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I Discovered My Beauty Through Loving A Birthmark I Hated

"What happened to your face?" These were words uttered to me throughout my entire life.

As Told To

As Told To is a recurring segment on xoNecole where real women are given a platform to tell their stories in first-person narrative as told to a writer. If you have a story you'd like to share but aren't sure about how to put it into words, contact us at submissions@xonecole.com with the subject "As Told To" for your story to be featured.

This is Kenehilwe Libate's story, as told to Charmin Michelle.

"What Happened to Your Face?"

These are words that I've heard uttered throughout my entire life.

Growing up, I lived with my grandmother as an only child. I was often around cousins, who were like siblings, so I was never treated any differently than how they interacted with everyone else. In fact, never noticed that I had a distinctive look until I played with other children outside of home. Eventually, I was always asked about my birthmark—which is when I realised I was unlike others.

Courtesy of Kenehilwe Libate

Primary school was the worst. I was bullied and called more names than I can even count. I remember going home crying to my mom telling her about being teased. She would always gently remind me that the mark on my face was a gift from God, and that He created me this way because I was special.

Traumatized from the teasing, I developed a habit of not making much eye contact with anyone. It wasn't until I moved on to high school that I started to work on my confidence. Most of my peers would tell me that I was beautiful and that I should embrace my birthmark, but it all fell on deaf ears. I remember times when my friends would complain about strangers staring, and I wouldn't even notice. I had instinctively learned to block it all out over the years.

So, although I credit my friends for giving me confidence to love my birthmark, I knew I had to make the choice to find and value its beauty on my own. I began to focus on just that.

The Glow Up: From Birthmark to Beauty Mark

College was my glow-up season. I graduated and received my Financial Management Sciences degree, and began working as a Senior Finance Business Analyst for a global corporation. This is also one of the times I truly realised that my birthmark was striking—not because I was told; it was all me. And I started taking my self-esteem into my own hands.

I began noticing a weird dynamic developing: me learning to appreciate compliments for something that I had been tormented for my entire life. It was a struggle to adjust to. It's as if I suddenly became a swan and everyone around me shifted from wondering what was on my face, to loving what was on my face.

It admittedly took time to learn to balance the two, but I learned to receive it all. And just thinking about it, I knew I had come such a long way.

Courtesy of Kenehilwe Libate

I would reminisce about the time I decided to try my luck with television, and ultimately was crushed, when the agency told me I would not be accepted in the industry. I remembered the time curiosity got the best of me and used concealer to see how I would look without my mark—which I just thought I looked really weird and that was the last time I did such a crazy act.

All this built up to a turning point for me. And affirmations were key. This made me take charge of how I defined my birthmark.

I changed how I referred to my mark: from a birthmark to a beauty mark that made me who I am. I began to embrace being described as "Kenehilwe with a birthmark." But most importantly, I learned that beauty cannot be boxed; it is what you make it—as long as you look and feel good on your terms.

Courtesy of Kenehilwe Libate

And I certainly feel good.

Free At Last.

It took me forever to fully embrace who I am. The wear and tear over the years caused me to be diagnosed with anxiety so I had to learn coping mechanisms to keep me going. I pray, a whole lot. I have learned that having a conversation with God about how I am feeling helps me. I cry if there is a need to, I meditate—which that, and the occasional jog, keeps me going as well.

Listen ladies, we are doing great. We must learn to embrace our beauty, no matter how different, and this will snowball into helping others overcome their insecurities without us even noticing. We are changing the world. Ignore all the people who once said that you will not succeed because you look a certain way.

Do not fall into the trap of conformity. God made you unique for a special reason. You are beautiful just the way you are.

Looking at society now, I see that what was deemed as "normal" back then, has changed completely, which makes me so happy. If I can lead a movement in a tiny piece of that change, I know I have done my part. I even hope that those of us with birthmarks can be celebrated more often, as we continue to silently struggle with people asking if "we're hurt" or "painted our faces."

Today, I aspire to be an individual who has a positive impact on others, despite obstacles. I dream of mentoring and changing lives of young black women in corporate that were not prepared for the "big world". I yearn to continue to be a reliable, positive, and honest friend. I value these characteristics in myself.

And every moment I took to build myself up, and the forced effort I took to strengthen my confidence, has come to peak fruition. Last year, I was even chosen as one of the faces of an alcoholic brand's women empowerment campaign.

Looking back, I just laugh about the times I didn't accept my full self. Now, it's funny that I sometimes forget which side my birthmark is on.

To keep up with Kenehilwe and her journey, follow her on Instagram @keneliberty.

Featured image courtesy of Kenehilwe Libate

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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