Rebecca Heckard, who was called ‘skunk’ due to a white streak in her hair and ‘vitiligo-like’ birthmarks, is now a model.
The 21-year-old, from New York City was born with piebaldism - a rare autosomal dominant disorder of melanocyte development, which causes her to have a white streak in her hair and vitiligo-like birthmarks that look like patches of white skin.
Rebecca hid beneath make-up and long layers which was worsened by a difficult childhood and school bullies who said she looked like a ‘skunk’.
The patches, which was caused by her skin being devoid of any pigment, developed on her forehead, stomach and legs at birth.
As a child, Rebecca was so embarrassed of her differences that she would cover her speckled skin patterns with lipstick.
“I was always quite timid about showing my birthmarks from six-years-old to 20, I even asked to be taken to the doctors for them to cover my birthmarks but nothing could be done,” she said.
But last year, Rebecca wore a bikini for the first time.
Rebecca decided to reveal her intriguing birthmarks in an empowering photoshoot to encourage others to embrace their differences.
Rebecca, a communications student and model, said:
“I remember getting make-up to cover my forehead for the first time, I was using a brown lipstick as I wanted to hide it.
“I experienced a lot of growing up outside of school but while being bullied kids would call me ‘skunk’ quite a lot and compare me to Marvel characters.
“It was hard to deal with, most of it just made me feel sad, excluded and like a reject, I could never understand any of it until I got older.”
She hid her birthmarks and the white streak in her hair with make-up, long layers and knee-high boots until ‘feeling sick’ of hiding away.
“Over the years, it got to the point where I would look in the mirror and no matter how hard I tried to perfect my hair or makeup, it would always be wrong,” she said.
“I didn’t recognise my own beauty but I knew I had to stop covering it.
“Then I went to Miami with a group of friends, none of them had ever seen my birthmarks before.
“I wore a bikini to the beach and showed my birthmarks for the first time, but to my surprise everyone acted normally.
“Growing up I was fearful but this was a beautiful moment, a breath of fresh air, I freed myself.
“When I came back from Miami, I started working on getting out of my shell and becoming confident wearing revealing clothes more often.
“This year, I’m much happier, more open, more bold, I’ve received so much love and nothing negative, it’s been incredible.”
Rebecca birthmarks were visible from birth and her mother Kimberly Heckard, 49, was regularly quizzed about them by members of the public.
“My birthmarks are symmetrically placed on my body and remind me of constellations,” she said.
“I have one in the middle of my forehead that goes up into my hairline like a shooting star, then it’s like I have a circular galaxy on my stomach and the birthmarks on my legs are angel’s kisses.
“To my knowledge, I’m the only one in my immediate family with white patches on my skin, somehow my relatives only have the white streak in their hair but not the birthmarks.”
Rebecca kept her birthmarks hidden from the world until last year while on a trip to Miami with friends and was ‘terrified’ of revealing her skin.
She said: “When I walked out with my birthmarks showing my heart was beating really fast, but my friends didn’t even notice, it was so normal and something I didn’t expect.
“From then onwards, I have never had any negative commentary, for my whole life I have feared showing my birthmarks, when I should have embraced it.”
After returning from her vacation, she started to gradually work up the confidence to stop hiding her other birthmarks.
Now she proudly models with them showing the pigment-devoid patches and the white streak in her hair.
Rebecca said: “In my modelling I can express myself and feel beautiful, even when I’m showing my legs now, which used to be a very sensitive point for me.
“I’m working on getting stronger now, I’m more outgoing than I have ever been.
“Now I feel beautiful faster than I feel afraid, I know I can walk into a room full of attractive women and feel beautiful too.”
Rebecca hopes to inspire others with differences by talking out about her skin and is penning a book to explain her life story.
She said: “Online there is a little girl with a streak in her hair who messages me, I’m trying to be a role model for her and show her that she has nothing to fear.
“Even though my legs are a sensitive point for me, I hope I’m able to show others not to be insecure or ashamed no matter what happens, and to embrace their differences.”