s had seven facial and two jaw operations.

Even when I take a photo of myself, I struggle to look at it. I always look around it, at the make-up, the eyes, the hair – everything else. I wear gold, shiny shoes, so people notice my shoes and not my face. I think now there’s nowhere to hide because this is a photo of my face. Don’t let the thing that happened define you.

Melanie illustration by Maria Magdalena Van Wyk

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PEARL

In 2002, Pearl was involved in a car accident. The driver was drunk and racing another driver. The car went over a bridge and landed on the street below. Pearl suffered many cracked ribs and tangled intestines and her spleen had to be removed. Her scar is a result of the surgeries to save her life.

I’ve learnt to live with it. I’m just glad I’m alive. And now, maybe it comes with age, but I’m at the point where the older you get, the more you say: ‘I don’t care how I look, as long as I’ve got a good heart. And I’m a good person.’ I just want to be myself. Without hiding anything. “You have to be very strong and realise that the way you look is just one facet of who you are. It’s not the total package”.

Illustration by Johan De Lange

LEONI

Leoni was born with congenital constriction band syndrome (a congenital disorder caused by entrapment of foetal parts in fibrous amniotic bands while in utero). She had to have numerous surgeries straight after she was born, one of which included her back muscle being transferred into her right hand. She’s had many more surgeries over the years.

I think it’s made me very resilient. If you look slightly different from what the norm is, people judge you. As a result of that, you have to be very strong and realise that the way you look is just one facet of who you are. It’s not the total package.

Leoni illustration by Amor Coetzee

SAM

Sam has multiple scars on her arms and legs, all self-inflicted.

I am – well, I was – a cutter. It started when I was 13 and it’s been going on for a really long time. Cutting is more than what it seems. It’s an addiction. I’ve battled this addiction for 17 years. It’s about finding other coping mechanisms. It’s not that there’s something wrong with it. There are other ways that aren’t permanently scarring if you need to feel that kind of pain, like an elastic band. But it’s OK if you’ve done that. You need to be proud of your stripes.

Sam illustration by Lauren Schultz

CHRISTIE AND NATASHA

Sisters Christie and Natasha were involved in a car accident in 2014 when their vehicle was pushed off the road by an 18-wheeler truck.

CHRISTIE: Our entire universe was shifted. Tash forgot everything. She forgot who I was, she forgot who our parents were. And slowly, over the months, she re-learnt everything. I constantly wanted to forget, whereas Tash constantly wanted to remember.

NATASHA: In the beginning, I felt like a Frankenstein. I felt like pieces of my body had been stitched back together. I felt almost humiliated by myself, as if I shouldn’t be alive. And when I’d worked through that, I started to become aware of images, of art. I started to be more aware of things around me.
 

Christie & Natasha illustration by Sarah Grace


Text By Camilla Janse Van Vuuren And Nicola Cooper
Photography Angie Batis Durrant