A woman whose birthmark made her a viral meme, has used her online fame to help others with facial differences.
Crystal Hodges, from California, was born with a port wine stain birthmark on her left cheek, which induces extra blood flow to the face and affects the symmetry of her face and jaw structure.
Up until 2014, 26-year-old Crystal was at peace with her birthmark until one day she came home from university to find that she had gone viral as a meme on Facebook.
The meme – titled ‘One Like = Beautiful’ – subjected her to brutal cyberbullying and it reached over 30 million views.
“Four years ago I came home from college and I signed on to Facebook and my friend in Alabama sent me a message saying, ‘I saw your picture in the newsfeed today and I was like, what?’,” Sophie said.
Although she endured comments about her appearance as a child, it wasn’t until she went viral that Crystal truly realised how some people viewed her.
“I noticed growing up that the adults really are the worst when it comes to commentary and harsh comments,” she said.
“Some have good intentions but there are definitely some who don’t. As a kid, quite frankly, I forgot I had a birthmark. My family, they always treated me like a normal kid.
“So it wasn’t until I went viral in 2014, when I was turned into a meme and got cyber bullied, that it really dawned me how different I looked to some people in society.
“For the past four years, there hasn’t been a day where I’ve woken up and not realised that I look different.
- Touching photo of police officer hugging girl he saved goes viral
- Mum who miscarried spots ‘ghost of baby’ on daughter’s cot monitor
“Every morning or every day, at some point in my day, I realise, ‘Oh yeah, I have a birthmark, I look different.”
The photo was ripped from Crystal’s Facebook after she posted a selfie after having laser treatment, which made her port wine stain darker and more swollen.
“They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and yet people were writing their fictional thousands of words next to my image not understanding what was really happening,” she said.
“It was a really confusing time, I had a lot of emotions. I definitely went into a dark time for a while.”
Six months before Crystal went viral she was already visiting classrooms and hospitals to talk about being sensitive to those with differences, but her experiences gave her an extra push to expand her work.
“When I went viral it really just added fuel to the fire. It really emphasised the importance of reminding people to be kind,” she said.
Crystal plans to continue her speaking work to inspire more people, whether they have a physical difference or not, to embrace their individual beauty.
“Whether we have a physical difference or not, or just insecurities, we need to remember, beauty is not a competition,” she said.
Got a story tip? Send it to email@example.com