Fresno woman with birthmark gets unwanted social media exposure

The Fresno BeeAugust 31, 2014 

With a birthmark that takes up nearly half her face, 23-year-old Fresno resident Crystal Hodges knows what it's like to stand out.

The mark is called a port-wine stain for its dark, reddish-purple color. It extends from near the bottom of her left cheek, up over her nose and across her left eye.

Though the mark will never go away, Hodges undergoes laser treatments about every three months to keep the blood vessels from growing and to lighten the area. She has learned to expect comments and questions about her birthmark.

One of her goals is to teach people about port-wine stains, which affect about 1 million people in the United States.

For two weeks to a month after every treatment, Hodges' birthmark is swollen and darker than usual. The Fresno City College student is open about her experience, documenting it on a website and blog: Crystalhodges.com and Thetravelinchick.com.

Last year, she posted a photo of her face 20 minutes after a laser treatment.

What Hodges never expected: More than 50,000 Facebook "likes" and thousands of comments. She learned earlier this month that a Christian organization from South Carolina with nearly 2 million Facebook followers stole her image and turned it into a meme, adding the group's logo and the caption, "1 like = beautiful." Her name, story and websites were not included.

Hodges declined to name the organization publicly, but said its other posts feature premature babies or people sick with cancer and request "likes" for prayers. Learning that her face has been circling the Internet left her feeling angry and violated, she said.

"I always knew I was different, but I never knew I was different enough to become a sympathy cause," she said.

Hodges and her friends reported the image, which had been posted at least eight separate times, to Facebook administrators.

She found that the organization had violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. On Wednesday, she received an email stating administrators had ordered it removed.

But she took it a step further, making her own meme with the photo that explains what happened and adds, "Like and share this if you agree that women -- and men -- don't need the Internet and thousands of strangers to validate them and their beauty."

The response has been overwhelmingly positive, Hodges said, with support from strangers saying they have the same birthmark or asking her how to teach their children to be more sensitive. But dealing with the situation also has made her want to be more cautious online.

"It made me really analyze things, realizing how much our culture -- since we're so into social media -- how much we identify ourselves by how many likes we have or shares or followers on Twitter," she said. "It made me sit back and think: That's kind of stupid."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6279, acastillo@fresnobee.com and on Twitter @andreamcastillo

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