My 4-year-old son was born with a large birthmark. It’s called a Congenital Nevus, and covers about half of his neck. It’s deep brown, raised, and prone to chafing. And unless he elects to have surgery when he gets older, it’s going to be part of him for life.
As soon as my son was old enough to understand, he knew that his birthmark made him different. But children are curious by nature, after all, and it wasn’t long before he started getting questions about it from other kids on the playground or at school. Generally, the comments haven’t been cruel; but not all — like the time he was asked if it was “dirt” or “poop.” I helped him work through it, and he seems to be pretty unscathed from the experience, but still: those questions stung.
I know that this is an issue that he will have to deal with his whole life, and what I am trying to do in his early years is to give him the confidence necessary to process his difference in a healthy and affirming way. I often tell him that his birthmark is beautiful because he’s beautiful, and it’s a part of him.
All of this is why I was so excited to stumble upon a video ad for Gap’s new Beauty and the Beast-inspired clothing line, featuring a young girl with a skin difference. Eleven-year-old April, who has a skin disorder called Vitiligo, is a model for the new “Fearless Beauty” campaign, launched by Gap in partnership with Disney.
On its website, Gap describes the campaign as a celebration of “strength and bravery.” And that strength and bravery is exactly what April exudes in the the video she’s featured in. Vitiligo is described by the Mayo Clinic as “a disease that causes the loss of skin color in blotches.” April’s skin is clearly impacted by the disease, but April herself seems unfettered by it, and comes across with amazing confidence and charm.
“I’ve taken 4.3 million selfies,” the smiling young woman says in the video, “I feel like when you have confidence, you’re not scared,” she says, adding, “So … confidence is courage.” April’s hip dance moves and her winning smile are contagious, truly.
The video, which was originally shared on Gap’s Facebook page February 4, is (unsurprisingly) getting an amazing reaction, with parents just like me overjoyed to see a child with this kind of difference featured in a mainstream clothing advertisement. Parents are responding by sharing photos of their own children with birthmarks and other birth defects (and Gap has responded to commenters encouraging them to look out for the next casting call!). Other comments have been from people who suffer from Vitiligo themselves, and have thanked April for her strength, beauty, and the way she is helping to normalize the condition for everyone else.
I definitely got a little teary-eyed myself, just watching the video and looking at all the comments. A few weeks ago, my son — who loves to dance around the house and act out portions of TV shows he’s watched — told me he wants to be on TV too, someday. I didn’t tell him, of course, but my first thought was that his birthmark might prevent him from having a job like that.
Maybe by the time he grows up, though, differences like his won’t be potential roadblocks or targets of ridicule. Maybe his difference will be celebrated, and people who have differences like his will be featured more prominently on TV and in the media.
Whatever happens, small steps forward like this one — even if it’s just a 60-second Facebook ad — give me hope for my son, and for the millions of children who were born with beautiful imperfections like his. And for that, I’m grateful.