A woman branded a “chocolate chip cookie” by cruel bullies because she was born covered in birthmarks has stripped down to promote body positivity.
Lorena Bolanos, 24, has more than a dozen raised birthmarks, also known as congenital melanocytic nevi, or moles, including a large one which covers much of her torso.
She was taunted as a teenager by peers who called her “Dalmatian” and “chocolate chip cookie” and urged her to take her own life.
Bolanos, an import and export manager, was once even asked to leave an ice-rink because a customer suspected she had measles.
She fell into a deep depression during her first year of university after years of enduring negative comments about her appearance.
For most of her life, Bolanos said she was ashamed to expose her birthmarks in public and dressed in long-sleeved t-shirts and scarves despite the hot climate.
However, her attitude towards her own body started to change earlier this year when she saw an online troll abuse another woman on Facebook about her appearance.
It was in that moment that Bolanos said she began to see the beauty in herself and made a conscious effort to rise above all the negativity she had received growing up.
Now the body positivity activist has bared almost everything in a revealing photoshoot as part of the Underneath We Are Women project, which champions diversity.
“When I was a little kid it wasn’t a problem,” Bolanos, of Queretaro, Mexico, said. “My mom always said, ‘You’re a healthy child don’t worry about it’.”
“It was when I started school that it got really terrible,” she said. “I was so uncomfortable. Kids would stare at me and they started calling me ‘Dalmatian’ which was so hurtful and cruel. It made me feel so bad about myself. I would come home from school and just cry with my mom. When I was a teenager, I just didn’t have relationships. I wasn’t confident enough.”
“In middle school I was lucky to have a group of really supportive friends but in high school, everything changed,” Bolanos said. “I was on my phone one evening when this guy from my school sent me a message. It said, ‘Why don’t you just kill yourself?’ I had become so used to it that I just ignored it, but when I showed it to my friend she was outraged. She asked him how he could ever dream of saying that to someone.”
“Once I was on an ice rink with my friends, I was in middle school,” she recounted. “One worker asked me to leave the place because a lady said that I had measles and was going to spread the virus. It was so hurtful.”
“A few months ago, I was reviewing Facebook and there is a girl I follow who talks about makeup and beauty,” she said. “I saw a guy comment on one of her posts that her mole disgusted him. I thought to myself, she is so beautiful, how can anyone talk to people like this.”
“It inspired me to take a photo of my own body in a bikini and put it on Instagram,” Bolanos said. “For my whole life I had covered up because I was ashamed but I just decided to tell my story and show the world my marks.”
“I never dreamed of the response. I had moms writing to me that their daughters were inspired by me,” she said.
The response to Bolano’s post was so large that she came to the attention of Underneath We Are Women curator, Amy Herrmann.
Bolano’s flew to Santa Monica to be photographed by Herrmann for the project in March, which will result in the production of a photo book celebrating different bodies.
“I was really terrified but Amy made me feel so comfortable,” she said. “I didn’t tell many people except my mom, but she encouraged me to do it if it made me happy.”
Although Bolano has to protect her skin from the sun because she is at greater risk of skin cancer, she said she has grown to love her body for what it is.
“With my birthmarks, I need to be very careful about sun protection. I have to make sure I cover up and wear a lot of SPF,” she said. “But the reason I wanted to be more open about my body is because I want to change the concept of beauty. Before, my moles weren’t beautiful to me but I’ve learned to accept myself and love my body because it’s the only one I’ve got.”