From Self-Harm To Hormonal Acne: Malaysians Reveal Their Scars & The Stories Behind Them

"Whenever someone brought them up, it felt as if my physical appearance was the only noteworthy aspect of my identity. It felt as though it was my entire being," said Lei when asked about her acne scars.

Cover image via Provided to SAYS

Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, and Telegram for the latest stories and breaking news.

Disclaimer: This story contains mentions of self-harm and bullying
that may be distressing to some readers. Some names have been changed for privacy purposes.

In the current era of filters and Photoshop, beauty lies less in the eye of the beholder and appears to depend more on what society says it is. Scars are oftentimes not deemed conventionally "beautiful".

We all have scars. Scars we've grown to embrace, and scars that we'd prefer to hide. Whether through acne, a skin condition, an accident, or a rough season in our lives, our scars are signs of hurt, healing, and in some cases, growth. 

We asked four young adults to share the story behind the prominent scars they have or had, how they felt about it, how society made them feel about it, and ultimately, how it made them who they are today.

Here's what they said:

SAYS: Tell us a little bit about yourself

Wai Yi: I'm Wai Yi and I'm a fresh graduate who majored in Public Relations and Marketing. You can find me either at a spin class, spending time with my loved ones at a café drinking artisanal coffee, or at a tattoo parlour getting my next piece.

Lei: Hey, it's Lei here! I'm a recent graduate, I love art, and my bedtime routine involves scrolling food reels on Instagram until I'm ready to drift off to sleep. I believe in self-love and embracing your unique beauty, so you do you, love!

Monica: At this point of my life, I'm a pretty optimistic person and will try to look at the brighter side of things. I tend to pick up many hobbies but only manage to do them halfway through. I like to read, watch anime, daydream, and spend time with my loved ones.

Jun: Hello, I'm Jun. I'm 25 years old and am currently living in Sarawak, working under a family business.

SAYS: What's the story behind your scars?

Wai Yi: I started developing scars at the age of six due to my sensitive skin. I was an active kid who loved to go to the park to play, and of course, with my blood type being O, I attracted lots of mosquitoes. I never really took any precautions in preventing the bites. The fact that I was an athlete during primary school didn't help. Ultimately, the itchiness would get the best of me, and I would pick at my scabs. Plus, I didn't do any after-care on the wounds, and over time, all of them turned to scars.

Lei: The story behind my scars is, puberty and hormones! Puberty that hit a bit too late. I started getting terrible acne inflammation and breakouts only in university. It was gradual, I thought it would go away or it was a time-of-the-month thing, but after a year of trying different products, I realised, 'Oh, this might be here to stay'. It was frustrating because no matter how much water I drank, how much I slept, how frequently I exercised, it was still there, if not getting worse. I washed, toned, moisturised, and applied serum, but little worked.

Monica: They're self-harm scars. I used to be bullied quite a bit when I was in primary school, all the way up to high school. The bullying got worse in high school and that's when I started self-harming. Personally, the self-harm acted like a sense of release. It was also a way to kind of justify my feelings inside and match them on the outside.

Jun: I'll be talking about my previous acne scars because today, my face no longer has as many scars as before. Previously, my scars appeared due to me excessively squeezing my pimples and through the first few facial sessions. It was also due to products that were not suitable for my skin, which led to my scars not healing.

Faint scars along Wai Yi's arm.

Image via Provided to SAYS

SAYS: Are you insecure about your scars?

Wai Yi: I used to be, but now, I would say I'm more uncomfortable when people address my scars. Back when I was insecure about them, I was really young and unaware of my worth as an individual. People around me would always make negative comments or even make fun of them, which really got to me. I felt super out of place and it got pretty dark. What helped me change my perspective was shifting my circle of friends, and finding a more appreciative, like-minded community that influenced my view on my worth. Now, I embrace all my scars.

Lei: I am only human, so of course I was insecure. Although I knew that it was not a complete representation of who I am, it was still frustrating to have people point out how bad it was. Whenever someone brought it up, it felt as if my physical appearance was the only noteworthy aspect of my identity. It felt as though it was my entire being.

Monica: I was, but not anymore! I did get tattoos over some of them, but I'm definitely not insecure about them.

Jun: I was quite insecure about my scars because they were on my face, mainly my cheek area. It always led to conversations sounding like, 'What happened to your face?', 'You must not wash your face properly', 'Have you tried using a face mask? You should try this brand'. I know they may mean well and are looking out for me, but it would lead me to wonder if my scars were actually as bad as everyone made them out to be.

Lei's acne scars before her skin began to heal.

Image via Provided to SAYS

SAYS: If you had the chance to remove your scars, would you?

Wai Yi: Honestly, no, I wouldn't remove my scars. Although I do have mixed feelings whenever people make statements on my skin, it does not make me feel self-conscious. As mentioned, it's part of my identity and presumably what most people associate me with. I like to make jokes about it actually, I call it my leopard skin and it gives me an edge. Also, my tattoos are somewhat doing the job by covering some, hehe.

Monica: Maybe some of them, but I probably wouldn't. I'm proud of my scars, despite having tattoos over some of them. My scars are a part of me and what I went through, and I don't think I want to forget that. They're like a pretty part of me, in a dark twisted way, haha.

Jun: To be honest, if I were given the chance back then, the answer is yes, I would have removed my scars. Fortunately, scars are temporary and they will fade away eventually. Last year, I switched specialists and products often until I found the right one.

Wai Yi's legs.

Image via Provided to SAYS

SAYS: What do your scars represent to you?

Wai Yi: They represent my imperfections and authenticity. It's a super unconventional thought, but why remove a part of yourself that has been on you for so long just to serve society's beauty ideals? I was once uncomfortable and wanted to do whatever I could to fit in, but that was coming from a lack of understanding of myself and my need of validation from others. Over time, I've grown to love my scars because they make me feel like I'm human and that I'm real. I'm not trying to, excuse my French, bullsh*t people and satisfy the belief that "I would look better if I didn't have them".

Lei: For me, it reminds me that my identity is not solely defined by my physical appearance. Who I am is a culmination of my character, my life experiences, my relationships, and my overall being. Though my acne may have been the first thing people noticed about me, it's not what truly leaves a lasting impression. What matters more to me is my character and how I live my life, as that makes up a greater proportion of my identity.

Jun's face as of today.

Image via Provided to SAYS

SAYS: Do you think it's something you can be proud of?

Wai Yi: YES, YES, YES. I mean, I do have moments where I get self-conscious, but I'd remember that leopard skin is pretty cool and one-of-a-kind.

: I think I can say that I am proud of it not because I was comfortable with having a face full of acne, but because it reminds me that I am more than just my physical appearance. It has shown that even though insecurities creep in (by the way, that is so okay), I have it in me to acknowledge my flaws without obsessing over them, moving beyond my insecurities.

Jun: For me personally, although I want to be proud of them, I still feel insecure about them at the end of the day. So no, I don’t think it's something I'd ever be proud of.

Click to Reveal
Monica's self harm scars and tattoos.

Monica's self harm scars and tattoos.

Image via Provided to SAYS

SAYS: What advice would you give to those who are insecure because of their scars?

Lei: It's perfectly normal to feel insecure, it doesn't diminish your worth as an individual. But, you also have the capacity to conquer those feelings and acknowledge them without granting them too much power. Remember that your true value extends far beyond your outward appearance, and there are countless other facets of your personality that will definitely overshadow any scars or blemishes.

Monica: I would say it takes time to feel okay with them, but, it's definitely worth trying to be. Your scars and imperfections make you who you are, so be proud of them!

Jun: I'm not good at giving any advice, but if I had to, I would say take your time in embracing your scars. Of course, everyone would be insecure about them at first, but it all takes time. There will also be people who have never and will never be able to embrace their scars, like me. And to those people I would tell them, scars will heal eventually, it'll take a long time, but they'll heal.

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

Image via SAYS

Here's how other Malaysians turned their physical insecurities into pillars of strength:

You may be interested in: