“I related more to cartoons that I watched growing up because they were different but still accepted each other.”
These are the words of Khanyisile Meyiwa from Durban, who was born with a prominent facial birthmark on her right cheek and was bullied because of her unique feature.
Khanyisile is now 27 years old and she’s finally learning to embrace her distinctiveness.
She tells YOU about the difficulties of being described as different growing up and how she now hopes to inspire others like her with her story.
“Growing up was really hard,” Khanyisile tells us. “I’d wake up in the mornings and while getting ready for school I’d often look in the mirror and realise that I was different from other kids.
“And children aren’t shy to point out things they find weird or unusual about you, so I was really isolated by my school peers because of my birthmark.”
As a result, Khanyisile avoided interacting with other children and spent much of her time indoors watching cartoons instead.
“I still love watching cartoons even now. When I was younger I felt like I was more connected to cartoons because they were different and unique, just like me.
“In cartoons for example you’ll find that there’s a pig, a dog, and a variety of other animals or creatures. But despite their differences they’re often connected and play together,” she says.
“There was no sense of isolation with cartoons. Every character was alike despite their differences. But as human beings that’s rare to find.”
Khanyisile says she often felt rejected by other children because of her birthmark.
“I never really had friends,” she said. “I knew I was different and I tried to integrate regardless, but I was still shunned. I felt like children my age didn’t want me near them because of my birthmark. It was really tough.
“In some instances, I’d even ask myself what was the purpose of bathing because even when I was clean people still treated me and looked at me like I was dirty. Like I was ugly.”
emotional Khanyisile recalls a traumatic experience from when she was in Grade
3 and only nine-years-old.
“I used to get bullied so badly after school that one day I got fed up,” she recalled tearfully.
“I knew that a group of children would always wait for me at the gate to gang up on me, so I decided to take a knife with me to school. I don’t know what I was planning to do with it but I wanted to have something to defend myself with.”
But one of her classmates spotted the knife and reported her to the teacher, she says. The knife was then confiscated and Khanyisile was taken to the principal’s office.
“When the principal asked why I had the knife, I was afraid to tell the truth. I was scared that if I named the group of children bullying me it would only become even worse, so I kept quiet.”
When Khanyisile was asked at home why she had a knife, she felt no one in her family truly understood her situation even after she revealed why she’d taken the knife to school.
“I was scared to speak out as a child. I had to learn to be strong for myself. I cried a lot in silence because I was so sad.”
It was only when she was in high school and also when she went to university that she realised there was more to her birthmark than what met the eye.
“I’d see the likes of model Winnie Harlow, who has vitiligo, and local actress Leleti Khumalo being bold and confident women with their conditions, and I asked myself why I couldn’t be the same.”
After seeing people with unique facial features, Khanyisile started embracing her birthmark.
“I learned to love myself first – that’s what was important and that’s what mattered more than ever.
“I wasn’t going to be able to get my birthmark removed just like I hadn’t asked to be born with it, so the acceptance of living with it had to begin with me.”
It was during this time of learning to accept herself that those around her did too.
“Before, I’d pose with my left side more in pictures. But now I’m learning to show my entire face,” she says.
“Sometimes there are bad days, but there’s so much unlearning to be done – the first being that I am not ugly.”
Khanyisile is in her final year of studying towards her teaching degree and she hopes to teach children the importance of defining their beauty without making others feel bad about themselves.
“You need to love yourself first and don’t let people define what beauty is to you. People will always be quick to point out things they don’t have and that’s one way of sometimes showing you that you are special – something you shouldn’t be ashamed of.”