“My birthmark is beautiful!” I finally believed, at the age of 30.
Gross--wait. Rewind! It’s too easy. Another story of redemption and self-acceptance and loving your body/your face/yourself JUST THE WAY YOU ARE. It’s just too easy. This is a story about having a big ol’ birthmark on my face, and how it has affected my life as an entertainer and human.
Picture it: I’m 19 years old, auditioning to be a princess at a certain theme park in Florida. My lips are lacquered scarlet, I’m holding my eyes open as big as they can get, and smiling like a person from the Black Hole Sun video. (I’m also a lot more in shape and way less tattooed than I am today.) I’m thinking, with my “ethnically ambiguous” looks that maybe I could be the kickass gender-bending Asian princess, or the empowered and fearless American Indian princess!
But my deeper, not-so-secret dream was to be cast as that paragon of 1930s screen starlet glamour, the apple-gagging, prince-awaiting, cottage-cleaning, forest-fearing, necrophiliac-bait whitest white girl of them all. Thanks, society!
The casting agent, a perkier version of the Amy Poehler character in Wet Hot American Summer, served my Sashay Away.
“Uh, your face is a little, full." (That’s code for “Get an eating disorder, then we can talk.”) "Your eyes are a little, uh, ethnic," (she ACTUALLY pulled her eyelids out at the corners, like a playground bully from the 1950s) "and your... uh... we can’t really cover that,” she motioned to the right side of her face. Ugh.
(Don’t worry, I still got to do lots of fun stuff at the park, like sign autographs while wearing a dog suit in 100-degree heat and dance in a parade with a giant puppet strapped to my back. It was actually really magical and fun.)
Show business, or acting or modeling or whatever is about getting rejected. Especially when the main deciding factor is your look, rather than your ability. I know this. That’s why I live and work in NYC, where personality counts for something. And a corporation or a client has its parameters. Some costumes don’t come in sizes bigger than 8, and it’s easier to cast someone who fits it than make a new one.
It’s not even personal. I’m pretty sure my birthmark wasn’t the only thing that kept me from being a cartoon princess. And I’m glad I wasn’t cast. It’s yet another character-building experience. (Get it, character-building? Sorry.)
A couple of weeks after Princessgate I approached a makeup counter at a department store. “Can you give me something to cover this?” I asked, pointing to my birthmark. “Why do you want to change who you are?” the sales girl scoffed, accenting her syllables with a head swivel.
She had a point. But as cosmetics maven Kat VonD, creator of the Lock-It Tattoo Concealer said, "I think just as much as people have the choice to be tattooed, they should also have the liberty to look whatever way they want whenever they want." Substitute “tattoo” for birthmark. I didn’t choose it on my face but I do reserve the right to look however I want on any given day.
Years later a sympathetic Dermablend sales lady sold me some Cover Creme and Setting Powder. It covers really well, but it’s WEIRD seeing my face without my birthmark! I don’t really feel like myself. When I go to TV or movie jobs (nothing glamorous, I’m an extra--look for me in every show filmed in NYC as “Tattooed Girl: Uncredited”) I usually don’t cover it. But occasionally I’ll put the Dermablend on to go on a shoot or audition, and I get hollered at on the street about three times as much as usual. Maybe it’s because I have my hair did and my cheeks contoured and my full face on. Maybe I’m carrying myself differently, and Jimmy Catcaller notices this, and responds to my confidence.
“I know you have intuitive gifts. I can tell by your mark,” the psychic in the French Quarter told me. If I’d lived in medieval Europe, I’d’ve been burned as a witch. Well, probably for other reasons, but it certainly wouldn’t help my case.
I’m constantly referencing it in my work and making fun of myself. A few years ago I submitted my freckle colony to Miranda July’s now-defunct online project as a constellation I often refer to my nevus as my face tat from nature. (Specifically in this song, about a minute in)
It’s shaped like Africa--or South America, I said on my internet dating profile. Is it, in fact, the first thing people usually notice about me? A lot of people think it’s smeared makeup then are horribly embarrassed when they realize it isn’t.
Sometimes children or mentally challenged people will straight up ask me, “What’s on your face?” or “Did you get burned?” It’s so not a big deal to me; I don’t mind people asking about it. It’s MYSTERIOUS.
For many years in my childhood and tweens, I parted my hair on the left to cover it. Around this time I also decided I was related to the Kriosians on Star Trek! (Or is it the Valtese? Or the Trill? I’m definitely trill.) Hiding my mark is so ingrained in my habits that even now, in most photos of me I’m cheating left to show you my boring, unmarked side.
My mom recalls, “When you were about a year old, I noticed that you had dirt, thinking that I did not wipe the side of your face properly. I kept scrubbing but it wouldn't come off. I did not pay much attention to it when I realized it was a birthmark. I asked the doctor and he said it will get lighter as you get older. When you became a teenager we went to the dermatologist again and he recommended covering it up with a cosmetic foundation because he said you might feel self-conscious about it. It was just to cover the darker part with a foundation that would lighten it and match the rest of your complexion. You didn't care about it really and I seem to remember that it didn't really bother you, am I right?”
Yeah, she’s right. It doesn’t really bother me. It’s not life threatening and it isn’t making my life hell, like this poor chap. So yeah. Most of the time I don’t cover it. It’s part of my face.
And nowadays I make my own work, and don’t have to try to conform to someone else's ideal. How do you like me now, society! Do you have a thing on your face? Tell me about it!