Ashley Graham and Winnie Harlow inspire woman with rare facial birthmark to 'love' herself

Social media is often a toxic environment with users constantly criticizing women‘s physical appearances. However, college student Jenn August managed to gain self-confidence via Instagram.

August was born with a hemangioma, a type of benign growth or tumor that looks like a birthmark, covering most of her lip and neck. On Instagram, she discovered a community of women embracing their so-called “imperfections,” and that inspired her to follow suit.

May is recognized as International Month of Awareness for Vascular Birthmarks. So it seems appropriate that just last week for the very first time, August shared a selfie without any makeup to cover her birthmark.

“Social media has definitely helped me in learning how to love me,” the 26-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

August says that seeing celebrities on Instagram such as model Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, and curvy model Ashley Graham, be “unapologetically themselves” gave her the courage to embrace her hemangioma.

“Ashley and Winnie are my inspiration. They are women who are saying, ‘Hey, world. This is me, and you have to deal with it,” says August. “They do not conform to the media’s beauty standards and love all of who they are. That is how I became comfortable with being brave enough to post that makeup-free selfie showing off my hemangioma.”

Model Winnie Harlow (Photo: Getty Images)
Model Winnie Harlow (Photo: Getty Images)
Ashley Graham (Photo: Getty Images)
Ashley Graham (Photo: Getty Images)

Ken Howe, a dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology, explains that childhood hemangiomas develop as growths of the cells that form blood vessels. “It is not known why these growths occur, but fortunately the vast majority are not dangerous,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

He adds that only in very rare cases do they cause complications such as hemorrhaging. But the physician cautions parents, saying, “If your newborn child develops red or purple bumps or flattish marks, you should take the child to the pediatrician right away.”

As an infant, August’s parents placed her on various trial medications attempting to control or reduce the birthmark. The medications were not successful, so when August was in middle school, she endured two medical procedures to try to get rid of the hemangioma. But those did not work either.

Surgery [can be] done for hemangiomas, but the decision to treat surgically and the likely success of the outcome, depend very much on the details of the specific case,” Howe says regarding August’s unsuccessful procedures to diminish the appearance of her facial birthmark. “Every hemangioma is different in terms of the anatomy, blood supply, anatomic location.”

August says she was fortunate enough to grow up with the same kids throughout her elementary and middle school years, so it was normal for them to see her birthmark. Thankfully, she says, she didn’t have to endure bullying. However, as she got older, the Florida native noticed that she was different. So when she was 18, she began to cover up with makeup.

August says that she spent hours thinking about whether to post the makeup-free photo on social media, thinking about how online trolls might comment. But she decided to push “post” when she remembered that women like Harlow put themselves out there for millions around the world to see and critique.

“I just want to inspire women, even if it’s just one or two, that they are beautiful the way they are,” she says. “There’s no need to change to fit in society’s expectations of beauty.”

And August is not alone, as she joins the movement of several women and men who are embracing their vascular birthmarks and sharing self-love selfies on social media.

“Social media has definitely helped me love exactly the way I was created,” says August. “It’s a platform where people are sharing their stories, and I can relate to them and learn to accept exactly who I am.”

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