Here, Chloe Towney, 18, from Batemans Bay, NSW, tells the story in her own words:
I was just seven when one of the boys laughed at me.
‘You look like a clown!’ he said.
I didn’t know what he meant, so I went home and looked in the mirror. And even though I’d seen my reflection a thousand times before, it was like noticing it for the first time.
There was a giant, flat, purple mark on the right side of my face.
My parents, Susan and Darryl, had always told me I was beautiful and the same as everyone else. But now my classmate had pointed out something very different.
‘Why am I like this?’ I sobbed to Mum.
‘You were born this way,’ she said. ‘It’s called a portwine stain; it’s a birthmark.’
Mum told me I should embrace it and educate people, and I did try. When little kids asked about my face, I took the time to explain.
When I was 10, we were getting some hot chips when a boy started screaming.
‘It’s a monster!’ he cried.
Frozen to the spot, I broke down and I didn’t go outside for three days. At high school the bullying was even worse.
‘She got burnt in a house fire,’ the kids would say.
‘No, she’s in the circus,’ someone else would laugh.
My brother, Blake, is two years older and he’d stick up for me, but I couldn’t escape the relentless teasing.
‘Why have you got paint on your face?’ they’d taunt.
Trying to cover my birthmark with concealer only gave the bullies more ammunition. By the time I was 14, I felt like I’d be better off dead. Every morning I woke up and sobbed.
‘Don’t make me go to school,’ I pleaded with Mum and Dad. Desperate, I waited until they’d left for work, then I stayed at home.
While off one day, I searched on the internet for How to cover birthmarks. Suddenly, hundreds of videos appeared on YouTube. People, with birthmarks like mine, had used special make-up to cover them.
You can’t even tell! I thought. Immediately, I ordered some of the products and when they arrived I copied the make-up tutorials.
‘Look!’ I said excitedly to Mum and Dad.
‘Oh Chloe, you don’t need all that make-up; you look better without it,’ Mum said.
‘You don’t understand,’ I said. ‘I need to do this.’
In year 10, they agreed to home-school me. As soon as I’d done all my work, I’d practice my make-up. Using setting powder and spray, I’d even sleep in it, and the next day I’d go straight to the mirror.
This is how I’d wake up if I’d never been born with a birthmark, I’d think happily.
With my new-found confidence, I was able to go back to school. I’d get up at 5.30am and spend two hours doing my make-up. I made new friends and the bullies left me alone.
Then in January last year, I saw an advert for a new TV show called This Time Next Year. They were looking for people who wanted to change something in the next 12 months.
So, I set up my camera. Wearing full make-up, I talked a bit about myself. Then I wiped off the foundation to reveal my port-wine stain.
‘This is the real me,’ I said. ‘I want to change my birthmark because I’ve been bullied.’
Sending off my video, I hoped they could teach me new make-up skills. Just two hours later, a producer phoned.
‘We loved you,’ she said. ‘You’re on the show!’
Mum was by my side when I met Dr Wong. She explained I could have 14 sessions of laser therapy, which targets the red colour in the birthmark.
‘It will lighten, but it won’t go completely,’ Dr Wong warned. ‘And there’s a chance it can resurface.’
I didn’t care. I hadn’t even known about this procedure and finally I felt hope.
‘Book me in!’ I said.
At the first session, Dr Wong held the laser against my skin.
‘Ahhhhh!’ I screamed in agony.
Each burst felt like I was being flicked with an elastic band that was on fire. Mum had to lie on the bed with me while an assistant held my arms down to stop me thrashing about.
Afterwards, it was bruised and black, but I could see a difference already. And each time, the birthmark got lighter.
While it hasn’t completely disappeared, it’s a lot less prominent than it used to be. Mum’s been my rock throughout.
‘I’m finally happy with my reflection,’ I tell her.
I want people to love themselves, but also know it’s okay to change something you were born with that you’re not happy with.
And I want to be a voice for anyone who’s been bullied.
You’re not alone.
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 38, 21 September 2017.