A Sydney woman who developed an addiction as a result of being cruelly bullied at school has opened up about how it has affected her life.
Mimi Watt, 27, is currently battling a fake tan addiction, a product she turned to aged 14 after kids at school taunted her for having naturally fair skin.
While initially the beauty products that promote a "healthy, golden glow" appeared to help, it developed into an addiction that left Mimi caught in an endless cycle of applying, removing and reapplying the product.
At least once a week for 12 years, the life and business coach has gone through the gruelling 10-hour process of scrubbing her old tan off, putting her new one on, and then letting it "marinate" for eight hours.
But after the habit began to take over her life, affecting her ability to even leave the house, Mimi has now begun the difficult task of trying to embrace her natural skin tone – a challenge she has been documenting on TikTok.
"My fake tan addiction all started because of my school bullies," she said.
"I was told I was disgusting because of my skin, and called all types of awful names.
"The girls at my school had a real fixation on being tan, everyone was obsessed."
"In addition to that, the beauty industry really glorifies having a 'healthy glow'. So I was really struggling to love my natural self."
The popular TikTok user – where she's known as @recoveringtanaholic – said that after "deciding to try it out just to fit in, it soon became a habit".
Mimi said the laborious ritual has stolen countless hours and thousands of dollars from her that she'll never get back – all in the name of "beauty".
"You know you have a problem when it goes from being a choice, to being something that you have to do before leaving the house," she explained.
"It took over my life. It was all I could think about, every second of the day.
"I would cancel plans to fake tan, and miss out on special events because of it.
"I hated how I looked without it. I felt unattractive, exposed and so self-conscious. I was a completely different person.
"But with fake tan, I was outgoing and confident, my self-esteem was through the roof."
Mimi said that while she was never able to admit she had a problem, she finally came to the realisation that her fake tan addiction was taking over her life.
"I knew I'd had a fake tan addiction for years, but it wasn't something I ever could admit," she said.
"I was too ashamed. People would think it's superficial and trivial, but it's actually so psychological and runs deep.
"It feels like you're putting on a mask, and you can't leave home without it."
In May 2022, she shared her struggles on her TikTok, where her videos rapidly went viral – with some racking up over 1.5 million views.
"When I think about going on my first European holiday, my first thought isn't about the wonderful and beautiful places I'll get to visit," Mimi said on a recent TikTok video.
"It's about, how am I going to maintain my fake tan routine, without wasting my time over there, and without constantly stressing about my skin.
"If I'm lucky enough to have children one day, the first thought that comes into my head, is 'How am I going to fake tan when I'm heavily pregnant?'
"I think, 'How am I going to fake tan and keep up this routine when I have a newborn baby?'"
While in another video she opens up about how she now feels the need to "cover up" at the beach when she wears a bikini because she's not tanned.
In sharing her story, Mimi said she felt liberated and more ready to tackle her addiction than ever before.
She was also "blown away" by the positive responses and the amount of people coming forward to tell her that they were also addicted to fake tan.
Mimi added she is now working to love her natural self, and wants to help others who might be struggling with the same addiction to feel less alone.
"The first step is to admit you have a problem," she said. "That is one of the hardest parts. From there, you can find others to talk to about it.
"Just being able to say it out loud is so liberating, and to know you're not alone."
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.