By Rebecca Cooley
A teen who was bullied for having a condition that makes her skin as fragile as paper has taken up boxing to overcome her bullies.
Mahfuza Salam, 18, was born with the rare condition Harlequin Ichthyosis – which causes the skin to be extremely fragile, dry and flaky and requires frequent moisturising with medicated baths and creams.
But despite being taunted for her skin by bullies she decided to take up boxing to help build her confidence and self esteem.
Mahfuza, from East London, said: “Bullying has always been something that I’ve faced my whole life and even when I’m walking in the street people stare.
“Of course it’s normal for people to stare because my condition is so rare and people are going to have lots of questions but it does make me feel uncomfortable at times and some people make mean comments.”
Determined not to let bullies get the best of her, Mahfuza decided to take up boxing two years ago to toughen herself up and learn to stand her ground.
She said: “It could cause a serious injury if I were to take a punch or fall down so I’m just taking it one step at a time and sticking to sparring for now, but I would like to compete one day.”
Her weak skin is also prone to breakages on her fingers from the gloves which can lead to infections and her body also overheats due to not being able to sweat and cool down normally.
Despite this she pushes through the pain with an attitude of ‘no excuses’ and a new-found mental strength and discipline which has helped her to overcome her bullies.
Mahfuza said: “What people say doesn’t really affect me how it used to because since I started doing boxing I’ve been more confident.
“I’ve seen the change in myself, I used to be down and crying all the time but now I’m so happy and I don’t pay attention to haters and bullies and I’m not scared of them anymore.
“It has definitely strengthened me as a person and made me strive to succeed even more in life.”
She added: “Boxing is something I’ve always wanted to do but I didn’t think I’d ever be capable of doing it.
“There are a lot of stereotypes about girls and people with disabilities doing boxing and I want to break them stereotypes and show a girl with a skin condition can do boxing.”
Mahfuza normally trains at a boxing club with her uncle Abdul Hannan, a former boxer who is now a professional coach, but lockdown has limited her training to one-on-one outdoor sessions.
Mahfuza said: “My uncle has played such a big role in my boxing, we always have quality uncle and niece time training together and he’s a massive role model in my life.”
Out of the ring Mahfuza also hopes to help and inspire young people in a future career in health and social care following on from her course at college.
She said: “I really enjoy it because I have a very caring nature so I always like to look after people and be there for people.
“I would like to get into some sort of work where I can work with young children who have some sort of disability to support them.
“I feel like I can inspire young people who go through hardships and support them to be the best that they can be.”
Calling on others to embrace their uniqueness, Mahfuza added: “No matter how hard life gets you just need to chase your dreams and live life, it’s all about your mindset and how you overcome your challenges.”