A Little Lesson on What NOT to Say

I have a large birthmark on my right arm that extends from my right shoulder all the way down my arm and onto my hand, thumb, and pointer finger. This particular type of birthmark is aptly named a “port-wine stain” due to its reddish purple color. (It turns more bluish purple when I am cold.) You can see a portion of it in this picture below.

Amber and Adrianna

I guess one benefit of having a birthmark on my right arm and hand is that I have never, ever had a problem determining left from right like so many children (and adults) do. I always knew that my birthmark arm was the right arm, and so I learned right from left that way until it became completely natural to where I don’t even need to think about it.

Having lived with it my entire life, it has become such a part of who I am that I hardly even notice my birthmark anymore. Except when people make comments or ask questions without thinking first about how their questions may sound to the recipient, namely me.

So, here is a little lesson on what NOT to say if you notice someone has an unusual mark on their body. These are all based on my personal experience:

  1. Is that a rash? (I hate this one. It makes me feel contagious or something. Yes, sir. I just shook your hand with my contagious rash. Let me rub my right arm all over you to make it worse and so you can catch it too.)
  2. Is that psoriasis? (Considering the fact that psoriasis is a skin-disease, this is another one I hate as bad as the rash one.)
  3. Is that a burn?
  4. Is that cancer?
  5. Is that a hickie? (Yeah, my husband got a little extra amorous last night.)
  6. What is that? What’d you do? or What happened to you? (These questions really don’t bother me at all, but I am sure some people in my situation could be bothered by them.)

This little post is prompted by something that happened to me in church today. At the end of the service, everyone was shaking hands with the people around them. I had just shaken an older gentleman’s hands when he asked me question #3, “Is that a burn?” So I explained that no, it was a birthmark. Then he said, “You can cover that up you know.”


That’s a new one. I did not know what to say back to that. The last thing I want to do is wear a turtleneck with long sleeves and a glove to cover this thing up. It is 106 degrees out there today and it is also the year 2006 where such “flaws” do not need to be a thing of shame and hidden away. And like I said, I don’t even notice it anymore until I receive stupid, inane comments.

Afterwards, Greg leaned over and whispered into my ear, “I apologize on behalf of that older, thoughtless gentleman.”

I am not really taking offense to this incident though. The guy was like 80 years old, so it makes it less of an offense in my mind. Grandparent-types and little kids can be easily forgiven for not thinking before speaking. Too bad they only make up a portion of the population who asks me questions without thinking their words through first.

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4 Responses

  1. cindypoo says:

    number 5 r u serious!!! yea i saw a women with the similar birth mark and to kendall i was like oh she has a birth mark like amber, and he is like oh thats a birthmark! so alot of people wonder but just dont realize, i guess growing up with you i know.

  2. momma says:

    When you were born, the birthmark didnt show up right away. I remember the doctor commenting on that. I am not sure how long it was, but believe it was the next day when the doctor came in to check on us.

  3. Karen says:

    Reminds me of a lot of the pain and embarrasment I went through when I had no hair from the chemotherapy. A lot of thoughtless people really hurt my feelings…

  4. Maegan says:

    I was doing a search online for “Port wine stain on arm” and I found you. I have lived all of my life with one as well. Mine runs from my hip on my right side, up the right side of my chest and back, and down my right arm, ending at my middle knuckles. Mine is similar in color to yours, and also turns a shade of purple to blue-purple when I get cold. It also darkens when I get mad. I used to be ashamed of it when I was a child, and I did everything I could to hide it (long sleeves that covered my hand, makeup). I was so embarassed, and didn’t really get to enjoy the same things other kids did (like swim suits at the pool, or wearing a tank top). It took until I was 16 to really become comfortable in my skin. It has faded quite a bit from when I was in elementary school, it was deep purple back then, now it’s about the same shade as your picture – but I would never want to get rid of it.
    I agree that people say some insensitive things about birthmarks, and they can have a major impact on your self esteem. The one I hate the worst is “Are you ok? Are you having an allergic reaction?”, and I also get “Were you in a fire?”. Frustrating. I really don’t think that strangers should ask without thinking first.
    Thanks for publishing this. I thought I was the only one. 🙂
    Maegan in New Mexico

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