Lisa is a mum of three who has a port wine stain birthmark covering part of her face. In her guest blog, she recalls her experience growing up with a facial ‘disfigurement’ and how it’s helped her shape her into the person she is today.
My name is Lisa, I am 35 years old and have a port wine stain birthmark. My port wine stain birthmark is purple in colour and is present on my chin, left cheek, left eyelid, forehead, my neck and lower lip. Also due to the birthmark my lower lip is greatly enlarged.
For those of you who don’t know, a port wine stain is a vascular birthmark caused by abnormal development of blood vessels in the skin. It’s sometimes referred to as a capillary malformation. It’s a flat, red or purple mark on the skin that is present at birth. Occasionally, over time, the port wine stain may become thicker, darken and develop a ‘cobblestone’ appearance with raised bumps and ridges.
When I was growing up, social media, as we know it today, had not been invented. (I know, I know, that makes me sound ancient). There were no photo filters on our mobile phones, and I’m not sure we even used the word selfie. This meant that I was not met daily with pictures of people’s perfect faces or bodies.
From the age of around eight years old, until I was 11 years old, I travelled back and forth to Scotland with my parents to have laser treatment to lighten my birthmark. My treatment took place in the burns unit of the hospital.
I vividly remember seeing other children with birthmarks that were much more extensive than mine, and there were children with life changing burns. This experience alone taught me such a valuable life lesson. I always remember no matter how tough I feel it is having a birthmark, there are others who are in a much worse situation than me.
Other than my visits to the hospital for laser treatment, I don’t remember meeting anyone else that had a visible birthmark until I was an adult. My birthmark was not something that I remember giving much thought to. I rarely wore makeup, and if I did, it was more to cover up a spot than my birthmark. I believe I had much the same attitude to makeup as many girls in my class. We definitely did not have YouTube videos teaching us how to contour and highlight.
I think maybe because I did not grow up with social media being an influential part of my impressionable years, I understand that the photos we see online are not necessarily a representation of true life. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that made me feel beautiful and did not treat me any differently because of my birthmark. I was able to feel at ease in my own skin and I didn’t compare how I looked to others.
If I could grant a wish for my children, it would be for them to always know that generally people only post pictures of themselves online when they are looking their best. This could be because of a filter, good lighting, makeup, a flattering camera angle or many other reasons. I wish for my children to grow up being aware that the images they see of someone with perfect, flawless skin, are often just a moment in time which may not even be real. I hope they never feel they need to compare themselves to the often unobtainable images we see online.
I wish for my children to know that pictures we see in the media and social media do not always reflect real life. I hope they will grow up understanding that there is no such thing as the “perfect face” or the “perfect body”, no matter what they see online. Everyone is beautiful and it is ok not to look like the images online. I hope my children grow up feeling beautiful, confident and happy in their own skin.
Last but not least, I do wish that one day all aspects of the media and social media will be more inclusive so that young people can grow up in a world where we value the difference in people and their looks and not laugh at their “imperfections”.
Read more body positive stories from Be Real ambassadors.