By Martin Ruffell
THIS MAN spent over ten-thousand-pounds covering himself in tattoos to distract from his facial birthmark, after it left him with crippling anxiety due to strangers constantly staring at it.
Photographer and videographer Heywood Taylor (36) from Newcastle, UK, was born with a birthmark on his left cheek, under his eye.
As a child, Heywood was often asked what was wrong with his face, with other children mistaking his birthmark for a bruise or a burn. Despite remembering being told on one occasion that his birthmark was ‘ugly’ and that he should get it removed, Heywood doesn’t remember feeling any misery as a result of his birthmark in his youth.
However, by the time Heywood reached his late teens, he began to struggle with looking different from his peers. In public, Heywood felt paranoid about what people thought of his appearance.
Despite not receiving any specific comments from strangers when out, Heywood noticed people staring and soon developed social anxiety and agoraphobia – a disorder in which a person develops anxiety when in unfamiliar situations or surroundings.
If Heywood noticed people looking at him in public, he would even break out into cold sweats.
With Heywood’s mother sadly passing away when he was 25, Heywood suffered from depression. This combined with his anxiety and struggles with alcohol led Heywood to contemplate suicide aged 26.
Fortunately, Heywood instead discovered the gym. Getting into shape, his confidence grew and with this, his desire to cover his body in art.
Although already having one or two tattoos before this, in his mid-30s Heywood decided to get tattoos on his hands, neck and face and has felt increasingly confident about his appearance ever since. Now he has over 30 tattoos across his body.
Although the 36-year-old still receives plenty of stares from strangers, he says that by covering such visible parts of his body in artwork, he has managed to ‘take back control.’
Heywood hopes that sharing his story will help normalise facial differences and make them less taboo.
“As a child, people often mistook my birthmark for a bruise or a burn,” said Heywood.
“I remember people staring and often asking me if I was ok.
“A couple of times I was told it was ugly and that I should get it removed, but at the time I didn’t pay it much notice.
“I don’t remember too much anguish regarding having my birthmark though.
“It wasn’t until my late teens and early twenties that I really began to struggle with having a birthmark.
“I remember getting very paranoid when in public and uncomfortable, not because people would or had ever said anything, but simply because of people staring.
“I felt awkward as a teenager as many people do, so the added stares of the birthmark enhanced this awkward anxiety.
“By my twenties, I developed agoraphobia – particularly of public busy places.
“I would never be in public alone and if for example I had to travel, I would often feel very vulnerable within myself.
“I could not stand people looking at me and then looking away awkwardly. It made me feel horrendous and I suffered from cold sweats.
“Years of anxiety, struggling with alcohol, and my unmedicated ADHD caused a build up of issues. Then, with the passing of my mother at 25, I was tipped over the edge.
“I found myself overweight and miserable, contemplating the end so I joined a gym and it saved me at that time.
“I would gradually regain my self confidence and after a few years, I had learned to believe in myself again, and with a good boost of ego I grew in confidence.
“It was at this point that I started really getting tattooed.
“I had had a few tattoos before, but once I was getting in better shape and my confidence grew, I actually felt more comfortable to start getting tattooed more.
“As the skin got gradually covered in permanent ink, I found my confidence grew even further.
“Initially, the tattoos were not something that I was consciously getting because of my birthmark in any way but once I started getting my hands and neck tattooed, there was a shift.
“I was very aware that getting these tattoos had and still has great significance in society, and that the way people may look at me or judge me might change.
“Fast forward to today and I have half my face tattooed, and I can safely say I have never felt more comfortable with the way I look.
“I have definitely regained ownership of the way I appear and in part, I have taken control back over the stares I get in the street.
“Facial difference awareness is important to me because I think the more people see and learn and experience other stories, the less taboo people with facial differences become.
“I am quite privileged in this regard that my birthmark is comparatively small.
“Many people have much greater facial differences than me, and I know first hand from speaking with them that they have experiences that are far darker and harder to digest.
“Nevertheless, everyone’s story is valid and so I feel my ten or so years of struggle with my birthmark is still worth sharing.”
Heywood now sees his birthmark as key in shaping the person he has become.
“To those who are self-conscious about their birthmark, it can really suck and the mental health implications are real,” said Heywood.
“The only thing that has changed for me with my relationship with my birthmark is that I am no longer anxious about it and that’s because I worked on myself.
“I love the little red thing, and I’m grateful for it because it has shaped me in far more positive ways than negative.
“As people, we are all much much more than just a face – just some of our faces are a little less boring than the norm.”
Follow Heywood’s story on YouTube, www.youtube.com/c/heywoodandstuff