By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Per Lind, Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Joe Roberts, James Thorne
Editor: Beth Angus
Nathalia Freitas, of Los Angeles, was born in Brazil with a rare condition known as Congenital Melanocytic Nevus, which caused her to have a birthmark that covered 40 percent of her face and scalp, as well as “satellite marks” all over her body.
Throughout her childhood in Porto Alegre, Nathalia underwent nine surgeries between the ages of nine months and 13 years, to remove the birthmark, which has left her with significant scarring on one side of her face.
But she hasn’t let her hardships hold her back from inspiring others with her story. She told Barcroft TV: “When I see myself in the mirror, I see a pretty woman. I love my hair, I love my eyebrow, and my smile.
“To be born like this is just a condition, and the most important thing is that does not change anything. It doesn’t define who I am.”
Despite her current inspirational outlook, Nathalia wasn’t always so positive, and had to undergo a process of self-reflection at a young age in order to accept herself.
She said: “When I was in school kids were very cruel and they would call me cruel names such as ‘ugly face’. That was the hardest part of my life. It was really hard for a pretty girl being called a monster.
“But I started to think about what they were saying and realised that was just the way I was born. I didn’t choose to be like that.
“Day-by-day, year-by-year I started to feel better and embrace myself and start loving the way I am. When I started being more positive my life changed and everything became easier.”
Remaining positive throughout her youth wasn’t easy. The surgeries Nathalia had throughout her childhood required months of recovery each time.
What’s more, Nathalia wasn’t able to smile or cry during the various recovery periods or her scars would have worsened.
It was a lot for the young Brazilian to go through before she’d even entered adulthood, but nothing could suppress her infectious optimism from shining through.
The now 32-year-old recently found the courage to share her story through social media, starting her online brand ‘Loving My Dots’ and speaking at public events about her journey of self-love.
She currently lives with her partner Geoff Clark, who she met after moving to California and struggling for some time with the dating scene.
She explained: “I started using dating apps and that was challenging. I always made sure to use pictures that showed my face but that was not easy.
“I had some situations where I talked to a guy and we we’d have a good conversation and then we’d finally have a date in person and suddenly the guy would ask ‘what is that on your face? Is that makeup?’
“I would tell them about my condition and scars and they would disappear and not talk to me anymore. That happened a couple of times and that was hard.”
But Geoff, who had moved to California from New York, wasn’t concerned with Nathalia’s facial appearance and had an immediate rapport her.
He said: “The first thing I noticed about Nathalia on the dating app was all the beautiful pictures. She’s so photogenic and she just looks like she’s always having fun and that was the first thing that drew me to her.
“We didn’t about her birthmark early on because to me it didn’t matter. All that mattered was her spirit and her inner beauty that shone outwardly.”
Having been through so much, Nathalia is now unrelentingly positive, even with the odd stares she still notices when she’s out in public.
“Sometimes kids stare because kids get curious, so that’s ok,” she said. “Sometimes funny situations happen at night clubs or bars that are a little dark so people are confused.
“Many times I’ll be in the bathroom and the other girls are drunk most of the time and they look at me like ‘girl your make up is messed up.’”
These small occurrences aside, Nathalia says she is a happy adult and has come a long way from those early years spent fretting about her appearance.
She recently travelled to New York City where she took part in an ‘EmpowHer’ panel event for women’s empowerment, sharing her story in the hopes of inspiring others.
Founder of EmpowHer and organizer of the event, Ingrid Silva, said: “I think Nathalia’s story is one-of-a-kind. It really touches me. Why not just keep inspiring and sharing stories? We only know when people share them, and I think that’s what sparkled with her story.”
Nathalia said: “It was such an amazing opportunity and I hope everyone got inspired by my story. Years ago I would never think that I would have an opportunity like this – being able to inspire people with my experience. I hope they are going to embrace themselves like I do.”