Editor’s Note: In August 2012, Olivia Eng had a serious surgery for a congenital condition in her spine. To get to her spine, the doctors had to cut through the main group of muscles that allow an able body to move and lift one’s legs or walk. She woke up barely able to move. She felt paralyzed. Her right leg refused to budge and for many months she couldn’t walk. Olivia had to train her right leg and foot to move and walk again. She used crutches to help support her weight. Her spinal wounds healed themselves slowly. And dealing with the pain was another beast in itself. Today, she dances again. She still continues to recover and wants to encourage those who have found themselves in a similar situation to share their story. “Even if you haven’t reached your personal goal or recovered fully… This is how I feel and the struggle still goes on,” says Olivia Eng. What remains are her scars. Olivia hopes to not only share her story but also capture and document the stories of others whose scars hold profound significance. The goal is to compile these stories and photos in a photography book/scar project.

Olivia Eng

By Olivia Eng
For the longest time, since the day I could remove the surgical dressing from my scars and clean them, I felt disgusted at the sight. Each time I looked at my scars emerged this deep self-loathing and intense pain. I struggled through my healing process. I was bitter for even having the condition, needing such a serious, risky surgery, that at the time, I felt ruined me. I was 29 years old. I was supposed to be transitioning into my 30s with something grand and extraordinary to represent my life’s work thus far. I imagined myself at a different place. Instead, I was starting over. Did the surgery even do anything to help? Even worse I lost so much; my ability to walk, to move, the use of my right leg. I felt like a baby learning how to walk again. The “healers” doubted my recovery. I was told I might not be able to have kids (I hadn’t even thought of that before). Another even physically assaulted/violated me when I went to him for physical therapy. So many challenges led to doubts with my healing process. I couldn’t even stand with my own two legs, on my own two feet, or walk by myself. I didn’t know if I could ever dance again. I made a vow to myself that one day if I was able to overcome this, I would use this inner fire to inspire and encourage others by not giving up on my dreams and continuing to dance and perform.

Artwork by Olivia Eng Slowly, but surely, healing came. Although I am not where I want to be quite yet, I am still working on coming back 100 percent. I’ve started training, dancing, and teaching kids dance. I have faith through my Buddhist practice and pure perseverance that I will still make my dreams a reality. The least I can do is inspire others to never give up, even if means only reaching one person. Maybe that one person will be inspired to reach another, and that person yet another. It can only move forward. As I got better, I couldn’t stop thinking about the beautiful little son of two dear friends of mine. He had heart surgery when he was only a baby for a heart condition. I remember how he used to touch the scar over his chest and rub it. He hated it and wished he didn’t have it because it made him different. None of the other kids had one. With his story, the inspiration for my project was born.

Perfection is a temporary state, it’s not a process of being. What’s perfect at the start can only break down, it can’t build up.” – Father of Alexander Juan Antonio Cortes

The Scar Photography Project

My goal is to compile a book of photos and stories of people with profound scars and include people of all ages, all walks of life and countries as possible. This project could take several years. I originally wanted to do this project mainly for my future children that the “healer” told me I might not ever have because of my situation, but I have faith that I still will when the time is right. And then, knowing young Sebastian’s story, I ultimately want this to be something that can inspire and reach all children, especially since our youth are bombarded daily with the ideas of beauty and perfection as being unflawed, smooth skin, etc. I want to highlight strength as beauty, in all aspects and ways a person can be strong, and advocate for being different, accepting your flaws, never giving up, and overcoming life’s immense challenges.

For Participants to Know

If you have a scar(s), not necessarily big in size, but one that holds a profound significance to you (maybe symbolizing a battle won or overcoming a major challenge) and want to share your story, I would like to photograph you in an artistic way, highlighting your character and strength; and of course, you would need to be comfortable exposing your scar(s) to the camera. I also ask that each person write about your experience with no reservations or shame.

Questions to Think About When You Tell Your Story

  • How did you get your scar? What happened?
  • What does it mean to you?
  • Tell me about your journey or healing process?
  • How did the experience change you and/or your life?
  • Was there a benefit/silver lining to it?
  • What did you learn?
  • How have you progressed since then/accomplishments?
  • What does your scar(s) represent to you personally?
  • What advice would you give to others in a similar situation or struggling?

If interested in participating in this project or if you have any questions, comments, please email Olivia Eng, viiviiarte[@]gmail.com. If you know anyone that would love to be a part of this project, please spread the word. You also don’t have to be a San Francisco Bay Area-based to participate. Please note, Olivia Eng hopes to find a grant to help with producing this project and won’t be distributing it to sell or make profit and therefore, can’t pay anyone for their contributions to this the project. This is for people who share the same vision and passion of what she wants to put together and make it accessible to anyone, especially children.