I was bullied for my birthmark and didn't know I could report it

I was born with a venous malformation (VM) birthmark on my upper lip and right cheek.

Over the years, I’ve had around 20 operations to reduce the size of it.

When I was younger and my birthmark was a lot more prominent I would get stared at and laughed at nearly every day, which completely crushed my self-confidence.

I was told that I was a freak. I was compared to an alien and ‘evil’ film characters.

Sometimes children would have competitions to see who could call me the most offensive names.

Back then, I couldn’t imagine that things would ever get better for me, so I resigned myself to the fact that I was never going to be truly happy.

This was because of the constant prejudice and mental abuse that I had to endure, simply because of my appearance. I didn’t choose to ‘look different’, yet this became the one thing that people focused on.

People told me I was ugly.

People told me they would kill themselves if they looked like me.

People told me I would never achieve certain things in life.

I turned down opportunities to go out with my friends, attend family events or even have dinner at restaurants with my parents, simply because I just couldn’t handle being in public.

At the time, because my confidence was so low, I started to believe them.

To be treated noticeably differently to your peers is a hard thing for anyone to go through, especially a young person, and it made me very shy and sensitive as a teenager. It also held back my social development because I didn’t like meeting new people due to fear of how they might react.

I turned down opportunities to go out with my friends, attend family events or even have dinner at restaurants with my parents, simply because I just couldn’t handle being in public.

I always felt like all eyes were on me and my mind would go into overdrive, thinking and simultaneously trying not to think about what people might be saying about me.

When I was 17, I was at my lowest point.

I decided to start having injections to reduce the size of my birthmark after more than a decade of no treatment.

The injections started to make a difference to my overall well-being, but I also decided to write on Facebook about my experiences. The reactions were so positive that it gave me a real boost. I felt like I had a future.

Over time, I have overcome the adversity that I faced when I was younger and I am now happy and confident in myself, but it took a lot of mental strength and patience not to let some of the experiences I endured completely destroy me.

Why should some people have to spend their lives being treated unfairly and be made to feel ‘different’ because of what they look like?

I also got involved with Changing Faces and the charity’s new campaign, Face Equality Week, because I want to tell my story and raise awareness that this kind of abuse is classed as a hate crime. It can be reported to the police or other organisations who can help.

There are around 67,000 cases of reported hate crime relating to disability every year, which includes those living with visible differences.

But that figure doesn’t represent the level of hate crime that occurs; research from Changing Faces found just over one in three people (35%) report this type of incident to the police.

I didn’t consider reporting any of the tough experiences I endured when I was younger because not only did I not have the confidence to do so at the time, I also didn’t know that there are certain avenues that you can take to report hate crimes and get support.

If I had known then I would have been inclined to report some of the incidents.

That’s why I’m backing the charity’s call for more police forces and other agencies to commit to raising awareness of appearance-related hate crime and to improve reporting procedures for victims.

We live in a multi-cultural and diverse world, and nobody should be made to feel like they don’t belong here.

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