Alba Parejo was born in 2001 in Barcelona, Spain, with a rare congenital disease that caused hundreds of "melanocytic nevus" birthmarks to appear all over her body. The marks are brown, some small while others cover larger patches of skin.
By the age of five Alba had undergone 30 operations to "correct" some spots, but the interventions were painful and left scarring. Since she had 500 of them, it would be impossible, not to mention unbearable, to try to get all of them.
As she grew up her peers were often brutally cruel to her, bullying, name-calling, and incessantly putting her down. Some laughed, some called her an alien, others called her "dalmatian" or asked if she’d done it to herself on purpose.
Even adults stared and said hurtful things: "When I was little, I realized that people were staring at me because of my skin, which made me feel bad. Strangers looked at me as if I were a monster."
Her teen years started out particularly difficult, not only because of the birthmarks but also on account of her many scars. "I was 13 years old and just wanted to be normal. I spent whole days crying, wishing I were someone else."
But fortunately, she has very supportive family and friends. Her parents took her to counseling, which helped her to appreciate her own appearance.
Step by step, she accepted her body. "I realized that my moles, my scars, and my nevus condition are a big part of me both physically and psychologically."
At 16, she decided that it was time to stop hiding. She posted pictures of her body online.
Quickly, she found herself being "liked" and re-tweeted in the thousands. The risk had paid off: she was getting so much encouragement.
She decided to go further and enter a competition about body acceptance — and she won! The result meant that photographs of her appeared on billboards, in newspapers and magazines, even on the sides of buses, all over Spain!
"I realize now that my skin is beautiful, special, and unique," Alba says proudly.
"I feel much more body-positive and am trying to make my disease better known, in order to help others. I love it when people tell me I’ve changed their life for the better — that’s a good enough reason to keep showing my body."
What courage it must have taken her to get to this point, and what a tremendous message of self-confidence, self-acceptance, and inclusion.
And the truth is, everyone has a unique body so we all benefit when we embrace and encourage each other, just the way we are!