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Teen with hundreds of birthmarks embraces being different

Ally Hirschlag is a producer/actor/writer who lives in Brooklyn, NY and buys way too many toys for her cats. She contributes to several publications, including Bustle, and The Nerve, and enjoys writing about all things woman. In her spar...

Teen defies body shamers by loving her rare birth deformity

When you're a teenager, it's easy to hone in on little things that make you different. For many, the desire to be "normal" is so strong because it means you'll move through adolescence with more ease.

Everyone has something about them that makes them unique, and usually, as you grow older, you start to embrace it rather than cover it up. However, for some, it's not so easy to cover up that thing that sets them apart. Instead, they are forced to face the world of teenage judgment head on.

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Such is the case for 19-year-old Ciera Swaringen of Rockwell, North Carolina, who was born with birthmarks that cover more than two-thirds of her body. It's a rare skin condition called Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus, which essentially means you were born with large birthmarks that cover a significant portion of your body. It only affects one out of every 500,000 people, so by definition it makes Swaringen very special.

However, because it's such a visible condition, it also makes her stand out in a crowd. Naturally, this was a challenge for Swaringen growing up, especially with other children who didn't understand her condition and just saw her as different. She told the Daily Mail, "Teenage boys are usually the first ones to comment when they see me. They say things like, 'You look like you're dirty, take a wash.'"

"That really knocked my confidence, I was only young and it made me feel different to the other kids, like something was wrong with me." And who could blame her? Wearing braces was enough to make me feel insecure as a kid — I can't imagine what it must feel like to have something that you can't take off.

But rather than let these disparaging comments beat her down, Swaringen has learned to shake them off and even love the marks that make her different. "I'm so proud to be different and, at the end of the day, we all have something about us that's unusual, whether it's on the inside or the outside." It's wonderful to get such a mature comment from such a young woman, but maturity often comes with having to go up against discerning eyes every day. It takes an extremely tolerant person to understand that judgment simply comes out of fear of the unknown.

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Granted, it helped to have grown up in a town of only 600 people, most of whom have known Swaringen since she was an infant. She also has a loving family who is always the first to stand up for their daughter if they ever feel like she's losing the battle to body shame and ignorance. Her mother Julie said, "Ciera is a beautiful young lady with a great personality, and I couldn't be more proud of her — she is one of the strongest people I know."

She does have to be extra careful in the sun though as her condition can increase her chances of getting skin cancer, not to mention easily mask any growing melanomas. However, she doesn't mind using ample sunscreen and tries to stay in the shade as much as possible.

Swaringen can never have her marks removed — there are simply too many, and the large ones cover too much surface area. She also knows she'll likely get more marks as she ages, but Facebook groups dedicated to people with her condition are helping her realize she's not the only one dealing with these difficulties.

This young woman's strength is an inspiration to anyone dealing with body issues, no matter how seemingly insignificant by comparison. Swaringen put it best — "everyone is born to look different, and we should all feel beautiful in our own skin."

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