How I Opened Up to My New Boyfriend About My Scars

Getting close to someone new can often be a difficult thing to do, whether it’s with a friend or a significant other. It is not unusual to feel scared and worried about opening up to that person — particularly when you have a unique physical appearance, as I do.

I’m a burn survivor, with scars covering my arms, legs and back. So when I started college last year, I knew I’d be meeting new people and facing questions about my scars. What I didn’t know was that telling my story would be easier than I expected—and that I would meet someone special right away.

I met Alec the day we moved into Xavier University in Cincinnati for freshman orientation. After my family left, I had to go meet my orientation group, and I was nervous and scared to be there all alone with absolutely no one I knew. I have always had trouble making new friends because I am a pretty shy person when I first meet people, so you can imagine how much pressure I felt. We met up in our groups, and everyone sat in a circle and introduced themselves. I didn’t think of it at the time, but I did notice Alec. Over the next four days of orientation, Alec and I talked quite a bit — nothing in complete detail, just some friendly banter. I really had no idea anything would come of it.

Soon we discovered we actually lived in the same dorm on the same hallway. Then, coincidentally, Alec and I were assigned the same first-year seminar class all freshmen had to take. So we knew we would be seeing a lot of each other during our first semester.

But even as we spent more time together, I had never mentioned anything to Alec about the visible part of my life. I’m comfortable wearing dresses, skirts, shorts, and short sleeves. I wear my scars proudly! So I knew that soon I would have to explain it all to Alec if we were going to continue getting to know each other.

After a fireworks show on Labor Day weekend, we were hanging out in our dorm. I wanted Alec to accept me for who I am, but I was new to the college-dating thing, and scared, at first, to share my whole story. Alec was brave enough to ask me, in the nicest way possible, what had happened that caused my skin to look different. He already knew what skin grafts were, so I didn’t have to explain everything in depth. But I told him about the gas explosion at my house when I was 16 years old, and about spending 38 days in Shriners Hospitals for Children-Cincinnati. I told him about my recovery and the months of physical therapy and about how the whole experience had changed my life. I told him about my book, “Beautiful Scars,” and about how I’d spent the previous summer meeting with other burn survivors, trying to help them through their toughest times.

I’ve told my story many times — to groups in churches, libraries, you name it — but this was the first time I’d ever felt nervous. The whole time I was thinking to myself, “I hope he doesn’t get scared or feel like something has changed.” I didn’t know Alec very well yet, and I wanted him to treat me the same as he had up to that point.

Thankfully, he took things well and didn’t care about the way my body looked. It was an instant comfortable feeling that I had with him. I’ve never felt like I had to hide who I was or hide my past. A year later, he is comfortable asking questions and loves me for who I am and all the history I come with.

There are always going to be people who are judgmental and rude about things, but I’ve learned to shake those people off and surround myself with people who are proud of me. Obviously, I don’t look the same as everyone else, and that’s OK because I have filled my life with people who care about who I am and all I have been through.

People can look at you and judge you all they want; at the end of the day, they don’t know what you have been through and have no right to judge you for your appearance.

Your body is part of your story, and your story is something you should be proud of. We’re all always growing and changing. I believe striving to become the best people we can be is what makes us truly beautiful.

Kilee Brookbank is a sophomore at Xavier University and the award-winning author of the books
Beautiful Scars: A Life Redefined and Digger the Hero Dog.” 

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