"I want to change the concept of beauty," she says.
Lots of people have birthmarks—or beauty marks, as they're often called. But Lorena Bolanos was born with several large raised birthmarks covering her face and body.
After being the target of childhood bullies who called her "chocolate chip cookie" and then feeling insecure as a teen, the 24-year-old import and expert manager from Mexico is now embracing her birthmarks and rejecting the idea that her skin is less beautiful because of them, she tells Health.
To show her support for body positivity, she's stripped down to a bikini for Underneath We Are Women, an advocacy group that showcases body diversity.
Bolanos’ largest birthmark is a giant congenital nevus, a rare type of mole that appears at birth and can grow to more than 15 inches, according to the National Institutes of Health. Bolanos also has several smaller moles; they cover most of her torso.
All of her moles are benign, but that didn't make growing up with them any easier. Raised in Mexico City, Bolanos says that on her first day of elementary school, her classmates singled her out for looking different and asked the teacher, “Why does she have those marks?” Though she describes her childhood as happy, high school was particularly traumatic.
“High school was a mess,” Bolanos explains. “At school dances I felt bad because I was looking for a way to cover my marks. The days that we had some activity and wore shorts, I was very [ashamed].”
Bolanos says her self-esteem suffered, and she sought comfort in food. She gained weight, and she recalls a peer comparing her appearance to a "chocolate chip cookie." The comment hurt so much, she stopped talking for the remainder of the school year.
But the worst bullying she endured was when one student wrote online messages about how she should kill herself. “It is a shame that [there] are people that are just [looking] to hurt you and don’t realize that nobody is perfect,” she says. “I learned that [there are] always going to be bad comments. … I can suffer all my life because I am not perfect or I can just ignore them.”
As an adult, Bolanos says she's come to understand that everyone has insecurities. “I know some people with small moles, more like freckles, and they say to me, ‘Oh, your moles look so beautiful! I don’t like mine!” she says. “We are always admiring others and looking at them, wanting to be like someone else without realizing that happiness is in us.”
In May 2017, Bolanos connected with Australian photographer Amy Herrmann, who was working on a book about body positivity. The two met up in Los Angeles for a photo shoot.
Bolanos stripped down and showed off her birthmarks in a bathing suit as part of a project launched by Underneath We Are Women, which Herrmann founded.
Bolanos' goal is to remind people that body size and weight aren't the only beauty standards women feel pressured to meet. Women like Bolanos who don't look a certain way or have skin that is different from the norm also suffer, she says.
Bolanos hopes to inspire all women to feel beautiful and love themselves, despite what the larger culture dictates. “What I want to communicate is that is is not about [changing], it is about accepting yourself as you are,” she says. “Stop trying to follow an unattainable concept that has [been] imposed on us.”
Once she began to accept her birthmarks and view them as beautiful and unique, Bolanos says the world around her began to see them that way as well.
“Believe me, self-confidence shows,” she says. “Now people tell me that they see me differently, and that I look good! And I also feel good—that is the most important [part].”