Tulsi Vagjiani: the woman who lost her family in a plane crash – and found the beauty in her burns

After a tragedy that killed her father, mother and brother, and left her severely scarred, she endured years of taunts and rejection. Now she is fighting for all those with facial disfigurements

Tulsi Vagjiani was 10 years old and had been in hospital for several weeks when her bandages finally came off and she asked the nurses to show her what she looked like. She had been warned that she had extensive burns, but they seemed reluctant to let her look – they asked her if she was sure. “The nurses and doctors were like: I don’t think she realises the severity of what she looks like,” says Vagjiani.

Vagjiani felt as if she had not changed, even if she was confused about what exactly had happened. “I was just Tulsi – boisterous, loud, confident.” She thought: how bad could it be? “Then I saw myself in the mirror and I was like: oh.” She says it in a quiet voice. “I actually thought somebody drew that face on, because I thought: that’s not me. And then, looking at the person in the mirror, their eyes and mouth moving, I realised: that is me.”