She Was Bullied For Her Birthmark. Now This Malaysian Empowers People To Be Confident

Rozella has earned many awards over the years, but her journey has been far from easy.

Cover image via Melissa Toh (Provided to SAYS)

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From the young age of five, Rozella learnt that the world can be a ruthless place.

Especially if you don't look a 'certain' way.

Hailing from Kota Kinabalu, Rozella Marie Mahjhrin is an award-winning diversity and inclusion advocate, a singer who has performed on stages to audiences of up to 3,000, has participated in prestigious international leadership programmes, and collaborated with international and Malaysian brands to redefine and break beauty stereotypes.

With her impressive résumé, you might think she's confident and outspoken. But the truth is far from it.

Growing up with a visible port wine stain on her face was a challenge

"Even at the age of five, I knew I was different. I remember getting on the school bus one day and hearing two girls talking in Chinese without them knowing that I understood what they were saying. One of the girls asked, 'What's wrong with her face? Why is it so red?' I remember hearing those words and wishing I had a paper bag to cover my face with," Rozella, who is now 39, shared with SAYS.

"I wanted to get off the bus, run home, and just hide in bed. That was the moment I realised that I had to make myself small and disappear in order to survive in school and not stand out or be made fun of. So that's what I did."

My heart aches for this little girl, who for so long believed she had to dim her light to belong. She (and all the other little girls out there) is why I do what I do. Because I believe that no one deserves to feel unworthy and unlovable.

By 27, Rozella had become destructive and depressed

"The truth is that for most of my life I hid who I was. I always wanted to be on stage, but was too afraid to perform because I was told I was too ugly for it. I became a writer because I was told that no one would need to see my face if I hid behind a computer," she revealed.

All her decisions were based on what people said she should do, not what she actually wanted to do. 

"They were made to keep me safe. But when you're constantly belittling yourself, making excuses and giving away your power to others, you lose your sense of who you are. You become a shell of a person," she added.

"Deep down, I knew that if I didn't do something drastic to get back to the real me, I would probably take my own life. I was desperate. I had no choice but to wake up."

Wanting to share her story and help others tell theirs, Rozella founded TrueComplexion (TC) — a platform where people can take back their narrative, and stand by their truth and power

What started as a "Humans of New York"-like project has since evolved into several things, she added.

Through TrueComplexion, she has organised fundraising events, helped companies develop more diverse and inclusive branding and advertising campaigns, and run diversity trainings.

She hopes that TC will be able to offer more training programmes in the future that are beneficial to the community, such as the public speaking and storytelling programme she currently runs.

"I never intended to be a trainer. But when I surveyed TC community members, they indicated that one of the things they struggle with most and want to improve is their ability to speak in public and tell their story with confidence," she explained.

She started with a small workshop for the community, and now trains other aspiring speakers and also conducts training for companies.

In 2020, Rozella participated in the beauty campaign for IT Cosmetics SEA in Sephora.

Image via Ken Chua (Provided to SAYS)

All of life's struggles and pain has brought the 39-year-old a long way.

She's since earned several awards and honours, including the Global Women in Leadership Award (2022), Women of the Future Awards Southeast Asia (2019), Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program (2019), and the Outstanding Young Person of Sabah Award (2016), among many others.

The hardest part for her and for many others she's met is realising that self-healing is not a destination, rather it's a journey and ongoing process

"It's very easy to sabotage yourself and fall back into old negative patterns and beliefs, especially when times are difficult," she shared.

"So you can't just sit back and stop working when you reach a good point in your life. The hard part is getting back up every time you fall down, forgiving yourself when you make mistakes, and being brave when you're scared to death. 

"You have to not only remember (but believe) that you deserve success, love, and happiness, even if others keep telling you that you're not good enough. If you surround yourself with good people, it's easier to drown out the noise and get through the tough times."

The world is filled with stereotypical messages on what 'beauty' is.

When asked what beauty means to her, Rozella had this to say:

"Beauty is hope. Beauty is love. Beauty is integrity. It's strength, courage, and wisdom. It's being a good ally. It's the ability to keep going, even when times are tough. It means showing up for ourselves and the people we care about. It means defending our values when we're challenged, uncertain, or afraid.

"Beauty isn't about what we are, but who we are. It's not about the curated version we flaunt on social media or in front of rolling cameras. It's about our true identity when the doors are closed and no one is watching."

"Self-acceptance isn't about how we look on the outside. It's about celebrating how miraculous our bodies are in helping us to function and stay alive daily."

Her one piece of advice for those who struggle with self-esteem issues and insecurities is to focus on one's self and the person you want to be

"The world is such a volatile place. People will love us if we're beautiful, young, successful, popular, and rich. But what if we lose all that? Or what if we don't have all that? Does that mean we're unworthy and less of a person?"

If we're constantly looking for validation and recognition from outside, we'll never feel that we're good enough. We'll always fall short.

"Forget what other people think or say about you. Focus on yourself. Invest in yourself and your personal growth. Equip yourself with knowledge and tools to help you be the person you want to be.

"It's your life. Don't let someone else be in the driver's seat. Take the wheel in your hand."

To find out more about TrueComplexion, follow their Instagram.

What is inclusive beauty? Be part of the conversation here:

Image via SAYS

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