Alyssa McDonald was two years old when she accidentally knocked over a pot of scorching hot melted butter directly onto her face and part of her shoulder. An entire childhood and adolescence spent in and out of hospitals suddenly became normal for the Cincinnati, Ohio resident.
The incident happened in McDonald’s maternal grandmother’s kitchen on Memorial Day in 1993, and it caused her to suffer severe burns all over her face and lose her left eye. “My uncle was the one who found me,” McDonald reveals. “He took a paper towel to wipe the butter off my face and when he did, he said my skin was melting off onto other parts of my face and into the sink.”
McDonald was rushed to the hospital, where she went into a two-week coma. She said her body swelled up 10 times its size and she was blind for a short period of time. Doctors went so far as to tell her parents to start preparing funeral arrangements because they didn’t think she would live.
“I remember feeling tortured,” McDonald says. “I know they weren’t doing it to hurt me, but some of the things I had to go through were kind of like torture.”
Complications following the incident resulted in McDonald having to miss school for weeks at a time, wear “itchy, hot, tight” compression garments, and soak her skin in a special solution every night that hurt so bad that she had to be held down in the tub.
“In school, kids would be like, ‘Ew, look at her face,’ and I’d be like, ‘Whose face?’ Then, I realized they were talking about me,” McDonald says. “My family instilled confidence in me at a young age. I didn’t know I was different. I never had that complex. They never let me think of myself as a survivor.”
After undergoing more than 100 surgeries and years of facing bullies, who called her “monster,” McDonald stopped undergoing surgery as soon as she hit adulthood. According to McDonald, her doctors had good intentions, but most of the consultations consisted of them pointing at various parts of her body, followed by, “This is the problem and this is how we’re going to fix it.”
“Are we fixing it for you guys, or are we fixing it for me because I think I look fine,” McDonald says. “I was tired. I’d been doing this since I was two years old. At 18, I was like, ‘This is my body. I love it the way it is, and you’re not going to touch me anymore.’”
Now, at 25 years old McDonald is busy being a mother to a 7-month-old girl named Alijah. She’s also busy changing the narrative of what normal is. Her Facebook page, “I Wear My Scars – Flaws Like Diamonds,” exists to help others accept their own flaws. “Almost immediately after creating the page, I received messages from people all over the world saying, ‘It’s so refreshing to see someone navigating the world with their flaws fearlessly,’” McDonald says.
Her advice for others who face similar situations? Get. Over. It.
Why so blunt?
“I don’t like sugarcoating it for people because then, they’re always going to be looking for sugar and everybody ain’t got no sugar to give ‘em,” McDonald explains. “If you can’t get over it, I can’t help you.”
McDonald said the following in a 2014 YouTube video: “A doctor could come up to me right now and say, ‘I have a magical peel…that could take away your scars.’ I’d turn him down because these scars make me who I am.”
She still stands by those words 110 percent.
Wanting other “flawed” people to reach a point of self-acceptance, McDonald says, “strength rubs off on people.” She adds, “people are sometimes taken aback by how much confidence I exude.”
Some of McDonald’s goals include starting a nonprofit for other burn survivors and posing for Playboy magazine. “You can be flawed and sexy,” she declares.
In the meantime, McDonald is content with spreading the love and helping others wear their flaws like diamonds, too.
Princess Gabbara is a Michigan-based journalist whose work has been published in several national publications, including EBONY Magazine, Jetmag.com, Essence.com, HelloBeautiful.com, BET.com, Huffington Post Women, and Sesi Magazine. Visit her site or follow her @PrincessGabbara.