The size of my nose. My hips. The flab that hangs under my upper arms. That evil cowlic that makes one side of my bangs puffier than the other. My super fine baby hair that I can NOT do a thing with. The acne I’m still getting as an adult. And don’t get me started on that one whisker that pops up from time to time near my jawline -I hate that monstrosity!
These are first to come to mind when I think about things I would like to change about my outward appearance. Rarely – I would dare say “never” – do I think of the giant, unavoidable, port wine stain birthmark on my face.
When there’s something wrong with our face, something that’s not socially “normal”, it can be mortifying, making us resort to various disguises when on the street. A giant zit on the tip of your nose, crow’s feet, unwanted whiskers, or unruly eyebrows. When it’s on our face, it always feels a thousand times larger than it is. Regardless, I’ve never been afflicted with this horror when it comes to my birthmark.
Lately, I’ve started to question it. Should I be more horrified by it than I am? I recently read an article in the Huffington Post written by Leigh M. Clark, who has a similar birthmark, and has “spent a lifetime covering this up“. And then there was the viral article in the Mirror about the parents who got tattoos similar to their daughter’s birthmark to “make her feel special”.
Quite honestly, both articles created a fondue pot of emotions for me.
I completely understand Leigh’s desire to cover the thing up. I couldn’t agree with her more when she writes: “…until society let me know there was something different about me, I was none the wiser.” I remember the stares and questions. I, too, went through the same aggressive laser treatments that garnered more attention than my birthmark itself.
Where I differ is when it comes to covering my birthmark. I’ve always had the complete opposite perspective than her. I thought it made no sense what-so-ever to only put make-up on the half of my face that was normal. I knew only a pancake-thick layer of foundation would cover my birthmark, and that made me shudder more than dealing with any ridicule society was ready to throw at me. I feared that that amount of makeup would bring even more attention to my face. So I never bothered with learning how to apply make-up, and now I have no idea what I’m doing when I try.
Also, when she writes, “in my head, that mark on my face was the reason for every rejection, and having it crushed my heart before I even knew what being crushed meant”, my visceral reaction was, “Oh, come on, it’s just a birthmark! It’s not like you have five nipples or six ears!” Then my brain quickly switched gears, “That was mean. Don’t think such things. You know it wasn’t so easy, and people can be horribly cruel and close-minded.”
Maybe I was lucky? My parents never made an issue of my face.
Although I honestly think it’s super sweet of the parents who got the birthmark tattoos, there was something that made me feel slightly uncomfortable about their story. I couldn’t help but ask myself if they were over-compensating by trying to make their daughter feel special.
I guess I think that making an issue – even in a positive light – is still making an issue.
My parents didn’t strive to make me feel special, nor did they try to make me feel normal, nor did they ignore it. They answered my questions when I had them. They comforted me when I was made fun of, as any parents do for their child – with or without a birthmark. They never made a big deal of it. It was normal to have a birthmark, as it was normal to have blue eyes, ten fingers, and ten toes. My parents didn’t do anything differently raising me than they did with my younger brother, whose face is normal.
Me being a happy kid:
When you have something that makes you different from everyone else, something you have no choice in and very little control over, until you learn to embrace it, what you want more than anything is to feel like everyone else – normal.
My birthmark is a part of me like my baby-fine hair. There’s just a section of my skin that is discolored. When I was young, one of my early memories is asking my mom about our new neighbor who wasn’t white. She explained, that everyone is different and some people have different colors and shades of skin; some people have blonde hair, some have brown; some have blue eyes, some have green….Like the birthmark on my face. Everyone is different.
Answered. Explained. Didn’t think much about it skin color again, nor hair color, or eye color. No big deal.
I thank my parents for not over-thinking my birthmark and accepting it as a part of me. They never strived for a sense of normalcy, never over-compensated – because everything was normal. Because of them, I can easily shrug off people who stare. I understand that I may be different than most of the people in their world and they need a good look. Harsh words thrown at me are dealt with the roll of my eyes. Sometimes people are mean for no reason and some battles are not worth fighting.
Below left, me immediately following a laser treatment; below right, me 2 days after that same laser treatment:
I underwent laser treatments because of my grandmother, who went out of her way to put a good facade up for anyone who was looking. She blamed my mother for my birthmark. There’s an old wives’ tale…Something about desiring something while holding your tummy while pregnant…Errr…I really don’t know. What I do know, is that she felt like this “ugly thing on my face” was my mother’s fault. So, when I was about 9 or 10, I started laser treatments.
After a treatment, that’s when people would really stare! The effects of the laser would last a couple of weeks while my face healed. The things people said to me were quite odd; stranger than anything said about my birthmark. My favorite was when someone asked if the treated area was a tattoo. Seriously???
The “thickness” of one’s birthmark, in combination to how it reacted to the last laser treatment, the laser pulse settings, etc, all of these things and more determine the number of treatments one could have. Or, at least it use to with the type of laser I last used. I had treatments throughout my tweens and teens, until I moved out from my parents to the other side of the US.
After I moved, I lost the luxury of being covered under their health insurance and abandoned the idea of having more work done on my face. It was never an issue, so I just forgot about it for several years…Until I finally had health insurance. I took up the treatments again for a few years…Until I moved to Europe. Again, the idea of laser removal was forgotten…
Until I visited my doctor recently. She asked me if I was doing anything for it and suggested that I visit the local hospital to see what they could do since “they’ve come a long way with the technology”.
Like the articles I recently read, I had a mix of emotions. In one hand…Do I really care if I live the rest of my life with it? Why can’t society just suck it up? I have a birthmark, a section of my skin is more red than the rest of my face. Jeez. Deal with it already! Why can’t I rock it, like I rock a tight, pencil skirt in heels?
On the other hand, why not have the treatments? It’s just a little discoloration on my skin. If it’s not big deal to have it or not to have it, why not see about the laser treatments? Just because I have more treatments, it doesn’t mean that I’m succumbing to society’s view of normal – Does it? With or without, it doesn’t change who I am.
No big deal…Right?