By Josh Saunders
A bullied model who stopped hiding her facial birthmark has created an empowering video to inspire others to love their differences too.
Celina Leroy, 25, from Brooklyn in New York, USA, chose to embrace her birthmark last year, after spending $15,000 and two decades trying to hide it.
She has a port wine stain (PWS) – a harmless reddish purple mark caused by abnormally widened blood vessels and affecting 3 in 1,000 live births.
As a child, Celina underwent 40 session of laser treatment to reduce the colour of her PWS-affected area and two surgeries to make her lips symmetrical.
But since finding the courage to bravely bare her birthmark without make-up, she now models without hiding it and has released a video to inspire other to do the same.
In the film, the model proudly rubs off the make-up that covered the birthmark on her chin and cheek, before saying, ‘if you’re like me, you’re flaw-some too’.
Celina said: “After revealing my birthmark some people said I was really inspiring because I showed it off and wasn’t hiding anymore, I wanted to give that experience to other people.
“I made the video to encourage people to talk about their insecurities, everyone has something they don’t want others to see.
“From acne to scars to birthmarks, there are lots of things people feel insecure about, really people should see it as something that makes them unique.
“Skin tells a story about yourself, so if you have a ‘flaw’ you should think of it as something interesting and positive.
“It tells your story rather than being something negative and that you’re broken.
“You should be confident even if someone thinks something you have is ugly.
“In the video, I wanted to show that when you take off your make-up you get to be your natural self, which is just as beautiful.
“I don’t have anything against make-up but it’s about people feeling proud of themselves.
“I think this video is trying to make it more open and less ashamed.”
Celina’s parents Emilia and Billy Leroy, a TV personality, started laser treatment to reduce the appearance of their daughter’s birthmark when she was only a year old.
She continued treatment into her teens, after worrying it would affect her dreams of becoming an actress.
Celina said: “As a young girl I was more insecure about my port wine stain, in your head you overanalyse things, but as you get older you realise how you look isn’t the only thing that matters.
“Since then I’ve been able to deal with it better.
“I’m hoping my video will help little kids with birthmarks, they can show other kids the footage and realise they don’t have to feel alone.”
While growing up Celina faced victimisation herself, with bullies at school telling her she wouldn’t be liked because of her birthmark.
Celina added: “I’ve had some cruel comments over the years, when I was in school a girl told me I was pretty but because I had a birthmark I would never be popular.
“When I was a lot younger I used to get really upset and question why I had to have a port wine stain, which made me very self-conscious and gave me a low self-esteem in front of people.
“Even now a lot of little kids ask me what I have on my face, but a lot of other people used to just stare – if people asked me I’d be only too happy to tell them it’s a birthmark.”
Celina found the strength to stop wearing make-up last year and hopes to liberate others.
She said: “I think talking about it, or getting online and speaking to others with a similar thing can make you more confident.
“The more you express yourself, the more you realise people are actually really supportive and will support you.”
Celina who plans to continue filming for a project called ‘Flaw-some Beauty in Birthmarks’ and is looking for others to take part.
She added: “I want to make more videos and art people, so anyone who is interested should connect with me.
“I want to make the videos to change people’s perspectives and continue a dialogue.”
The Vascular Birthmark Foundation (VBF) who offer advice and support to people, say their policy for treatments for birthmarks has changed over the years.
Dr. Linda Rozell-Shannon, President and Founder of the VBF said: “For first ten years of our organisation’s 22-year history, we promoted early intervention and aggressive treatment of vascular birthmarks, such as Celina’s port wine stain.
“It wasn’t until I realised that many adults were choosing to live with their birthmark that I actually revised our mission statement to include that we support programs that promote acceptance for individuals with birthmarks.
“While we want it to be clear that a port wine stain is a progressive lesion, and Celina’s will thicken in time, and it should be treated so that it does not become problematic.
“However, we are 100% in support of accepting that a vascular birthmark is as much a part of the individual as is the colour of their eyes.”
They have launched a campaign called ‘VBF Ask/Accept’ to encourage to help reduce the stigma of birthmarks by educating the public.
Dr. Rozell-Shannon added: “We want people living with a port wine stain, like Celina, to be able to educate others that this is a progressive vascular anomaly that is considered a birth defect and like any other difference.
“It should be accepted and no one should be judged because of it. No one asks to be born with a birth defect.
“That’s why VBF is committed to our annual campaign to raise awareness and remove the stigma.”
For more information visit: www.birthmark.org or to follow the campaign visit: www.facebook.com/AskAccept.