When I was a kid, I sat down at my home PC and typed out the beginning of my memoir:
“I am a homely girl, born with a gappy tooth smile and a big brown mole on my right arm…”
I must have been 14 or 15 years old at the time, and deep in the throes of self-obsession – so much so that I thought that I had any business writing a book about myself.
I could have gone on to say, “I live in the suburbs, am terrible at playing the piano and have never been good at any sport ever.”
But I didn’t. Instead, I sat there staring at “big brown mole.” And my big brown mole stared back at me, like it always did.
I can’t remember when I started being self-conscious about the 3/4 –inch oval-shaped birthmark on my right arm. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t. The mole was the reason I never hopped on the cap-sleeve or peasant blouse trends and why arm-covering cardigans became my wardrobe staple.
It wasn’t like I got a lot of comments about my mole, but the few I did get cut deep and convinced me that everyone else was holding back their revulsion (or at least the “everyone else” that a 15-year-old girl is obsessed with, consisting of peers, boys, mom and dad, siblings and the occasional “grown up”).
Around that time I remember sitting at the television with my father and brother watching Teen Mom. One of the moms was this lovely young woman who had a somewhat prominent birthmark on her neck. My younger brother, also a teen at the time, looked at the woman and said, “Wow, you know, she would be beautiful, except for that mole.” He paused, “Kind of like you, Emily.” Ouch.
The earliest memory I have about the mole was my mother talking to my father about removing it so that I “wouldn’t be embarrassed” during swimsuit season. I think I was six.
As a young adult in college, occasionally people would ask me if I should “get it looked at” or if it was “normal” that hair was growing out of it. Each comment convinced me further that people didn’t see me with the mole, just mole. My mole was my version of Frida Kahlo’s eyebrows, something that made me look decidedly different.
So when I read Marci Robin’s story about her mole insecurity – and thoughts of removing it – I knew I was in good company. Except for one thing: just a few days before reading her article I’d gotten my mole removed.
Hear me out. I know these are “first world problems.” And that was perhaps my biggest struggle with my mole. I was well aware that I was self-aggrandizing a relatively small imperfection, but the even bigger embarrassment was how not-okay I was with my body.
I claim to be a body positive feminist. I follow #bootyrevolution on Instagram and am all about #effyourbeautystandards. But this thing made it all too clear to me that I was only body positive up to a point. And that point was my hairy arm mole.
The thought of telling a doctor that I wanted this cosmetic removal was horrifying to me. So, I had the mole checked, again and again. Every time I went to a doctor of any sort I would have them poke and prod at my mole, just praying that they’d say it looked dangerous or even precancerous and that I’d have a real reason to get it removed. It only got weird when I asked my gynecologist for a mole check – just kidding.
But the mole was healthy. It was a damn good mole. It could win the mole Olympics.
Which brings us to almost now. I went to the dermatologist under the guise of getting three-year-old foot wart looked at.
Of course, in walks in this stunning, perfect-skinned woman dripping in designer jewelry. Ohmygod – how was I supposed to ask this baby-skinned goddess to remove my mole when she’d likely never had so much as a pimple? Turns out it is the same way you would ask a non-goddess.
After she looked at my foot, she turned to make her quick exit. “Um, there is one more thing,” I said, pulling the ultimate “hand on the door” thing that my doctor friends have told me about. (It’s this idea that the patient will only tell you the real reason for their visit when you have one hand on the door.)
I went on to show her my mole, which she said was “fine.”
And then I finally just said it. “What would it take to get it removed?”
She poked at it a little more. “Well,” she said, “there would be a scar.” I’d told her earlier in our appointment that I was getting married in September.
“When you look at your wedding pictures, are you only going to see the mole?”
Without having to think about it, I said, “Yes.”
“Then let’s remove it.”
So we made and appointment for the following week. I didn’t tell anyone about the surgery except my brother who swore he didn’t remember the long ago comments about my beauty. He even went on to say that I couldn’t get it removed because I “wouldn’t look like Emily anymore.”
And he may have been right. Like when I got braces to fix my gap in junior high, plucked my eyebrows to extinction in high school and bought a hair straightener in college, I was well aware that I wasn’t going to look like the me I had for so many years.
I went back and forth about the decision to remove the mole until the moment the glamazon doctor numbed my arm and made the first incision.
Since the surgery, I’ve had fun showing people what I’ve taken to calling “my Frankenstein arm.” The stitches look pretty wicked and have only just now begun to itch. When I forget about the wound that looks like a cougar clawed my arm, friends ask. Over the past two weeks I’ve gotten better at saying that I had a mole removes. Full stop. No need to blab on about insecurity and body positivity. And I’ve been shocked at the response.
Each time, the person has looked at me perplexed and said, “You had a mole on your arm? Really?”
Which leads me to believe that in my 26 years I let the mole grow much bigger in my mind than it ever was in reality.