50 Artists Helped Me See My Port-Wine Stain Birthmark as Others Do
I know many of you saw my first blog post on my “Embrace You” project, but just in case you need a refresher or you’re new here — let’s take a moment to recap.
In April, I was walking down the streets of New York City for the very first time, and I noticed several artists drawing tourists in the middle of the pathways in the city. Watching them work on their newly commissioned art pieces, I couldn’t help but wonder, “If I asked them to draw me, would they include my facial port-wine stain birthmark? Would they ask if I want it included in the image? Or would they make that decision without asking me?”
While I didn’t act on the idea in that moment, a few weeks later, I found myself contacting several artists with one goal in mind: to see how many people would naturally include my birthmark in an art piece, and to see how each artist interprets it.
As I started this journey, there were only two rules I gave each artist:
1. Each piece must remain politically neutral.
2. My character must remain modest in her attire.
Why call this project “Embrace You”?
Sometimes when we look in the mirror, we may not like what we see. We may be having a bad hair day, a new pimple may have randomly appeared on our face overnight, we may have been bullied, or perhaps we’ve just never been friends with our reflections.
While this blog entry rooted from an idea attached to my birthmark, I’ve had days when I’ve struggled to embrace my appearance because of other reasons. My hair never wants to cooperate, I’ve always struggled with my weight, and while my birthmark as a whole doesn’t bother me — my face isn’t symmetrical because of the extra blood flow… And that’s all my personal, internal dialogue going on there. I’ve also been turned into a meme because of my difference (which went viral to over 30 million people), been told I’m “contagious,” and was once approached about being on the shows “Too Ugly For Love?” and ”The Undateables.”
Trust me, I get it. It’s hard. It can be a constant, uphill battle — both internally and externally.
Yet in the last four months, I’ve worked with 50 artists, and no two artists have drawn me the exact same way. We so often focus on the small details rather than who we are as a whole. So while I’m focusing on my bad hair on a Tuesday morning, and no matter how we see ourselves in the mirror, odds are that’s not how the rest of the world sees us. They might be seeing so much more.
After sharing the first “Embrace You” post, I realized I forgot to share about the logos that were designed. I have a total of four logos, all of which were created by a super talented artist in Italy. I absolutely loved working with her and thought she did a great job creating a watercolored edition of my birthmark for this piece. After emailing her some photos, she wrote back and told me, “It almost looks like a beautiful watercolor in itself! It’s beautiful!” Interestingly enough, since then, several of the artists have told me the same thing about the watercolor look my birthmark has.
Would they include my birthmark, or not?
You may remember that for some of the artists, I didn’t specify for them to include my birthmark. In fact, I sent them a variety of photos — two where the birthmark is totally obvious, one where it’s mild due to makeup, and two where it’s totally hidden. Every time I began to work with a new artist, I let them know, “I can’t wait to see what you come up with — and please let me know if you have any questions.” In the end, very few asked. Most assumed or made that decision without conversation. Here are some of those images:
This is one of the pieces I received where the artist didn’t ask about my birthmark, but he did make that side of my face slightly redder. When I asked about it, the artist (from the United States) told me, “As for the side of your face I made redder in tone, I really had no special reason for doing it other than the reference photo you sent (the one I worked from) had a bit redder tone on that side. Sometimes different lighting situations can affect the colors on photos, I guess. I just read it as being a little redder in tone based on the photo I used for reference.”
How adorable is this? Originally, my birthmark was left off the image, but this artist from Indonesia was quick to add it when I made the request.
Just like the art piece above, this artist from India originally left my birthmark off as well, but he quickly added my port-wine stain to the character he created. And hey, now I know what I would look like as an anime cowgirl.
Yeehaw, y’all, yeehaw.
If you saw the original “Embrace You” blog post, you may recall an image that was created by Sara Erb, where she drew me with authors Natalie Grant and Charlotte Gambill. When we first connected online, I asked her to draw me without mentioning my birthmark. Quickly she wrote back and asked me if I wanted my birthmark included, and I told her I did. I loved this piece so much; that’s when I asked her to create the piece with Natalie and Charlotte.
Below are some of the pieces I received when I asked artists to intentionally celebrate my birthmark and/or a part of my story.
While I shared a photograph on the first blog entry that my dear friend Rick Guidotti took — this is another favorite picture of mine that he took. Rick is an award-winning former fashion photographer. He once spent his days photographing famous models, such as Cindy Crawford, but now he travels the world photographing people with different medical conditions. He runs an organization called Positive Exposure — and I highly recommend you check out his website to learn more about all the incredible things he’s doing.
Oh. My. Word.
Nothing makes me feel as fierce as this piece, which was created by Naia Jozame from Colombia. When I asked what inspired the piece of art she created for me, she told me, “All women have a particular beauty; the beauty that you project is unique and very beautiful.”
I love how this artist from the United States showed me doing one of my favorite things, speaking and encouraging others. (In this piece, I’m wearing one of my favorite necklaces from Natalie Grant’s line. The necklace says, “Worth more than diamonds” — which is always a beautiful reminder of my worth. I’m also wearing a bracelet from one of my favorite organizations fighting against human trafficking, 3Strands Global.)
Guys… If this isn’t me, I don’t know what is. Traveling is one of my all-time favorite things to do, and I’m always on the lookout for the next trip. I think Lenore, from the United States, did a great job capturing me in my element.
I almost feel like I’m a modern-day person in a fairytale land in this image. It almost gives me an “Enchanted“ movie vibe, but reversed. This was created by an artist in Turkey.
There are some pieces I’ve received that have left me speechless, and this is one of them. Although I never heard back from her to know what encouraged the artist, Karina (from Chicago), to portray my birthmark as a bird, she did encourage me: “I admire you so much for being so positive with life with your birthmark; never let other people put you down. Always remember you’re beautiful in every way.”
If a “Peanuts” character had a birthmark. And oh, my word, I love it. An artist in the United States created this piece.
This image and the one below it are probably the two closest to being alike. The artist, Angelica (from Denmark), explained, “What inspired me was how your birthmark seemed to be filled with different ’emotions.’ The purple/blue/pink color in it is really pretty, and it’s like it has a story. The butterflies symbolize grace, vulnerability and beauty, and I just felt like they fit with what I felt from looking at you. You have really beautiful eyes! So the ‘stronger’ blue emphasizes that.” Wowzers. Such depth to her interpretation.
Caitlyn Harris from Canada created this piece. I like that she included my birthmark on my lip, as my lip is affected in coloring and size by the port-wine stain.
Because of the spotty effect this one holds, it slightly reminds me of what the birthmark looks like a few days after treatment (although after a treatment, my birthmark is typically much darker in tone). This was created by Arti, from India.
Who doesn’t want to be a minion? This was created by Ashleigh, from Malaysia.
This piece was created by an artist in India. It’s a great piece, and I found it interesting that my birthmark was created more as an orange than a pink or purple.
Y’all. I’m Princess Leia. And look at the tiny Yoda teaching me the ways of the Force. Working with Enrique Fierro from Chile, I remember him asking me what color lightsaber I wanted, so I gave him a typical Crystal reply, “What if the color of it matched my birthmark?” And voila! Pink lightsaber I hold, I do.
An artist in Pakistan created this piece of art.
Mirjana from Macedonia created this painting using acrylic.
This piece was created by Eryz from Indonesia, who often creates comic-style art. While I gave her complete freedom to create my image how she wanted, I did request the speech bubble to say, “Making a difference with my difference.”
Van Gia Hao from Vietnam created this image. Asking him about his art piece, he told me, “My inspiration came from the photo your friend, who is also a photographer, took for you. I wanted to create an image of a strong, confident and beautiful young woman, whose smile can bring comfort and inspires others around her.” I also asked about his experiences from drawing other people: “I haven’t drawn a lot of people who are very confident in themselves; most would ask me to change part of them they don’t like. I think they are just being so conscious of their image that they forget to relax and enjoy life.”
Asking Hao if he had anything he wanted to share with you, the reader, he wrote, “To the readers: Be happy with yourself, be nice to other people, never stop learning new things.”
My friend Cindy Ellison, here in the United States, created this one. (Her dad, Brian, created a three-minute video about my story.)
This image was created by an artist in India.
“Scooby Dooby Doo. Where are you?” This was created by an artist in Pakistan.
Pink Zero from Pakistan drew me as a rockstar. I was curious as to why she chose a rockstar (because the irony is not lost on me with my lack of musical talent), and she told me, “What inspired me to draw you the way I did was your confidence and the wholeheartedness with which you have accepted every aspect of your personality. To me, you seemed like a celebrity in yourself, and to be honest, I felt there is a cool and fun side of yourself, so I depicted that in your portrait!”
If you look closely at the butterfly sitting on my finger, you’ll notice the wings aren’t the same color. The creativity of this concept was amazing. I asked Mikucchi from Indonesia what made her come up with this concept, and she told me, “I don’t know about the butterfly. I just thought the quote, ‘Just because you’re different, doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful!’ really suits well with the butterflies!” Interestingly enough, one of my aunts recently got a tattoo with butterflies — one with two differently colored wings, a symbol of me as her niece and of my journey.
Yes, that’s me. As a cat. With a birthmark. I mean, how fun is this one? Interestingly enough, I had a bruise near my collarbone in one of the pictures I sent this artist (from Ukraine), and I almost asked them to remove the bruise effect from the cat. However, because my birthmark is considered a vascular malformation, my iron levels and platelets are affected, and excessive bruising is a common symptom I experience. Since my birthmark and blood levels are connected, I decided to leave the image as is.
This piece was created by Diana Nemesu, an artist in Romania. When asked what inspired the piece she created, she wrote to me, “Well, I love animals, and I figured you loved them, too. You are a beautiful person, not only on the outside, but on the inside, too. And I figured I’d draw you as an animal saver, a person who walks on a cold day just to save an abandoned baby animal.” And she’s right — I do love animals. (My dream as an 8-year-old was to open an animal shelter. I created a business plan for it and everything… Or at least, a business plan by an 8-year-old’s standards.)
OK, so this is what a character from “Avatar” would look like with a birthmark. Wowzers, right? For those wondering, the gal standing next to me is singer Jamie Grace. She was in one of the images I sent the artists, as an example of the different colors and shades my birthmark may have. Out of all the artists, this was the only one who included her in his art. This was created by Anindya Kharisma in Indonesia.
This image was created by an artist in the Netherlands.
An artist in Singapore sent this one to me. And, like the cat image above, he also included the bruise, which I also considered asking him to remove — but didn’t.
My friend Denise and I coordinate a women’s event together every year, and this graphic was created for this year’s event, which took place in September. Our theme was “Connect 4.” But this is so us. I mean, really. Is it any surprise we’re really undercover superheroes — with a Jamba Juice and a diet Dr. Pepper in hand? (While I do my best to credit all the artists, this artist’s website was down when I went to access it for this entry. I will be checking again soon, so I can update that information when possible.)
Do you guys remember the TED Talk art piece from the first blog entry? That same artist, Minette Wasserman from South Africa, took the time to draw me as a bunny. She went above and beyond with the first piece of art, and this one was such a sweet surprise.
My sweet friend, Rachel Donahue (from the United States), sent me this image and the one below it as well.
This is one of the first drawings I received. Rachel (mentioned above) drew this for me, and I think it’s amazing. She’s right — I am so much more than a (port-wine) “stain” birthmark, and I am so thankful for the friends in my life who remind me of that on both the good and the bad days. (Speaking of, another friend, Denise Nicholes, also once wrote a song about my journey with my birthmark called, “Beyond the Stain.”)
Making a post on Fiverr, I asked if there were any artists who would be willing to create a Barbie with a birthmark. This artist from Venezuela replied and created this design based off the newer Barbie dolls.
The artist who created the Barbie image also created this piece, which was super sweet of her to do. She also sent me another copy of this character, but with glasses on as well.
This one is hard not to love, right? The artist who created this piece is from Indonesia.
So. Much. Cuteness. This was created by an artist in Malaysia.
Last but not least, my good friend David Jones (from the U.S.) sent me a card a few weeks ago, and this was in it. You have to save the best for last, right?
“Embrace You” Challenge
So many of us struggle to embrace who we are, as we are. And that goes for both our external appearances as well as our internal talents and passions.
Growing up, I saw beauty in specific talents, talents which I did not hold. Nearly everyone on my mom’s side of the family is musically inclined, yet I can’t even keep a beat. As I grew up with one of my cousins, just six months apart, he was always mastering a new instrument. The saxophone, piano, guitar, jaw harp, flute — you name it, he could play it. Yet I couldn’t even manage a tambourine, let alone any larger instrument.
I was always naturally drawn to writing, photography and other interests. Yet until recent years, I didn’t see the value in my natural gifts. Instead, for years, I guilted myself for not fitting the mold so many in my family fit into.
But when I started to fully embrace my talents and passions? That’s when I was finally able to dare to dream big and dare to change the world. My interests in photography and writing are just as important as the talents of the musicians around me. And I am so thankful for friends in my life who encouraged me and helped me excel in those talents. I’m thankful for the friends who believed in me before I ever fully believed in myself.
Today, I’d like to ask you to take time to encourage someone around you.
Did someone rock their part in a school play? Send them a Tweet, and tell them so! Is there someone in your life who makes you laugh and you’re thankful for the constant joy they bring to your life? Send them a text message or a snap on Snapchat. Do you know someone who struggles with their confidence and self-esteem? Send them an old-school snail mail card letting them know how beautiful they are — on the inside and out. And if you have people who are constantly believing in you and encouraging you, send them a note and thank them for the impact they’ve had in your life.
Encourage someone to embrace who they are, as they are. And if you see a talent in someone they don’t see within themselves, let me know! Everyone could use a bit of encouragement in their day.
Be that person who believes in someone, even when they don’t quite believe in themselves.
Images via Contributor.
A version of this post originally appeared on The Travelin’ Chick.
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