How Belfast mum rose above adversity, and a rocky start to life in care system, to forge career boosting clients’ confidence
Running her own successful aesthetics business in Belfast, life is good for Tanya Khan. After a tough start in life, her focus is to make others appreciate their self-worth.
“I never let anyone tell me no,” she says, “and it stood me in good stead.”
Tanya and her sister were placed into foster care when her mother was only 19.
“When I was about four years old, my sister and I entered the care system and this caused terrible heartbreak for my mother who fought for the rest of her short life to get us back,” she explains.
“She died at 29, having not seen her children since they were taken from her arms in the middle of the street.
“For many children, foster care and adoption provide a loving home and an excellent start in life where they are cherished and supported.
“However, I didn’t develop any bond with my foster carer. Life was very disciplined; affection and fun were not encouraged.
“There were four foster children living in the pristine house and although the other two, who were fostered after us, were adopted, my sister and I weren’t. I carried the burden of not being wanted, which is terrible for any child’s self-esteem. Subsequently, the threat of being returned to the care system hung over me all the time, so I learned to develop coping mechanisms.”
Tanya, who now lives with her four children in Belfast, says although her formative years were very tough, she became determined to live the best possible life.
“As a child, I never felt safe and secure, so I focused on self-reliance,” she recalls.
“I was determined to take control of my destiny as I knew no one was ever going to come to save me. I was forced to mature quickly and rely on my own resources to survive and flourish.
“From an early age, I figured out that everything would be ok as long as I was willing to deal with it. Even when stripped of every other bit of control and agency, you always have power over your mindset and decision-making.
“I was always made to think that I wasn’t good enough and was damaged as a foster kid. But I’m just as capable. It’s just society’s perception tries to make us feel that we’re less.
“Luckily the one good thing which came out of my foster experience was an emphasis on a good education and I always did well at school.”
This love of learning became her lifeline when she realised that education was her ticket to the future.
“When I was 16, I found myself unexpectedly returned to the care system with all my belongings in a black bin bag,” she says. “At this point I gave up and began to run with a crowd who didn’t have the same educational expectations as me.
“I had no parental control to guide me on the right path and listening to the negative influence of my peer group, I stopped going to school.
“But an extremely committed teacher persuaded me to return to sit my exams and despite all the obstacles and my lack of self-belief, I attained qualifications which gave me the chance to pursue higher education.”
Tanya initially thought about working in a bank but instead, decided to pursue a role in healthcare.
After completing A-levels, she was accepted into Queen’s University in 2001. And, even after discovering she was pregnant, she didn’t give up her dream. When her son was just five months old, she placed him in the onsite creche and completed the course, qualifying as a registered nurse in 2005.
She then went on to work as a theatre nurse and discovered an interest in aesthetics. Three years later she began another course to qualify as a prescribing nurse and following further courses and professional development, at the beginning of last year, opened her own practice in Little Donegall Street, Tanya Khan Aesthetics. She believes maintaining a positive mindset is key.
“That’s the whole point, to feel at peace, to try and be as happy as you possibly can. That comes from believing that you can take actions that you never thought you could.
“You feel judged your whole life. People are going to judge but they can’t decide on what you think you’re capable of. That’s just their opinions.”
So what keeps her focused?
“You would like to say it was solely in me and that’s kind of who I am, but I think a large part of it came from trying to prove people wrong,” she explains.
“Now I’m on the other side of that, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody, it’s only myself and my children.
“I would say my son is a motivating factor; I had him when I was 21. If I wanted him to have the best life possible, I wanted to prove to him you could do whatever you wanted, you just have to put the hard work in and believe in yourself.”
Tanya was recently appointed as the regional lead representative of the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses and was asked to act as a keynote speaker at an international conference in Dublin.
“You have the power within you,” she says of improving self-worth.
“I do genuinely believe you end up like the people you hang around and it’s so important to take a good look around every now and again and make sure they are good people; they are people who support you.
“They don’t have to be running after you and acting like you’re God. They need to be real, realistic and you need to know that you can rely on them in times of need and that they want the best for you.”
Within her industry, Tanya is concerned by a lack of regulation which can put people at risk.
“A lack of local legislation or industry overview means some people are providing aesthetic treatments in unsafe and unregulated ways,” she warns.
“There isn’t enough protection in Northern Ireland because there’s no adequately enforced legislation, which means little legal redress or responsibility when things go wrong.
“In untrained hands, the consequences of a botched aesthetic procedure can be catastrophic.”
She was dismayed at learning the new Botulinum Toxin and Cosmetic Fillers (Children) Act enacted in England in September would not be extended to Northern Ireland, saying questions need to be asked as to why this is the case.
“There are too many unqualified, unscrupulous non-medical practitioners who are happy to take money from young people and, in many cases leave them emotionally and physically scarred,” she says.
“I have three young daughters, and I’m disappointed the NI Executive is not doing more to protect them and everyone’s children.”
She is particularly concerned as she believes that young people are very influenced by the unrealistic body images they see on social media.
“With the increasing popularity of social media, botulinum toxin among teenagers is becoming more common,” she says.
“There has been a significant spike in numbers attempting to achieve a so-called ‘Instagram face’. Young people are also bombarded with adverts promoting and normalising these medical treatments to the point where they are treating them like non-invasive beauty treatments such as manicures.
“I understand what it’s like to be young, marginalised, vulnerable and have no self-worth.
“When I reflect on my teenage self, I know I would have been tempted to try it as some kind of magic bullet to make me feel better about myself.
“Unfortunately, it’s easy to be seduced by the false promise of a quick fix to make you beautiful and popular when you are already struggling with self-esteem issues.”
The aesthetic nurse practitioner is keen to see tougher rules being introduced in Northern Ireland.
“We need our legislators, MLAs and ministers to notice and recognise the risks our young people are subjected to because of a lack of enforced regulation,” she adds.
“They need to take this seriously and extend the new act to Northern Ireland as soon as possible.”
- For more information, see https://tanyakhan.co.uk