"My freckles made me really different when I was growing up. Sometimes kids would make fun of me, or point them out, or question me. My mom has similar freckles, and I know she struggled a lot with it too, in Mexico. But New Yorkers, I think, have seen a lot more different kinds of people. So now, people tend to be a lot more accepting, and will want to talk, and compliment me on them.
"That said, it hurts when I read people saying things like, 'I love all my flaws, even my freckles.' I don't find my freckles to be a flaw; I like to play them up. There's plenty of makeup marketed to 'Even out your skin tone!' Why would I want to do that? They're such a great part of me.
"In my case, I guess beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder. But I've finally realized the only beholder that matters is myself."
"Tattoos definitely affect the way people feel when they first meet you. You'll be out on the street, or even at work, and you'll just have people staring at your arm. You know they're looking at you, but they're only seeing an object. But that's not the worst, because it feels like something you kind of signed up for.
"But I've been grabbed before by strangers who just wanted to look at me. And as a woman of color, since normally in media we're shown as criminals, or lowlifes, or unintelligent, people's perceptions are on another level. I've held very senior positions in the hospitality industry, and yet people still don't believe that people of color — especially with tattoos — can hold those positions. Those are the frustrating things to me.
"I don't regret them, though. Some of my tattoos are tributes to my mom, who's my best friend. I have a monarch butterfly with the Latin word for 'compassion' underneath. One day when I was younger, my mom and I were walking down the street and saw a monarch with a ripped wing that wasn't able to fly. We paused but kept walking, and a few blocks down, I told her how uncomfortable I felt about leaving that butterfly — I thought someone might step on it. She was like, 'Let's go back. Let's put it on a tree. Because that's what you do when somebody or something needs help; you make sure you help them out.' It resonated with me a lot. It was the prime example of who my mom is, and the kind of people she raised me and my sister to be."
"I have a birthmark on my left cheek. I mostly haven't seen it as a big deal — I haven't felt pressure to remove it. It's just who I am.
"Growing up, there were no dolls with birthmarks on their faces. I wasn't upset about it, but it's how I learned there was a difference between me and other people. One year in my school pictures, though, they edited it out. It didn't really look like me; I didn't look the same. I just thought it was interesting.
"Anyway, I've always seen it as a positive thing, so I wanted to come out and tell people who might need to know that it's OK to have differences on your face!"
"My vitiligo first showed up when I was 18 or 19. I felt really unattractive for a long time. I used makeup on it for a while, and then I moved to New York, and the stress of all that made it spread. I got to a point where I realized I just couldn't wear makeup anymore, so I stopped.
"Now I'm a bartender, so I'm in the public eye all the time. I get people asking me about it, and being like, 'That's so cool!' It can be frustrating. It's just my body; I can't do anything about it. Same with dating — I've gotten people who were like, 'That's kind of hot.' I don't want to be a fetish for someone. But it's different when the other person has it. Recently, a woman at my job came up to me and was like, 'Hey, I have vitiligo too, and I think it's so great that you're rocking short sleeves and everything.' That felt good! The feeling was mutual. It felt like community, not novelty.
"But then, a different woman came up to me in line in the grocery store and was like, 'Oh my god, have you seen that model who has what you have? I just wish there were more models that looked like you when I was a kid, because I had a friend with what you have.' I mean, what I have is called vitiligo. It felt like she was trying to express how cool she was with it, when actually, why shouldn't you be cool with it?
"Vitiligo doesn't make me who I am; my experiences in life have done that. But I've embraced it — there's nothing that I can or should do about it. I don't have to explain myself or apologize. And I wouldn't have it any other way."
"I'm 23. I never laid in the sun or went tanning. I had a tiny bump on my face, and I asked my dermatologist about it, but he said not to worry. I didn't want it to have the chance to turn into anything, so I finally got up the courage to have it removed, even though I have terrible anxiety about medical procedures. And when they biopsied it, it turned out to be basal cell carcinoma.
"I googled 'people in their twenties with skin cancer,' but I couldn't find a lot, and it made me feel broken. You always expect it will affect people much older than you, but a nurse even came up to me after the procedure and told me how she had melanoma when she was my age! I know a lot of people who are actively going out and tanning, or just not being cautious. Now, I go back and forth between being very self-conscious and feeling like I should really be talking to people about this and raising awareness, not just about skin cancer, but about pushing your doctor when you don't feel right about something.
"I've been complimented on my skin all my life. To have that called into question, to have my vanity shaken, to be forced to ask myself, 'Who am I aside from the way I look?' — it sounds cheesy, but I feel like it was a good life lesson. And it wasn't just the physical part; emotionally, with my anxiety, it took everything I had to go through with that surgery. But now, I get to heal and tell my story. And if I can use this experience to make someone think a little differently and be more careful, then I'm OK with that."
"I was born premature, weighing 2 pounds and 13 ounces and fitting into the palms of my dad's hands. The scar on my back is from surgery a few months later to fix an open valve in my heart. I was also given medicine through a tube, but one day a nurse left a needle in for too long, which broke and scarred my left leg.
"I became self-conscious in school when other kids would point out the scar on my leg. Even in adulthood, I find people can be so judgmental, insensitive, and flat-out rude when they see me in a dress or shorts. Often I get stared at as if I'm a different species, and I'm not exaggerating. It's made me question my beauty, but with the help of my loved ones, I've realized that people will always talk about you no matter what — and at a certain point, it's what you make it.
"Beauty has no boundaries, in my opinion. People who are scarred or have other conditions are beautiful too. I think everyone is flawed; some of us just have more visible scarring to show for it, and my scars do not define me. I want to share my story with the world and let them see how beautiful, confident, and happy I am to be me, flaws and all."
"I have two giant scars over my kneecaps. They're from the five knee surgeries I got while playing collegiate softball. Softball isn't really a high-risk sport for knee injuries that result in surgery, but I managed to tear my ACL in my sophomore year, then do it again two years later, and then tear another tendon, and then fracture my actual bone. It just kind of snowballed.
"I went from conditioning sessions and practice and games to really long rehab sessions and trying to get back onto the field. And even then, once I got back, I was doing two hours' worth of rehab and then four hours' practice, and I still had to find time to do schoolwork.
"People are drawn to my scars. A lot of times, when I meet someone new, they're not looking at my eyes — they're looking at my knees, and asking, 'Oh god, what happened there?' I've tried to embrace them, which is in theory easy to do with athletic scars, but it can be hard when you're out and people are just staring."
"I have a port-wine birthmark. It's a genetic mutation that produces more blood vessels than most people have under their skin. A lot of people have them, but they tend to be smaller, and coverable. There are also a lot of medical aspects to it — with the spot it's in, there are potential complications like glaucoma, or hearing loss, or seizure conditions, or brain damage. I've dodged a lot of bullets in that way, and I have some survivor's guilt over it.
"I was confident about my mark when I was little, but by the end of elementary school, things had changed. I didn't put my hair up from maybe age 10 to 13. I developed an eating disorder. I thought if I couldn't be the pretty one, at least I could be the skinny one. I'm in recovery now, and I'm open about it. For years, I thought I had to appear confident; now I'm learning to be honest about my vulnerability.
"Ultimately, it's a positive thing. I'm majoring in biotechnology and genetics, with a minor in psychology. The plan is to run my own genetics lab, or possibly to become a genetic counselor, where I'd work with children and their families who are dealing with genetic mutations or inherited diseases. If I didn't have my birthmark, I wouldn't be the person I am today."
"I have self-harm scars on my arms and legs. I stopped cutting about four years ago, and since then, I've gotten tattoos that have to do with that struggle. My first tattoo was a butterfly — I found something called The Butterfly Project, which challenges people to draw a butterfly on their arm instead of cutting, and I decided to make mine permanent. It's helped me in times when I've thought about doing it again. Same with the 'Strength' tattoo on my thigh.
"My skin is a reminder of pain, but also of how far I've come. I'm hoping to get more tattoos to cover or distract from my scars, because I don't necessarily want my scars to be the first thing people on the street notice about me. They can just think I have a pretty tattoo, but the people I'm close to — the people who actually see me — will know what I've gone through.
"I work with kids a lot. One little girl asked me, 'What's wrong with your arm?' I told her, 'Nothing's wrong; that's just how it is.' She was like, 'Do you have a cat?' I didn't know what to tell her, so I said yes. She looked at me really seriously and said, 'Did you try to give your cat a bath?' I was like, 'Yep! Yes! That is totally what I did.' I went home laughing that day."
"I've always been self-conscious about my skin. I grew up fat, in a house where the meal wasn't over until you were in physical pain. My stretch marks are a reminder of the changes my body has gone through.
"At the end of the day, even if I want to lose more weight or look a certain way, it's still just skin! It may not be the prettiest, but it's mine. I'm not getting rid of it anytime soon."
"I have something called pityriasis, which comes in two forms: alba and rosea. It makes patches of my skin dry and itchy. It usually affects children, but I got my first scar from it when I was 14, and am still dealing with it today.
"I get a lot of compliments on the skin that people can see when they first meet me, which feels strange since I know what's going on beneath the surface. I don't have a lot of control over my pityriasis, but it has made me think more about taking care of myself — moisturizing and exfoliating and getting to know my skin better.
"I think I've started getting a better handle on it lately. It's unpredictable when it will show up, but when it does, I know it will be gone in a few months. It's not a dreadful thing; it's not the end of the world. I know it's not an easy accomplishment, but if I can help someone feel more confident with their body, that would be wonderful."
"I had open-heart surgery when I was a baby, and have had a scar on my chest ever since. I've never worn a top like this before. Putting it on and looking in the mirror today, I got kind of emotional. I always knew the scar was there, but I wasn't ready for other people to see it.
"It's funny how something so small can affect how you see yourself in such a big way. Now, I'm proud of my scar. It makes me feel like a warrior. If I can make it through something like open-heart surgery, no words or strange looks from other people can stop me. I'm used to hiding, but this has been so liberating. I feel so free, and so completely like me."