T – Ann, can you introduce yourself?
I am 24 years old. I work in the healthcare sector. Ever since I was younger, I knew that I wanted to help people in whatever way I could. In my free time, I like to draw portraits and bake desserts. I mostly like looking at the portraits that I have finished, as it gives me a sense of accomplishment.
I have a café au lait spot (a type of birthmark) that goes over my right eye down to the right side of my nose. I used to be quite insecure about it, but over the years, I have learned to accept it because it has helped to make me the individual that I am today.
You proudly wear your birthmark. How do you see it in your own eyes?
I see it as a part of me. I simply cannot see myself without it.
What does it mean to have one?
I remember watching a video about a woman who had a birthmark on her eye, and she spoke about how people kept on asking her, “what happened to your eye”? There was nothing wrong with her, but she went on to talk about how she developed empathy early on due to people’s remarks/questions.
Her story resonated with me because I had those shared experiences and learned how powerful words were from a young age, too. I don’t know what I would be like without my birthmark, but I am sure that I am more empathetic as a result of having it.
Have you faced any barriers in your life/career due to your birthmark?
Fortunately, I have not encountered any barriers in my career in relation to my birthmark.
Have you ever received negative reactions? If so, how did you overcome them?
Yes, I have received negative reactions for my birthmark. It took a lot of time to get to where I am today about my birthmark. I think I only began to overcome the negative reactions about my birthmark when I started to accept it and see beauty in it. The days that I felt comfortable in my skin began to be more frequent and consistent, which in turn led me to be less affected by negative comments/looks. But it is still a journey, and I am still learning.
What would you like others to know about birthmarks?
Whilst birthmarks are typically harmless and often low maintenance, this is not always the case. Some café au lait spots could be indicative of neurofibromatosis. Although, there are more birthmarks that are categorised into three types: vascular tumour birthmarks, pigmented birthmarks, and vascular malformations.
Port wine stain birthmarks typically are present on an individual’s head and/or neck. When this type of birthmark goes over an individual's eye, then might it lead to glaucoma. Glaucoma is an ophthalmological condition that is characterised by increased pressure in the eye. Blindness is a consequence of this condition being treated. Not only can port wine stain birthmarks grow both laterally in size but also in height and become thicker. As a result of this, individuals may need to have laser treatment.
Roughly out of every 1000 children, three of whom will have a port-wine stain (GOSH, 2018).
How would you like people with birthmarks to be seen, approached, and treated?
Exactly that, I want people with birthmarks to feel seen. However, being seen does not include staring at people with birthmarks. Personally, I prefer it when people come up to me and ask me questions nicely about my birthmark instead of staring from afar. Whilst I encourage questions about my birthmark in a polite manner, I do not appreciate assumptions about my birthmarks, such as assuming that I was assaulted. It is important to understand that sometimes people with birthmarks just want to live their lives and may not want to answer questions at the current point in time.
If the individual themselves has not expressed to you a desire to remove their birthmark, then you should not suggest removal.
What change would you like to see for people with birthmarks?
I want people with birthmarks to be more confident within themselves.
What does beauty mean to you?
I believe that beauty is subjective. I liken beauty to happiness in the way that most people aspire to it, but it is difficult to keep a hold of because it constantly changes.
What is one thing you want to tell the world?
Perspective is everything.
What would you tell your younger self?
This question is dependent upon the age of my younger self. To 4-year-old me, I would tell her that she is right when she said that she was made this way for a reason. I would tell her that fierceness will go, but it doesn’t mean she can’t reclaim it back again. To 14-year-old me, I would tell her to stop straightening her hair so much and that she will grow to accept her birthmark and see the beauty in it. But now, at 24 years old, I would give them both a hug.
I do not claim to hold the cheat sheet on how to love facial birthmarks, but I would say that you cannot embrace something if you cannot first accept it. Seeing people with facial birthmarks in real life helped me to be confident in my own skin. I would see others with birthmarks and think that they looked really cool, which made me question why I didn’t see myself in the same light. Eventually, my perception of myself changed.
Great Ormond Street Hospital (July 2018). Port wine stains. https://www.gosh.nhs.uk/conditions-and-treatments/conditions-we-treat/port-wine-stains/ Date accessed: 12 March 2023.