Conversations with… Ariel Brown (Subject: Birthmark Acceptance)

For all of the criticism of social media, I can’t deny the positive of it allowing you to find people that are like you. When I was growing up, I never really saw anyone else with a visible birthmark. There was one girl at my primary school who had one on her arm and my mum used to tell me about someone she went to school with who had one on their face too, but that was it. In the world I lived in, I was one of three people with a visible birthmark and one of those people I hadn’t even met.

Then came social media and the realisation that I wasn’t alone at all. Ariel Brown is someone I connected with on Instagram. As creator of Birthmark Beauties I messaged her the article I had written about life with a birthmark in the hopes that she would share it with her audience. She did and we have been connected online ever since.

Ariel’s mission is to normalise birthmarks and to provide a space for people with birthmarks to see other people like them. There are articles written by other people like me and Ariel writes her own blog on there too. For me, Birthmark Beauties has been a great space to ‘see’ people like myself. For others, it’s a great space to learn about facial differences. It’s a platform that sends good out into the world and helps people to realise that their difference isn’t something to be ashamed of. Ariel’s work builds self confidence, self acceptance and understanding from others. She builds a bridge between people who might feel isolated with the rest of the world. Why wouldn’t you want to celebrate someone like that?

When were you first made aware that your birthmark made you ‘different’?

One of the one moments that pops in my head is the time when I was at the DMV with my mum. I think I was about 10/11 and as we waited in line to reach to the front desk, a stranger felt the urge to make a scene and tell me that the lady working the front desk had a birthmark similar to mine. Usually, when I see another person with a birthmark (if I ever do, because I feel like people with highly visible birthmarks rarely see each other), it’s like seeing someone of the same race/nationality as you in a room full of people who aren’t like either of you. You recognise each other, say hi, maybe talk about your similarities (maybe not) and then that’s it. So if someone makes a huge deal like “Hey! So-and-so is also American/Black or whatever,” it’s the same for birthmarks – it’s rude and shouldn’t be done. It makes people feel like they stand out more than they want. And when that stranger made a scene, that was when I think I really felt different.

I have definitely experienced moments like you have just described – awkward interactions were you are forced into the spotlight with another bewildered stranger, wishing more than ever you didn’t have something that made you easy to pick out as different. What has been your experience of growing up with a birthmark?

Throughout my life I’ve dealt with people staring and asking questions. It was pretty tough in the beginning, but after some time and learning to love it, my experience has gotten easier. Although I still get annoyed when people stare, it doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. For example, when I walk out of the house without make-up on, instead of being afraid that people will stare, I expect it. I know it is inevitable, and I also know that it can’t be the reason why I should stay in or cover my face.
I do believe that I am still learning from this experience, because not all people are the same. So not everyone who stares will respond to a smile (my way of informing them that I see them staring), and not everyone will say or ask the same thing when I am approached. So I am learning that I won’t always have the right thing to say or do back.
Anything involving a first impressions and meeting people, like interviews, blind dates, sports tryouts or first days of class, can be stressful too. I never know how people will react, but I’ve learned that my initial reactions to them, and the way that I carry myself can set the entire mood. Plus, anyone that chooses not to be with me, and any job that doesn’t want me because of my birthmark, is probably someone or someplace that I don’t want to affiliate myself with anyway.

How you enter situations and look at things is really similar to how I am with my own birthmark. Getting to a point where I have a positive outlook on situations where people might stare and accept my own birthmark has been a long process. How has your relationship with your birthmark changed as you have grown older?

When I was younger I really didn’t like my birthmark. I didn’t even like thinking about it. I preferred to cover it up. I knew that removal wasn’t an option because a doctor told my mother when I was a baby, to never try to remove it. I learned, as I grew up, that no matter what I did or felt, I needed to learn to accept my birthmark.

A lot of people with birthmarks experience teasing. Why do you think that people choose to tease someone because of a birthmark?

I think it’s just easier for others to criticise because either they don’t fully understand, or they completely understand and have never had anyone empathise with them. I think people are also afraid of being an outcast. Humans are pack animals, and by empathising with those that may not look (I hate to say) acceptable by their peers, it could lead them to not being accepted as well. In other words, being removed from their pack.

You have created ‘Birthmark Beauties’ which is one of the most celebratory places for people like myself that I have found on the internet. What is your goal with your website and page ‘Birthmark Beauties’?

My goal is to build a community or individuals with birthmarks to discuss anything and everything they can, without judgement. Growing up I’ve always wanted to have friends that I could rely on, that had a birthmark like my own. Someone who could understand the things that I went through. I want to build that for others.

Often with birthmarks we talk a lot about accepting them as a part of who we are, yet we are often sold coverup makeups as a way to do accept ourselves which seems to contradict the idea of self acceptance. What are your thoughts on such products?

I can see how for some people coverup makeup can be very helpful, but more often I feel that it can be more harmful than helpful. When people with high platforms and large social followings try to use these products to say that skin without birthmarks, or freckles, etc. is considered more beautiful; it teaches the entire world to accept themselves less.
I’ve met people who cover their birthmarks to hide it from others and it hurts me to see how many people look up to them not knowing that they have birthmarks. Especially because all of us as children, even as adults, see someone beautiful in magazines or on tv, and just wish we could be seen as beautiful as them.  I think it’s just another way for society to keep us all the same; even though we are all born to be different.

What things do you think could be done in the world to make beauty standards more diverse and inclusive?

I think now is a perfect time to be different. People like Busy Phillips, Jameela Jamil, Lizzo, Tracy Ellis Ross, Rhianna, Winnie Harlow and many others are working hard to change such beauty standards. I do believe that there are still many things that could be done though. I think celebrities that change their bodies with surgery and supplements should be more honest about what they do to themselves, instead of false advertising themselves as “natural.” I’m sure they are afraid of judgement, but there are so many people that look up to them and want to be like them. If these people knew what these celebrities actually did, they could either go along with the same procedure (in a safe way, and without judgement), or they could learn to accept the way that they are. I definitely believe our society lacks honesty.
I also believe we need more models (not just magazine models, but role models) that are as diverse. Fortunately, we now live in a time where vitiligo, (thank you Tyra Banks and Winnie Harlow) albinism and other differences are being recognised; but I have yet to still see someone that looks like me in a movie or on a magazine cover.

If you ever have a low moment/low confidence time, how do you lift yourself up again?

One of the best things that I do is listen to some good music. My Spotify account has a load of playlists that I’ve created myself and from others to keep me from my lack of confidence.
Another way is turning on Netflix and watching a couple of episodes of New Girl. I don’t know what it is about the show, but I seem to feel a little better after watching a few.
One more way which I’d say is at the top of my list is meditation and prayer. When I’m upset I do pray and ask for strength, courage, and the ability to see things from all perspectives.

What would you say to someone who is really struggling accepting their appearance because of a birthmark?

I would tell them that they are beautiful and that whatever it is that is keeping them from accepting themselves, they need to fight it head on. The fight will be difficult and may take time, there will be low days, but once acceptance is acquired, it will be almost impossible for anyone to take it away.

If you could sum up your outlook on life in one statement, what would it be?

Life is beautiful in the most difficult and challenging ways; it teaches us how to be whole and how to fall apart; how to accept and let go. We live this life pressuring ourselves to learn our ultimate life lesson only to really learn that we need to just live.

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