Celina Leroy was born with a Port Wine Stain birthmark covering her chin, lip, and cheek. Like many others with a PWS birthmark, she often felt self-conscious and alienated for looking different. To make herself more confident and support others out there, Celina started painting the birthmarks in the Summer of 2020.
Since then, she has completed and documented over 50 individualized portraits highlighting PWS birthmarks.
“In a world that prioritizes flawless skin and facial symmetry, I try to really paint a birthmark in a portrait,” says Celina. “I don’t want to diminish or filter it. I want my subjects to feel represented and beautiful, to give them confidence in their natural skin.”
One woman, Michelle, told Celina that this was the first picture of her that included her birthmark. Before, many photographers would ask if she wanted them to remove it or pose her so it was hidden.
“To automatically assume that someone would not want their birthmark in a photograph solidifies that idea in your mind that there is something wrong with you, and that a filter or removal would make you look better,” says Celina. “When really it just shows a lack of creativity or understanding on the part of the artist. Anyone can be beautiful.”
Along with the paintings themselves, Celina asks a series of questions to her subjects and tries to capture their essences and stories in her work. Hearing these stories has given her the space to talk about her birthmark more than ever before.
“There is great catharsis in having people who have had the same experiences as you,” she says. Celina urges other people with PWS birthmarks to reach out to others like them and find a community of people who understand.
“Looking different can be very alienating since most aren’t educated on skin conditions,” says Celina. Her subjects feel similarly, and share their own stories of confidence issues. One subject, Mark, told Celina of his experience during the pandemic.
“I didn’t realize at first wearing the masks that no one was staring as they usually are which was strange, and I got used to it,” said Mark. “Now the masks are coming off, I feel like I am back to square one always looking and scanning to see who’s staring, laughing, or pointing.”
In Celina’s work, she hopes to combat these ideas and start normalizing birthmarks and other abnormalities.
“In general, I think art has the ability to expand a viewer’s perception and understanding. I very much hope to do that with my art,” says Celina. “So, maybe the next time an outsider sees a person with a PWS birthmark, their remarks are filtered with excitement and kindness, not ignorance.”
This article was written exclusively for Love What Matters by Anna Steingruber. Follow Celina’s journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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