By Josh Saunders
An actress bullied over her large facial birthmark that has led people to believe her skin was ‘scraped off’ releases a powerful photo-series to flaunt ‘flaws’.
Paige Billiot, 26, from Los Angeles, California, would cover her port wine stain beneath heavy make-up and powder for years following remarks asking if she had been in an ‘accident’ or a ‘fire’.
But nearly a decade ago, she started to reduce how much she hid the reddish-purple mark – that is caused by a gathering of blood vessels under the skin.
Instead of being embarrassed she started celebrating her facial difference in photoshoots, showcasing her skin in bold, empowering images.
Recently for shoot ‘Grounded’ she used the elements – earth, fire, water and wind – to symbolise a ‘flaw’ sharing the same emotions associated with that form of nature.
Paige, an actress & producer, said: “I definitely did not feel I would be able to have success in modelling or acting, because of my birthmark, especially when being bullied.
“I remember feeling like I couldn’t step out of my house without covering my birthmark with make-up, it felt like it was caked-on and I feared sweating or it coming-off.
“Growing-up I would be asked questions like, if I was ‘burned in a fire’, ‘got in a fight’, if my birthmark was ‘contagious’ – there were a lot.
“Even some doctors had no idea it was a birthmark and even now they think I’m coming in because I have half of my face scraped off.
“When I was younger the things people said or did came from the fear of unknown.
“But when they are educated there is a big shift. I want to educate people and make birthmarks more of a normality.
“That way seeing someone with a birthmark they won’t think, ‘Oh god did you get it in a fire or can I catch it?’ they will actually know and understand.
“I want to inspire people and let them know that there is a community, since I started I’ve gotten so many messages from people around the world thanking me.
“It would have helped me so much growing up, knowing there were others out there who were standing out to say, ‘This is ok and beautiful’ and how are we going to highlight it.”
Paige explains her beliefs behind emotions related to elements for her photoshoot ‘Grounded’ by Kris Mayeshiro, with make-up by Hannah Schenck and graphic design by Scott Walker.
Paige said: “The idea behind the campaign was for people to show off different perspectives on beauty, it’s good to be different and shows the fun things you can do with a birthmark.
“I wanted these photos to be less about the look of the birthmark and more about the journey it inspires.
“Nature usually grounds us, I wanted to incorporate those elements within my birthmark to symbolize a flaw sharing those same emotions that nature tends to bring out in us.
“Wind represents the beautiful yet fluctuating emotions that quickly storm through both negatively and positively from the challenges that often arise with a prominent difference.
“Fire represents those fierce and passionate moments in being different.
“Earth represents the grounded feeling of accepting yourself and moving upward in life.
“And, water represents the calm and serene reflections that one can have in embracing their flaw, but also represent the tears that may be shed in understanding yourself and where you belong.”
Paige’s birthmark was present from birth, with her starting laser treatment as a baby.
Initially she would have them twice a year before reducing them to once every several years – she has undergone up to 18 in total.
But instead of aiming to lessen the colouration and appearance, she hopes to stop the birthmark from sagging.
After treatments, she has to ice and moisturise the area to reduce the pain and scarring – along with sleeping upright for two weeks.
Paige said: “The point of me getting laser treatment is because the birthmark thickens and raises, some people have it to lighten the area, but I don’t want that.
“While it does go lighter I would prefer it not to, I have treatment to calm the skin and capillaries.
“If I wasn’t to get laser over time I would look like the elephant man because it would get thicker and would start to droop.”
One of the many experiences that led to Paige seeing her birthmark in a positive light happened in a surprise encounter inside a gas station.
She said: “I was checking-out when the guy at the register kept staring at me.
“I was getting frustrated waiting for him to say something, but he told me, ‘Where I’m from your birthmark is considered a sign of the gods.’
“I had never heard of it being honoured or taken as a sign from the gods, that actually really helped with my shift and made me feel great.
“Over time I started to really not care anymore with the bullying and letting myself be me, that was when I was able to figure out I could be an actress.”
Since launching the project ‘The Flawless Affect’ blog, Paige has gone onto participate in numerous shoots positively portraying her birthmark.
The campaign aims to combat the stigma surrounding body and appearance ‘flaws’.
Paige said: “This most recent one shows nature and is a double exposure series, it uses earth, fire, water and wind.
“It accentuates my birthmark and uses it in a creative way.
“Before I was so self-conscious I couldn’t do anything without trying to hide it, now I’m more worried about my acne than my birthmark.”
Follow her project here: www.flawlessaffect.com