Society is an interesting place.
On one hand, it encourages us to be unique — but only in very particular ways. When our differences don’t fall into a very narrow description, it can unfortunately lead to ostracism.
That’s most clear when those differences are physical and obvious. One woman who knows that well is Ciera Swaringen from Rockwell, North Carolina, who believes that “true beauty is being able to accept you for the way you were meant to be.”
Swaringen was born with a rare condition affecting about one in every 500,000 people, known as Giant Congenital Melanocytic Nevus.
Her particular variety is known as “bathing trunk nevus,” which means her body has what is basically a very large mole as well as lots of smaller, “satellite” moles.
In total, Swaringen estimates moles cover 80 percent of her body.
Now 23, Swaringen has embraced her unique looks, but it wasn’t always so easy. She submitted her story to Love What Matters to talk about her journey and encourage others who face similar hurdles.
“This is the story of my life and my journey to loving myself,” she began.
She was 8 years old when she realized that people were commenting on her looks and staring at her because of her condition, and by the time she was 12, it started to lead her down a path of depression and anxiety.
Thankfully, since the town she was raised in was close-knit, she grew up with the same group of kids who mostly accepted her for how she was. But during basketball games with other schools, some people treated her coolly.
“We would line up after a game and high-five each other and compliment each other with ‘good game,'” she wrote. “A few girls would remove their hand from the line because they didn’t want to touch my hand.”
That was painful through omission, but she also recalls a time when someone explicitly called her a horrible name.
“There was also a time I was riding the school bus home and the kids in the seat in front of me were picking on another kid,” she continued. “I stepped in and said something about them needing to quit and as a result, I was called an ‘ugly spotted dog’ by one of the kids.
“The school and his parents made him apologize later, but that doesn’t change the hurt I felt at the time.”
For some time, she tried to deal with the looks, comments and general feeling of other-ness by ignoring it. Soon, though, she realized that burying her feelings was leading to a slow shutdown in other areas of life.
“I didn’t enjoy going to new places,” she wrote. “I would physically and mentally shut down if I tried to even go into a restaurant I had never been to.”
She credits a high school assignment with helping her open up about her conditions.
“When I was in high school, I had to choose a topic for my graduation project. I chose Neurocutaneous Melanocytosis, which is another condition I have. This is a secondary condition to GCMN, only this one is internal.
“It is where pigmentation is present on the brain and central nervous system. I had to write a 10-page paper about it and give a presentation on the information. This is what helped me come to love who I was and the way I was born.”
Another step in not just accepting but embracing herself was when she posted a photo of herself in a swimsuit on Instagram.
“I remember posting it and using a whole bunch of hashtags so I could reach all kinds of people,” she said. “The purpose of the post was to raise awareness about being different and being able to love yourself for the skin that you’re in. And I did just that.”
She says that her experiences helped her grow, and now she wants others to learn to love themselves and others, too.
“I was born with a skin condition for a reason. It made me who I am. Everyone has a purpose, everyone has a reason, and everyone should love themselves for who they are. All the trials and battles we face make us who we are,” she said.
“The most important piece of advice I can give to anyone is to love yourself for who you are,” Swaringen concluded.
“Love yourself with everything that makes you different.
“Everyone is born to stand out in their own way. Everyone has insecurities, whether they are visible or not. Be kind to everyone, even if they are mean to you. The best revenge is happiness, so stay strong and happy. Love yourself and everyone around you.”
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