I’m doing so great with my “love my body” and self acceptance lately! I frequently look a myself in the mirror without criticism. I take and post pics of myself with my family and post them on Facebook. I don’t make negative comments about myself or apologize for the space I take in the universe. I’ve even come to like (not yet love) my scars for proving I’ve survived! I’ve made so much progress in this area that I think I’m doing great. Until I’m not. And I’m reminded that I have a lot farther to go and a lot more work to do.
The latest reminder came a few weeks ago when a clerk asked me “What happened to your face?” Let me start by saying that that is not a good question. Ever. If someone has a large green dot on their nose and you are a stranger and don’t know if that is the natural part of their appearance, don’t ask that question.
I don’t have a large green dot on my nose, but I do have a large red blob above my right eye. It is a birthmark, meaning I was born with it and it is sometimes called a port-wine stain because it looks as if someone spilled red wine on linen. In my life I’ve seen a few other people with similar stains on their face. Some are smaller and less noticeable and others are much larger and much more noticeable. I know mine could be much worse. It is off to the side, not across my whole face, but it doesn’t matter. I’ve aways hated it.
When I was younger my grandmother told me that the birthmark was so the angels could always find me. I think I believed it for a while, and then I didn’t. I remember my mother was upset that the photographer airbrushed it out of my High School graduation picture, but I was thrilled. Friends and family always tell me they “forget” I have it or don’t notice it but I see it every time I look in the mirror. Unless I wanted to wear heavy concealer makeup (it pretty much bleeds through regular foundation) I am stuck with it.
When I was in my early thirties I had laser surgery to remove it once and for all. It cost over a thousand dollars, was extremely painful, and took several months of going back for multiple treatments. When all was said and done it was almost (but not completely) gone. The last treatment was the worst. The doctor knew I was out of money and he tried to remove as much as he could. My forehead was scabbed painfully for weeks and I had a bad reaction to the prednisone he prescribed.
But it was worth it because, for the first time in my life, I was birthmark free. For a while, anyway. It was cosmetic and superficial, but I loved having a “normal” face. I loved looking at my face and didn’t mind getting my picture taken. But my relief was relatively short-lived.
After 5 or 6 years I thought the faint shadow was getting darker. Friends told me it was my imagination, but I was sure that little by little the birthmark was coming back. I knew it wasn’t my imagination the first time little kid asked me, “Hey, did you get hurt?” and pointed a his own forehead. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach. Since then, the birthmark has come back. It looks different than it did before the laser treatments. Some areas are lighter, some areas are much darker. Even the shape has changed.
And while the people closest to me assure me it doesn’t matter, I can’t help but think that is a lie every time a stranger asks about it. I work in schools so children ask about it all the time. I can sometimes get three or four comments in a day. That bothers me a lot less than when adults say something. I don’t think these adults are being mean. They probably think I’ve been in a car accident or beat up by my boyfriend or something. But really, should they ask?
I probably shouldn’t let it bother me. I should come up with funny responses and laugh about it. But I don’t. I just say it’s a birthmark and then both me and the person who made the comment share an uncomfortable moment. They don’t know what to say or do and frankly, neither do I.
I think my birthmark must be getting darker lately (it can change with the weather) because I’ve gotten more than the usual number of comments. So I have my body-love work cut out for me. How can I learn to accept this part of myself that I have never liked?
Do me a favor, okay. Before you write any comments that tell me it’s not so bad or it isn’t noticeable, don’t. It may not be noticeable or important to you, but it is very noticeable and important to me. Instead, tell me about the parts of yourself you struggle with or how you overcame those feelings. Thanks.