A woman who suffers from a rare skin condition which means her skin is covered in bubble-like lesions has finally learnt to embrace her body.
So much so that she’s now found the confidence to wear a bikini in public.
Rachael Reynolds, 43, suffers from a rare genetic disorder, known as neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), which causes tumours to grow along your nerves leaving her face, neck, arms, back, stomach and legs covered in the bumps.
For years, Rachael endured cruel taunts, making her so self-conscious that she would often keep her body hidden body from view.
But appearing on the TV show ‘House of Extraordinary People’, which saw nine people live together in a Yorkshire cottage for 10 days, massively helped Rachel to feel more comfortable in her own skin.
It even gave her the courage to wear a bikini while filming a hot tub scene and now she plans to wear her swimwear with confidence on holiday later this year.
“When I went in the house I never ever thought I would take my top off for the cameras, and filming,” Rachael, from Huddersfield, West Yorks, said.
“They didn’t know it either as part of it was in secret, so they were shocked when I went in the hot tub with a bikini top.
“I am able to not be as conscious about what I wear and not care as much what others think and be more comfortable in my own skin.”
The mum-of-four inherited the condition from her father who also suffered with the same lumps.
But her appearance didn’t start to change until she hit puberty aged around 13, then steadily became worse with each of her pregnancies.
Her condition attracted cruel taunts in the street from strangers who said she looked like she’d been bitten by a crocodile.
Rachael’s body confidence was so low she feared that she would never meet a partner who loved her for who she really was.
But after reconnecting with an old acquaintance, Mike, the pair fell in love and Rachael says he was the first man in her life to “treat me as human”.
The couple began dating in 2003 and married in a romantic ceremony in April 2013, and now live with their four children.
According to the NHS NF1 is caused by a faulty gene. If the NF1 gene is faulty, it leads to uncontrolled growth (tumours) developing in the nervous system.
In half of all cases of NF1, the faulty gene is passed from a parent to their child. Only one parent needs to have the faulty gene for their child to be at risk of developing the condition.
If either the mother or father has the faulty gene, there’s a 1 in 2 chance that each child they have will develop NF1.
In other cases, the faulty gene appears to develop spontaneously, but doctors aren’t sure why this happens.
Though Rachael’s children don’t appear to have inherited the disorder, they do get upset by the verbal abuse their mum has suffered over the years.
Rachael has undergone painful surgeries and laser treatment to remove the lumps on her body, but she knows that her neurofibromatosis will likely worsen as she gets older, and there’s no cure.
Thankfully, though, she now feels able to accept her body the way it is, and refuses to hide away on her upcoming holiday.
“I hope to be able to get out there and wear a bikini, because I’m always covered up, regardless of what people think,” says Rachael.
“It’s my holiday, not theirs.”