By Rebecca Drew
CHILDREN refused to play with this birthmarked man while he was at school calling him a “red arm freak” yet he has learnt to celebrate the blemish covering his entire right arm, chest and upper back after taking part in a photoshoot that changed his life forever.
Growing up, fitness professional, Tomás Rodgers (30) from New York City, USA, was very shy around new people as he would often get stared at, teased or asked if his birthmark was a burn.
One day, caught up in an argument during a school basketball game, a boy on the opposite team pointed out his arm and called Tomás a “red arm freak”, this and the reactions he would receive from strangers left him feeling sad, angry and often lead him to wear long sleeves even during the hottest of summers.
It wasn’t until he was 17-years-old that Tomás’ self-image started to change after a photographer asked if he could take pictures of him for a portrait book whilst he was working in a shop to pay for his education.
The photographer was so unfazed by Tomás’ birthmark – from that day on he decided to appreciate his natural beauty and no longer saw it as a negative, now he says he would never think to have his birthmark removed.
“As a child I was very guarded and scared and apprehensive of people. I would be teased, stared at, questioned all the time no matter where I went, ‘You burn yourself? Is that a sunburn? What happened to your arm?’, people would say,” said Tomás.
“The amount of feelings that someone who has a feature that is so unique and stands out from most tends to go through stages. Sometimes the feelings are shame, sadness, anger, resentment, and even self-pity.
“Sometimes people would stare, and then I would become angry. I felt as though I would easily walk around with this button that you could just push and turn on my ‘anger’ mode by staring at me and I wondered how people could be so rude.
“You can tell a lot by people’s eyes, one of the hardest parts about becoming conscious of my birthmark was how early on, I had to learn this lesson and adults are no kinder than children.
“Sometimes people would smile at me as I was a very blonde petite little boy with a big smile and then as they came across my arm I would see their face change to concern or confusion. That would sting.
“Some children would steer away from me or refuse to play with me on a playground.
“I remember once during a basketball game getting into a tussle with a boy on the opposing team (as most young boys do) and hearing him shout; ‘red arm freak’ from across the basketball court.
“I first started embracing my beauty when I was approached to do a photo shoot for a NYC photographer while working at a retail store to help pay for college. ‘You have a real striking face and I’m working on a portrait coffee table book, I would love to shoot with you’ he said to me.
“I was taken aback completely but went through with it. I must have been 17 and at that point had never really done much modelling. As we did the photo shoot and he asked me to place my hands around or near my face asked him what about my birthmark and he just replied; ‘what about it?’
“From there on I never let it be a hindrance to what I would describe as my own beauty. It was now in the shot. It was a part of me.
“Covering it up was never really an option. It would have taken dozens and dozens of laser surgeries and been very very painful.
“I once had a dermatologist offer to remove it ‘pro bono’ – however it never was a real option I would consider.
“My mother had tried a few attempts when I was a very young infant however it was never worth the pain and recovery process let alone the mental damage for a mother to go through watching your child burned over and over.”
Tomás said he had always been aware of his birthmark and says that ever since he started to embrace it, he has given others the strength to accept their own insecurities.
“My birthmark makes me so unapologetically distinguishable in a room regardless if it’s a large gym floor or a group fitness studio. Since embracing it, I have watched other people around me release walls, break boundaries of self-doubt, and overcome all insecurities of what they believe they are limited to achieving,” he said.
“Not only have these changes been physical but mental as well, simply by me being unafraid to embrace myself, and not allow my differences to define me or hinder my goals.
“I like to think that by living outside my shell, I can help others creep out of whatever shell they may still be hiding behind.
“At the end of the day we are all souls who have the chance to be loved, and to love and we should be treated as such. Our exteriors do not define us.
“What we look like, our sex, our age, our gender, our ways of life, rich, poor, and so forth do not make up or define how we must be treated or treat others. For that person who is ignorant and stares, educate and help make other people be aware.
“When you feel angry or sad, remember it is you and your unique traits who turns the heads and no one else on that beach, train, car or gym floor.
“You have been made to be different and unique for a reason and you must live in that as an example to others. There is no definition of beauty anymore.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/tomasrodgers