A dancer with a birthmark that covers a third of her body has learned to love her unusual feature and now flaunts it in her routines.
Whitney Casal, 26, was born with giant congenital melanocytic nevus, a skin condition where sufferers have a patch of abnormally dark skin which spans at least 15in across.
She said: “It’s crossed my mind that maybe I didn’t get a job because of my skin.
“But this is my body. This is my tool. This is who I am.
“Of course there are days when I don’t feel super stellar and confident. Vulnerability is really scary and you do have to be ready for rejection.
“But in my experience, practicing confidence when you don’t feel it, actually leads to real confidence.”
Whitney’s birthmark, known as a bathing trunk nevus, stretches from her knees to her waist and has a hairy, bumpy texture.
Her face, arms and legs are dotted with smaller birthmarks called satellites.
“It goes from right above my knees, up my hips and torso, and curves up my back. It really is almost half of my body,” she said.
The dancer, who grew up in Seattle, Washington, USA, but now lives in Pamplona, Spain, has learnt to love her markings and is happy to show them off in just a bikini.
She said: “I’ve had every reaction from ‘ooh, you have chocolate on your face’ to ‘what is that?’
“It took me a few years to become comfortable in my body and I remember my teenage years were a turning point.
“I felt most comfortable in college. This is my body, this is who I am. I am going to wear little shirts, I am going to wear bikinis.”
Giant congenital nevi is a very rare condition and is thought to occur in only one in every 500,000 births.
Whitney was five-years-old when she first realized that not everyone had such a large birthmark.
She added: “I remember thinking that it was unique. It’s a different color, it’s a little raised and bumpy.
“The skin itself is a bit thinner and it is quite hairy. I have smaller birthmarks on my arms, legs and face.”
People with the condition are more likely to develop skin cancer.
“I was certainly extra careful about going out in the sun,” she added.
“I put on a lot of sun cream and as a kid, if I knew I was going to be out in the sunshine, I’d wear a particular swimsuit with sleeves and legs, a little like a wetsuit.”
Luckily Whitney rarely experienced cruel comments about her birthmark from her schoolmates.
She said: “I can’t remember any extreme bullying. I was always fortunate in that sense.
“I am lucky that it is easy to cover my birthmark if I want to. I did get questions and reactions but I learnt a way to respond to them. I would say: ‘It’s a birthmark, I was born with it’.
“I remember a kid in elementary school asked me if I had chocolate on my face and somebody else asking if it was mud.
“It didn’t hurt my feelings because it was so innocent. I definitely got asked those questions at other times when I was a child.
“It is people who stare at my birthmark that I found and still find the most difficult to deal with.
“In a way, I’d rather they just came up and asked what it was.
“Sometimes I can feel self conscious in shorts or a skirt when people are just staring at me.”
She credits conferences arranged by the nonprofit organization Nevus Outreach with helping her accept her appearance.
At the bi-annual gatherings, she met other children with similar birthmarks.
She said: “I would go to Nevus Outreach conferences and I grew up knowing a lot of other people with the condition.
“I definitely battled internally with my comfort level.
“I remember really clearly when I was 16, I was at one of these conferences, seeing all of these other people and one of my best friends was really comfortable with her nevus.
“I thought: ‘I want to be like Audrey’.
“I’m going to wear shirts, I’m going to wear bikinis, I was starting to figure it out and the shyness began to go away.”
Although she is generally confident, at times she still feels the desire to cover up.
She said: “Of course, like anybody, I still have moments of insecurity.
“98 per cent of the time I have no problem wearing my bikini and maybe 2 per cent of the time I think, ‘No, I’m not comfortable today’.
“But most of the time it is fine.
“For example, if I am going to be intimate with somebody, in the moment I might say something like, ‘Just so you know, this is something I have’.
“Almost all of the time it goes over very well.
“There was one instance when a person just said ‘Oh poor thing’ which sat strangely with me.
“But I’ve never been in a situation when someone said that’s gross or disgusting.”
As a dancer, Whitney is determined that her nevus won’t hold her back.