Back in 2009 my aunt suggested that I do a photo shoot showing me embracing my birthmarks. I loved the idea but put it off – until now. I’ve shared my story before, God told me that it is now time to truly share my story…
I was born with a large birthmark that covers the forepart of my entire left arm and extends to the upper left side of by back and over my shoulder. It is also located on the back of my right thigh and back of my right ankle. As a young child I never thought anything of it. It wasn’t a problem to me and I didn’t see myself as “different”. Up until the 5th grade I was okay with myself, some kids even told me my birthmarks were “cool”. It wasn’t until the 5th grade when things started to change. I started looking at myself differently and wondering where this birthmark came from and why I had it. One day after school I remember a boy in the 6th grade got a glimpse of the birthmark on my ankle and he asked, “what’s that on your leg?” I froze and didn’t know what to say so I ran into the bathroom and pulled my sock up above my birthmark and went back into the hallway. When the boy saw me again he asked, “what was that on your ankle?” and I looked down and said, “nothing. See?” I didn’t really understand at the time why my self-esteem changed and I started to care about how I looked, but the fact that someone noticed my birthmark and asked me what it was signaled to my mind that this was something different and possibly not “cool” anymore and I didn’t want to be different.
I went to a private school and we wore uniforms. The girls wore skirts and either short sleeve or long sleeve blouses and around 5th grade is when I asked my mom to only buy me long sleeve shirts. From that moment on I began to “hide” and cover up who I was/am. Throughout middle school, junior high and high school I always wore long sleeve shirts, longer skirts and/or pants ALL the time, I stopped being physically active because any type of physical activity, i.e. swimming, basketball, etc., would require me to wear something that would show my birthmarks. I remember in gym class I started wearing sweat pants and shirts until the gym uniform, which was shorts and a t-shirt was enforced. I was so angry! Ugh! Why?! I remember wearing sweaters over my gym uniform saying that I was cold. My gym teacher Straw would try to make me feel better about my birthmarks by showing me his on his shoulder (or neck – I can’t remember), but that didn’t help. It even got to the point where I stopped playing in gym class because I wasn’t “feeling well”, at least that was the excuse I used, but the real reason was because I couldn’t deal with having to wear shorts and a t-shirt, but that only lasted so long. My grade was affected so I had to participate again. But I was still ashamed and didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t realize it, but I was crippling myself. I had been to so many dermatologists who had all told me that there was nothing wrong with my skin and nothing major could be done to change it, except try to lighten my skin with topical solutions. I’ve tried and gone through so many skin lightening and bleaching creams, but to no avail. Basically I needed to get over it, but I wasn’t trying to hear that.
My senior year in high school is when I discovered body makeup and began to wear it on my arm and leg so that I could wear short sleeves and skirts again and feel somewhat comfortable. But I didn’t feel comfortable. There were times when the body makeup would rub off on my clothing or not completely match my skin color, but I dealt with it. I wore body makeup all four years of college. I remember having to wake up early in the morning before my roommate and suite mates just so that I could get in the bathroom and have enough time to put on the body makeup, allow it to dry and set it with the setting powder. That was exhausting. Some nights I would sleep with the body makeup on to try to cut down on the prep time in the morning, but because some of it would rub off while sleeping I would still have to reapply in the morning. I was thankful for winters. I LOVED winters. It meant no short sleeves or shorts. It meant I could sleep in a little longer in the morning and not have to apply body makeup all over. The winters were limited to just a little makeup on my hand and my ankle, just enough to cover the areas that were shown.
Throughout my life not many people, including family and close friends, knew that I struggled with this. I hated summers. I hated the thought of having to wear short sleeves and shorts and wished I looked differently so I could enjoy life. I remember praying to God asking him to take my birthmarks away and got angry when I would wake up and still see them there. There were times I wished I hadn’t been born. Anything seemed better than feeling the way I felt.
It wasn’t until 2008 when I was in grad school in New Jersey that I realized what I had been doing to myself. I went to the beach with my family, of course with my full body makeup on that I had to wake up hours before everyone else just to put it on. My cousins and my aunt were enjoying themselves in the water. I sat on the side saying that I couldn’t get in because I wasn’t feeling well or some other rehearsed excuse I had used for years. When I saw how much fun everyone was having while I sat on the side that was the moment it hit me. That was the moment God spoke to me and told me I had two choices, either to start living or sit on the side the rest of my life. I didn’t realize that I had struggled with low self-esteem and had been covering up a great part of myself for so long. God showed me a glimpse of all the times I held myself back because of how I looked, how I was abusing myself by telling myself that I hated how I looked. At that moment I had to make the choice to love myself and that meant either trying to get rid of this thing once and for all or just accepting it – well the way God works, of course He would have me do the latter.
Well me being me, I decided that I would try to visit one more skin doctor to see if there was something that could be done. As I said I knew that I either had to get rid of my birthmarks or learn to accept them, and of course I wasn’t ready to do the latter. I went to a well-known dermatologist in New York who specialized in treating different types of skin diseases. My aunt accompanied me on this trip to meet with the doctor and when she saw my birthmarks she was amazed. She was surprised because I was at her house every weekend and she never saw them and wondered how I hid them so well, but more importantly she told me my birthmarks were beautiful which is something I never heard. She told me they looked like God’s own artwork on my body. After the doctor examined my skin he, too, was amazed. He told me that I have nothing more than a rare case of hyper-pigmentation which has spread over the years as I’ve grown from a child. He told me that in all his years of work he had never seen a mark so large on an African American that was NOT linked to skin cancer or some other type of disease. He said that most African Americans who have some type of hyper-pigmentation as mine is usually cancerous and require surgery to have it removed, but my case was very different. He told me IF he did any type of surgery it would be very extensive and would leave me feeling worse than I did when I walked through the door. He told me that I was fine and that he would not recommend any work being done, but was more than happy to refer me to someone else for a second opinion. I was tired. I had been to every dermatologist in Michigan and now this supposed miracle doctor in New York couldn’t help me either?! I was disappointed and I didn’t want to hear anything else. At that point I didn’t care what he had to say because I had heard it before from so many dermatologists. I just wanted to hear him say that he could fix me, but God had other plans. I knew at that moment that this was something I was finally going to have to deal with and overcome. God was preparing me to be a social worker and do his work in the world, but there is no way I could help others if I haven’t helped myself.
I used that long train ride back to New Jersey to process everything and think about my next move. It had been a long time since I liked what I saw in the mirror. How could I go back to that? How could I be that carefree girl who loved herself again? That day when I returned home from New York I went into my bathroom and gathered all of the body makeup, including an airbrush makeup kit I had purchased recently. I put everything in a trash bag and walked out to the dumpster and threw it all away. I cried, but God comforted me and told me it was time and that I was going to be alright. I didn’t know what to do at that point. It was like I had threw away my crutches and had to learn how to walk without them – that’s exactly what the makeup was, a crutch, and I had to learn to lean on God and let Him show me how to love myself.
From that moment on I started my journey of loving me. I told my family and friends what I had been going through and how I was ready to overcome this burden and love myself. Everyone was and still is so supportive and loving. I can’t say the road has been easy, I’m still on that journey today. I remember making plans with an airbrush makeup artist to have my birthmarks airbrushed away for my friend’s wedding. I cancelled those plans. Those were my plans, not God’s. Back in 2009 my aunt had this great idea to do a photo shoot showing me embrace my birthmarks. I thought it was a great idea and was so ready. I say I put it off, but I think God had more to do to prepare me for a time such a this. There were still hurdles to jump, mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome.
As of today I have learned to love and appreciate my uniqueness because it’s who I am. Because of my birthmarks I have been able to share my story with other women and young girls and help them towards overcoming their self-esteem issues. My compassion and empathy for others who struggle with self-esteem issues has grown. I know what it’s like to hate yourself to the point of emotional abuse where you seek temporary comfort and fulfillment by any means. It’s painful and it’s not a great place to be, but when you get to the point where you are tired you make the decision to do something different. I believe that was the point I had to get to, just tired of hiding and pretending.
I will say to anyone who is struggling with self-esteem and self-love that it is a day-to-day process and you have to make the decision that self-love is something you want to achieve. Like I said, for me the process was not easy. When I discovered that I had this problem I was determined to overcome it. I didn’t want to continue to live my life HIDING! Wearing makeup on my arm or my leg everyday, not going swimming because I didn’t want the makeup to come off, not wearing certain colors because the makeup would ruin the clothes, and not being able to wear certain outfits. That was no way to live and not the way God wanted me to live. I realized that I missed out on a lot growing up because I was so afraid to be myself. Self-esteem is an issue that everyone, young and old, male and female, may experience at some point in their life. When you realize that this is something that is holding you back from being who you were destined to be or doing things you were destined to do, then that is the point when you have to let go. I got to a point in my life where I asked myself, “what are you doing?” and told myself that I could no longer live like this because I wasn’t being true to myself or true to God who created me to be. I realized that my covering up my birthmarks with makeup everyday was me telling God that how he made me was wrong and that He made a mistake, but we know that God makes no mistakes. I had to understand that my birthmarks are not a curse or something bad, but they are a blessing because they are my witness, my testimony. And now that I know that in my heart and I wear my birthmarks with pride because I am fearfully and wonderfully made 🙂
I was born with these large birthmarks. I didn’t understand why God made me like this. I hated myself and who I saw in the mirror so as I result I hid. I wore long sleeves and pants all the time until I was introduced to body makeup and began to wear that to continue to cover up my multi-colored skin. I did this for years until I realized how much I was hurting myself and holding back the blessings of God. I now know that He designed me just as I am so that I can someday share my story of how I overcame, how I’ve come to embrace who I am and how I’ve learned to love the skin I’m in…
I pray that all who read my story are blessed and share with someone who may be going through something similar. I did this photo shoot to capture the essence of how God made me and to show that I am no longer afraid to be the woman God created me to be. I am walking in my purpose. God has given me a job to do, there are people who are struggling right now who need to hear my story. I won’t cover up anymore. Satan does not win. From now on I am loving the skin I’m in…
To see more pictures from this photo shoot with Charles Beason, click here 🙂
Do you have a story you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you.
Until next time…