Her teeth are falling out and she’s had collagen injections for her wrinkles – but Zara Hartshorn is no middle-aged woman trying to recapture her youth.
In fact, she’s only 15 with a rare and incurable disease that makes her look decades older than her school pals.
The genetic defect affects fewer than 30 people in Britain – but heartbreakingly her mum Tracey and sister Jolene, 23, have it too.
Yet despite getting plenty of support at home, Zara has faced years of bullies branding her “granny” and even beating her up.
She’s been humiliatingly turfed off a bus because she couldn’t prove she was eligible for a child’s ticket.
And when she started at one school she was mistaken for a teacher.
Now Zara has chosen to speak out in a bid to defy the bullies and raise awareness of her condition.
She said: “It makes me really angry sometimes – but I do everything normal 15-year-olds do and try not to let it get me down.”
Zara, Jolene and Tracey, 41, have lipodystrophy, which decays bones and destroys fatty tissue beneath the surface of the skin, causing premature ageing.
So while many girls use make-up to appear older to get into pubs or 18-rated films, Zara has the opposite problem.
She said: “It’s impossible to get a child’s ticket at the cinema and when I wear my school uniform people think I’m in fancy dress.
“Growing up with lipodystrophy has been really hard.
“Children started being cruel to me when I was at primary school, calling me ‘baggy face’ and ‘granny’.
“I’ve been physically assaulted at school because of how I look so Mum took me out of school for a term when I was 10 after the bullying got so bad.
“It wasn’t until secondary school I found a group of friends who accepted me for who I was, not how I looked.”
But outside school many people refuse to believe she’s so young.
Zara said: “I was once refused a child’s bus ticket in front of everyone. I went red, got off and walked home. In my first week at one school the teacher handed me a lesson plan. I said, ‘I’m not a teacher, I’m a pupil.’
“I’ve never felt so on the spot in my life – I just wanted to die.
“The same thing happened a year later when I changed teachers.”
Zara went on: “My teeth seem to be really weak and even though I brush regularly I’ve lost four already.
“Two are at the front, which makes me very self-conscious and I don’t like to smile with my mouth open.”
In 2010 Zara went to Japan to have collagen injections in her face from a world expert on lipodystrophy.
Initially the jabs smoothed wrinkles but the implant later broke down.
Zara said: “I was really excited about having collagen because I thought it might change my appearance, so I was gutted when it went wrong.
“In the future I’d like a facelift to see if I can get rid of the skin under my chin and wrinkles around my eyes.”
But despite the ravages of her condition, Zara dreams of being a beauty therapist when she leaves school.
And she already knows a thing or two about keeping skin clear.
She said: “One good thing about the condition is Jolene, Mum and me have never had a spot or skin blemish.
“I used to wear lots of make-up but now I’m more accepting of myself – some people are worse looking than me.” There are other upsides, too. Zara quipped: “I can get served cigarettes and alcohol – if I want.”
And she insists she has no trouble attracting boyfriends.
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