I have a birthmark. A beauty mark. An epidermal nevus. A little line on the left side of my face, beneath my lips.
It’s been called sexy, weird, beautiful, and special. It’s been spit-washed by a stranger, giggled at, pointed at, and kissed. Children often ask me what happened to my face. Adults do, too.
I’ve been told I have chocolate on my face, grease on my face, that I “left a little breakfast.” People (women mostly) have come over to me and whisper, “You have a little something . . .” Truly, none of this has ever bothered me. I answer kindly and say, “It’s a birthmark, I was born with it.” I’m often met with apologies. My response? “Don’t be.” End of story. No big deal.
I don’t remember when I first realized it was there, it just always was. My mom told me it was my beauty mark, that I was beautiful. A dear friend told me it was my angel kiss. People who know and love me don’t even see it. I certainly don’t. (I used to say, “It’s the first thing you notice about me when we meet, and the first thing you forget.” Apparently that’s not true, since my foul mouth and incredible wit often precede seeing the birthmark.)
My beauty mark was biopsied twice. Once when I was 17 and again when I was 28. Both times it was for health reasons. Since my angel kiss grew with me instead of staying the same size it was when I was born, doctors wanted to make sure it wasn’t posing any health risks. Both times the biopsies came back benign.
For the first biopsy the doctor removed the top part and put a band-aid (Winnie the Pooh, upon my request) over the wound. When I got to school someone asked if I had cut myself shaving. I was mortified. I had never been self-conscious about it, but that question was like a kick in the, er, face. Once I found out I didn’t have cancer, I got over the shaving comment.
The second biopsy was taken from the bottom. The plastic surgeon told me I should remove it. “You’re so beautiful and it’s a blemish,” he said. The biopsy came back benign and I only momentarily thought about the blemish comment. It was my blemish and I’d always had it. I was attached to it (figuratively and literally).) To me it’s not a blemish, it’s just there, like my nose, and fingers, and butt. A part of my body.
Yesterday I had a routine physical. Blood pressure: excellent (amazingly). Oxygenation: great. Pulse: great. Lungs and heart: present and accounted for. Birthmark: Let’s take a closer look. It has changed a bit since 2008 and has developed heat sensitivity. My doc suggested I visit dermatology to “check it out. It may be affecting your nerves and possibly causing some damage.”
Visions of numb, expressionless lips entered my mind. Or maybe a painful side of my face. Or maybe—oh my god—cancer. I made the appointment immediately.
Anxiety took over. Fear joined in. The question of what if? clouded my mind. Had my beauty mark turned against me?
In the exam room the nurse asked, “Are we looking at removal today or just . . . that?” She waved at my angel kiss.
“Eh, both, I guess,” I said thinking if “that” posed a health risk then removal was my only option.
Doc came in. She was gentle. Went over everything with me. (She went through my hair looking for something. Whatever. It was divine. Like a little head massage.) She examined my bod (yes, the missing “y” is intentional) and chastised me for my tan. “There’s no such thing as a healthy tan,” she admonished. “More sunscreen.” (OK, OK. Hey, I live in Vermont. We see the sun for like 20 minutes a year. But I’ll get better.)
Then she got her bright light tool thingy and pressed it against my beauty mark, moving it all around, examining my angel kiss.
“It looks OK to me. And to be honest, I’ve never heard of a mark developing heat sensitivity. I’m going to do some research and talk to my attending, then he’ll come in and take a look.”
Before she left, though, she launched into explaining “removal options.” Wait, what? I had heard, “Looks OK to me,” and finally exhaled for the first time since I got to the office. My brow furrowed (I’m sure contributing to future wrinkles. Whatever.).
I sat and waited. My only remaining concern being the weird heat sensitivity issue. Otherwise, I was feeling relieved. She didn’t say the c-word, and I was good with that.
She returned with the man who I assumed was the Attending Doc (treated as a proper noun since I can’t remember his name.) Older than I am. White. Male. No visible beauty marks as far as I could see.
He validated my symptom and said he’d never heard of it either, but that didn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But he didn’t see a health problem. Breath and relief swept through me.
Then he, too, launched into a diatribe about removal options. An ENT (first word standing for excision) or laser. What the fuck? Why does everyone want to take away my angel kiss? It doesn’t pose a health risk so why the fuck should I undergo a procedure I don’t need? I was confused (a rare emotion for me).
“Wait, why would I remove it if I don’t need to?”
Attending Doc explained how my insurance would cover removal. I felt like I was on a tilt-a-whirl. Circling around the steering wheel thing, me on one side, the doctors on the other. We were not turning in the same direction. What the hell does insurance have to do with not removing my kiss?
“It’s unsightly,” he said. What‽ (That little piece of punctuation is an interrobang, FYI.)
I looked at my first doc who could only momentarily meet my eyes. “Unsightly,” I repeated. I’ve never felt unsightly. (Well, I’m not so hot in the morning, but even then I don’t consider myself unsightly. More, eh, disheveled.)
“Well, that’s what the insurance company would say,” Attending Doc added.
OK, brain overload. Someone from the insurance company is going to make an office visit to determine if I’m unsightly? Yet I was still confused about why we were still talking about removal. Was he being furtive about some health risk I hadn’t picked up on? I had already said it didn’t need to go.
“Wait,” I repeated, feeling like a jack-in-the-box. Every time they said “removal” I popped out of the box and asked them to wait.
“What is the benefit of removing it?” I asked for what felt like the hundredth time.
“You’d be a 10 instead of a 9.8.”
Silence. I stared at him. Well, it wasn’t a stare, it was a glare. (I’m sure, again, crinkling up my crow’s feet when my eyes narrowed—a harbinger of future wrinkles. Whatever.)
He was suggesting that the only reason I should remove my angel kiss was to be a 10. What. The. Serious. Fuck.
“Because I’m an object!” I managed. “Because I need to be rated,” I exclaimed. I looked again at my first doc, who remained silent.
I eyed Attending Doc.
“I meant it as a compliment,” he explained, color rising to his cheeks. (I’m sure there’s some sort of cosmetic result of reddening skin, but I have no fucking idea.)
“It wasn’t. Your delivery is a problem. I’m done. I choose not to remove. It stays. Thank you for your time. That’s the one I choose.”
I had never seen a 65-year-old man scurry until yesterday. He scurried. I fumed. My first doc started recapping while Attending Doc hustled out of the exam room, man on fire.
“I’m sorry. I am so, so sorry,” she said as soon as the door shut.
“Don’t you dare apologize to me. You did nothing wrong. That is what we women are sometimes guilty of—apologizing for our male superiors when they have done wrong. What if he had said that to someone who couldn’t speak up? Don’t you—”
She cut me off and continued her diatribe about something skin-related. I was deaf. Deaf and done.
My relief at not having cancer was replaced by something else. Fury. Blind rage. I was shaking.
I don’t remember what else happened. I left.
So, just to recap: I don’t have skin cancer and I’m not a 10. I’m only a 9.8 according to an unquantifiable, subjective scale created by a 65-year-old plastic surgeon. My beauty mark, my angel kiss, my unsightly blemish is keeping me from being a 10.
Except, I am a 10. I’m a 10 because I’m brilliant, funny, kind, loving, generous, and I recycle (among many other reasons). I’m a fucking 10 because I say so.
I will be writing a letter to Attending Doc’s superior. I will be lodging a formal complaint regarding what was clearly a sales pitch encouraging me to undergo a medical procedure that is in no way medically necessary. And I will address Attending Doc’s blatant sexism.
Please, people out there with angel kisses and beauty marks and epidermal nevi, choose to be a 10. For yourself. Because being a 10 is about so much more than the marks and “unsightly blemishes” that adorn our skin.
I’m a fucking 10. You?