Women from all walks of life have shared the compelling stories behind their journeys to self-acceptance.
Harnaam Kaur, who rocks a beard as a result of living with PCOS, Fatemah Dhanji, who has been subjected to horrific racism for wearing a hijab, and Joanné Dion, who was bullied because she has albinism, are just some of the women who spoke about how they learned to love themselves.
The 10 incredible women feature in a campaign called ‘In Our Skin’, which was commissioned by Stoosh, a platform encouraging all BAME (black, Asian, and minority ethnic) women in the UK to be confident, unapologetic and have the right to express themselves freely.
Fatemah told HuffPost UK: “All the women that took part in the photo series remind us that learning to embrace the struggles we have with our bodies and expressing ourselves freely can be the driving force behind our achievements, happiness and success in every aspect of life.”
“I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries at the age of 12. Which means I have more male sex hormone in my body than female sex hormone. And that has allowed me to grow this gorgeous beard.
"At first, adjusting to the changes was hard. I was being horrendously bullied. I was skiving school a lot. But when I turned 16, when I hit my lowest point, I thought, 'Why am I being punished? When my body is naturally growing like this, when I’ve done nothing wrong.'
"I made a stand that I was going to keep my beard and embrace her and celebrate her. I decided to call my beard ‘her’ and I gave her a name as well, Sundari, which means beautiful. Because if you truly love someone you don’t call them ‘it’ or ‘that’. You wouldn’t say ‘it’ to your mum or ‘that’ to your best friend, so why would I turn around and call my beard ‘it’? Nah…
"And, you know, there are amazing positives to having a beard. Other than looking buff with it. Thanks to her, I’m a lot more confident, a lot more resilient, a lot stronger. I can use my story to help those going through their trials. They can find inspiration in my voice and my stance in life. I’m here to challenge stereotypes, break down barriers in society. That’s why I was born this way. Fuck it if I don’t fit into society, I’m happy. And people should see that."
“As the only mixed‐race kid in class, I was always the ‘different girl’ – the one with the black skin, dreadlocks and thick thighs.
"Even now, I get people judging me because of the way I look. The other day I posted a video and I got a DM from this guy which said, 'You should try to lose some weight'. There were comments like, 'That fat girl can’t dance' and stuff like that. They were so rude.
"But I look at myself and I just don’t think I’m fat. It’s not that deep. I’m half Jamaican and I was raised the Rasta way. We’re really open about our bodies. Anyone with any type of figure will rock crop tops and short shorts and no one will look at you funny. They don’t care about that. It’s about being happy. It’s just freedom. That’s my way of life.
"So, when I get disrespectful or hurtful comments I just brush them off. I don’t let them get to me. Because what’s it going to do to me? I love my figure. When I hear a beat, I move my waist, shake my bottom, flick my bum. It looks nice. When I go out, I put on an outfit that shows my shape and I stand out, people notice me. They say I look nice. It feels good to feel good in your skin."
“When I was younger, I hated my arm hairs. Soooo much. In Indian culture, you're told having hair looks unclean and unfeminine. Chin, upper lip, arms, legs – everything has to go. People say things like, 'A man isn’t going to want you if you have hairs', 'You’re never going to get married'. It’s bonkers.
"My mum always used to go to the beauty salon to wax her arms and she kind of made me feel guilty for not going. That’s when the waxing started. But once I got to university, I stopped the whole thing. It was just too much maintenance - and way too expensive on a student’s budget. Plus, it really isn’t normal to keep on doing that. I mean your body grows hairs for a reason, right? And the feeling of your clothes on the bare skin – urgh, I didn’t like it.
"Since then, I don’t see my hairs as a problem anymore. Actually, let me rephrase that. I actually love my hairs now. They keep me warm in the winter. They’re soft, they’re nice. I like the feel of my furry, fuzzy arms. And – don’t laugh – I like stroking them. It relaxes me when I’m stressed out. It’s like my little personal self‐care habit in my mad routine. And no one else has the same trick."
“When I started secondary school, my family and I [had] just moved to a new town. I didn’t have any friends there, I had a different accent, I was one of the only black kids around. It was a difficult time. And on top of that, having vitiligo, it all made me kind of stand out.
"Vitiligo is a non‐contagious condition that creates light patches on my skin. It’s not a big deal technically, but I remember nobody wanted to hold my hand in PE. Kids used to call me 'panda' or 'cow'. It was all very distressing.
"Thankfully I had sessions with an amazing counsellor and the support of great friends and caring family to help me through this. I was starting to have a different frame of mind and be a bit more grown up. Then I met @winnieharlow two years ago at a meet and greet in Stratford. That was pretty life‐changing. I thought, 'If she can do it, I can do it'. Vitiligo isn’t affecting my health or anything like that so I won’t let it stop me. It took me years, nearly 15 to be exact, but once I realised that, I realised my power.
"My vitiligo is my strength, it is helping me reach my full potential and I wear it proud. It makes me, me. I’m different, I’m unique. There isn’t anybody like me. Other people have vitiligo but nobody – in the 1% population that has vitiligo – nobody will ever have the same vitiligo pattern as me, which is special and truly needs to be celebrated."
“Puberty was a difficult time for me. I was going through a lot and I just generally felt really shitty about myself. To avoid dealing with my other issues, I started focusing on my weight. I started thinking, 'If I can fix my weight, everything else in my life will be fixed'. I started looking into liposuction, laxatives, slimming tablets and all these stupid things. Anything not to feel like a big lump.
"But after a while, it got to a point when I was done with all the negatives and being harsh on myself for no reason. I started to re‐learn to love my body – the tummy pooch, big thighs and chubby face included. Now, I like myself exactly the way I am. I look at my pooch and I think, 'It’s fine, it’s normal'. I mean, where else are my organs going to go? I’m happy with my body. And even if I eat too much pizza and I put on weight, I can deal with that. I just need to unzip my jeans. It’s not that deep, really.
"It’s about learning to love yourself so much you don’t care about the small things – if a spot just appeared on your forehead or if your stomach is sticking out. It’s about finding that inner peace and being happy in your own skin."
“Since I can remember, I’ve always seen my mum grow her body hair out. Always. She has bushes under her arms and even a big bush down there. It often came out of her bikini a little when she used to take us to the pool in the summer. I thought it was so beautiful. As a kid, it made me really excited about hitting puberty. I was looking forward to having hairs everywhere and looking like a real woman. I was like, 'Bring on puberty!'
"It’s only when I started dating I realised it wasn’t a thing for everyone. Let’s just say I got some wild reactions from boys. I did contemplate shaving, but I told myself, 'Put the razor down, girl. Why should they decide what you should do or not do with your body? Screw that. It’s my body, I dictate the rules.' Hairs on ladies are normal too, you know. I do sometimes get looks on the street and remarks and stuff. But it doesn’t faze me. And I feel what I’m doing is important. By rocking my hairs, I can show other girls they can do it too.
"You can do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy, hairs or no hairs. Maybe I’m paving the way for more of us to be proud to grow it out. Imagine that!"
“When I hit puberty, my hips suddenly grew out of nowhere. It was so rude. I was given no notice, no heads up, zero warning. And with them came really big stretch marks. Everywhere. And jeez, did I hate them.
"When you look at the girls in the magazines, they all look absolutely flawless – no stretch marks, no scars, no body hairs, no nothing. My stretch marks made me feel damaged. Like my body was different, imperfect and ugly.
"But as time went on, I realised I wasn't the only girl in the world with stretch marks. My super beautiful best friend had them. My gorgeous mum had them. Fellow tall girl @chrissyteigen had them (and even photographed them for Instagram). At that point, I started to completely accept and even love my stretchies! Because I've realised marks on your body – whether they're scars, stretch marks or whatever else – don't make you broken. They show how strong a woman you are. A woman who has grown and experienced life. A woman who’s fierce and fearless. A woman who has faced the world.
"I am so proud of these badges of honour time has left on my body. I call them my natural tattoos. And to be absolutely honest, now I can’t even imagine my body without them. I embrace them completely. I find comfort in them. They’re the signs of my journey on this earth."
"When I was 11, my parents enrolled me to a new school on the outskirts of town. I was the only girl of colour there and the only one wearing a hijab. It was hard. Not a day passed where I wouldn’t hear negative comments about my appearance. I broke down about it all the time. People would scream 'terrorist' at me as I walked by. I had people spit and throw food at me and on one occasion someone even tried to pull my hijab off my head and tighten it across my neck.
"Not only did I feel hideous, I felt scared. I contemplated taking it off. It could have been so easy, but it just didn’t feel right. For me, wearing a hijab is empowering. It’s truly liberating. I feel proud when I wear it. It’s part of me, part of my identity, culture and heritage. It’s not just a mark of my religion, it’s also a symbol of my strength and willingness to deal with whatever life throws at me. It made me stronger. It gave me the drive to brush away the negativity and go on so I could get a degree in theatre and do some acting. It helped me reach my passion. It pushed me to do all the things that make me proud to be the woman I am today. Plus, with it, I never have a bad hair day."
- @tvo_hijabi / @fatemahhhxo
“Growing up as the only African kid in primary school wasn’t easy. I was always considered the outsider, the odd one out. One day, one of my classmates asked the teacher why I was brown when the rest of the class looked peach. That comment hit me so hard, I started using whitening lotion.
"But it didn’t take long for me to have mixed feelings about my decision. Using the lotion was like trying to be someone else and it just didn’t feel right. I thought, 'This is not me. I am of complete African heritage and I should just own that.' That was a turning point.
"Now I couldn’t be prouder of my skin tone. My striking melanin defines me. It makes me so unique, so distinct, I feel like I’m shining. People notice me when I enter the room. I stand out. It’s cool. I love my natural features and absolutely every inch of my body. But do you want to know the weirdest part of my journey? My lips. Because I remember being bullied for my lips. Everybody used to find them too big, too plump. But over time people like Kylie Jenner came into play and went to get these done for thousands of dollars. And now I get strangers at the bus stop asking me how much I spent to get these beauties done. All I say is, 'Honey, they’re natural'."
“I was born with albinism, a condition that reduces the amount of pigment in my skin. It makes me look incredibly pale even though I’m Nigerian. This affects my health slightly as my skin’s more sensitive to the sun and my eyes to the light. But the biggest struggle is the bullying.
"I was bullied by everyone, from the moment I entered nursery all the way to college. But what’s berserk is that I got bullied by black people too, which is my own creed. Because in black culture, the whiter the better, except when you’re too white. See, I’m too light to be considered black. It shows the madness in valuing skin colour.
"In a way though, my skin’s a blessing in disguise. It has shown me everything I’m capable of withstanding and overcoming. It has let me know how strong I can be. When I stopped trying to fit into moulds, stereotypes or assumptions, I stopped trying to please others. That gave me freedom. Freedom to be myself, to love me. Now, I embrace my body and how uniquely beautiful I am. I own my shade, I show my skin proudly. And, it’s funny, I now get Insta comments telling me how iconic I look. If I’m doing modelling today, it’s for someone to see my pictures and be like, 'Yes!' Because it resonates with them and what they’re going through. It’s goals."