“I am not my pigment”

I am married to my favorite man, and we have three of the best kids anyone could want. We’ve built a great life together, but I don’t believe even my husband knows the extent to which I never thought this could happen.

From birth, I’ve had a pigmented patch on my face — it’s a birthmark of the type called a “cafe-au-lait spot.” My earliest memories include teachers telling me I had food or clay or dirt on my face. Well-meaning strangers used to try to “clean” it for me without asking. But for the most part, I never was bullied and people weren’t cruel on purpose… I just internalized all the benign comments and came up with, “something’s defective about me.”

Growing up through junior high and high school, I was secretly obsessed with my appearance. I say “secretly” because I tried not to let on how unacceptable I felt — even then I knew it was an unappealing trait to be vain or, worse, self-loathing. Every once in a while, though, I’d break down after some stranger would kindly tell me to clean my face, and then anyone around me would know how deep that well of pain really was. I tried countless medical treatments and endured painful laser therapies, but nothing erased my imperfection.

The reason I bring it up now after all these years is that it almost kept me from living the life I wanted to live. I focused single-mindedly on everything wrong with me, and was completely unable to do otherwise no matter who told me, “you’re beautiful” and “it’s all in your mind, no one notices…” I put up a pretty strong wall against male attention so that I’d never have to be rejected. In my twenties I was able to open a window into a better head space long enough to experience real relationships with men — at that point I still felt defective, but had enough sheer will and energy to act otherwise long enough to learn that my pigment didn’t matter.

After I met my husband, he told me that he hadn’t even noticed my birthmark until our second date. How could something so insignificant have almost kept me from fulfillment? Now, I still care — I won’t lie — and I’d still make it go away if I could. And even though I know I have everything I need to be happy, I still want to be pretty.