My nearly 3-year-old daughter is beautiful, and not just in a “she’s mine, I gave birth to her and love her unconditionally” way. No, she’s genuinely a gorgeous little girl. Her long brown hair looks like it could star in a shampoo commercial. Her hazel eyes are piercingly bright, and her smile is adorably infectious. I see people in public notice her and smile at her disarming little features and mismatched clothes that she insists on wearing.
She is truly beautiful, but her zany outfits hide her body’s one blemish.
She was born with a fist-sized vascular birthmark, or hemangioma, on the right side of her buttocks and upper thigh. What started as a faint bruise when she was born has grown to a noticeably large abnormality, one that was further complicated by a severe ulceration when she was 4 months old. These marks tend to fade as she gets older, but she’s not older right now. What is our dormant secret during the winter months when we wear layers of clothes is now abundantly clear in the summertime when she happily parades around in her pink polka dot swimsuit.
Our family and friends are used to her birthmark. They’ve watched it grow right along with her, and it’s become something that they occasionally ask for an update on but generally ignore when they see it. However, today I took her to a water park where other people weren’t used to seeing a cute little toddler with a distressingly large red protuberance bulging out of her cute pink polka dot swimsuit.
To them, she was different.
To them, she was imperfect.
I watched as she splashed in the water, happily yelling for her baby brother to watch her. This was supposed to be a precious memory, but looking at other people who were looking at her kept me from enjoying it. I saw a woman look at my daughter’s birthmark and make a sad face to her husband. I saw a little boy longingly stare at it as if he was trying to figure out what it was.
“It’s her birthmark, and she’s perfect anyway!” I should have said. But instead, I kept calling her over to rearrange her swimsuit so it wouldn’t show. I was so anxious walking around the park with her, because she didn’t have her shorts on—it was there for everyone to see and, perhaps, even judge.
But then it dawned on me when we were walking the perimeter of the splash pad playing “crocodiles” that these were my insecurities. I was self-conscious for someone who didn’t even know what “self-conscious” meant. I was projecting society’s views of physical perfection onto someone who is still learning how to recite her address. She didn’t care about her birthmark or try to hide it, so why did I? She didn’t notice other people noticing it, so why did I?
I want her to be confident and have a healthy body image when she’s older. That lesson has to start with how I react to the one thing that makes her visibly different from other kids at the water park or at the library or at school. Her biggest concern at the water park was hunting imaginary crocodiles, and I should have followed along with her carefree disposition. All children have something that makes them different, that makes them unique. For some, it may be a challenging autism diagnosis. For others, it may be a life-altering disability. I’m lucky that my daughter’s difference is an issue of painless vanity, but I struggle with the idea of people judging this imperfection before I have the time to explain it to them.
But I shouldn’t have to explain it to society or to the people at the water park. We shouldn’t look at children with the same expectations of beauty that we do with celebrities in the tabloids. She’s a beautiful child who’s enjoying life. She is not a beautiful child with a noticeable defect on her body.
No more covering her birthmark or tracking people’s reactions to it. That behavior can only instill insecurities in someone who just wants to be a pretty princess and chase pirates. She’s innocent, happy and confident with herself, and I should do everything possible to retain those fervent characteristics in my daughter.
To strangers, I’ve learned that her exposed birthmark may look unpleasant and cause confusion and long stares.
But to this newly self-educated mom, that same birthmark makes her the most perfect and beautiful tot in a pink polka dot swimsuit.