Leanne Stuckey of Flossmoor grew up with a facial birthmark that caused her years of insecurity and self-consciousness. It took well into adulthood before she was able to push those feelings aside and realize that rather than viewing it as abnormal, it could be something recognized as “uniquely beautiful.”
She’s now on a mission to help others feel the same, and she wants to reach out to children who were like her. She just released a children’s book titled “Beautifully Blemished“ that aims to help children with skin conditions, birthmarks or other skin markings develop the confidence and self love she wished she’d been able to have at a young age.
“My personal experiences growing up with a facial birthmark is what inspired me to write this children’s book,” said Stuckey. “Having grown up with a visible skin difference, I understand the feelings of insecurity that can come along with that reality.
“This book was written to help kids recognize the value in their uniqueness—hopefully much sooner than I did. I desire for children, who’ve felt like me growing up, to be equipped and given tools/resources/imagery to aid in their journey of self acceptance, self love and the realization that they were created for a great purpose. The goal is to empower young boys and girls, while spreading awareness and helping to shift society’s narrative of what beauty is and what it looks like.”
Stuckey was born and raised outside of Los Angeles with two siblings in a loving home where her parents tried to instill in her that she was beautiful just the way God made her. But outside influences showed her that not everyone would see her as beautiful. She has a facial birthmark called Venus of Ota, which resembles what bruising from a black eye might look like.
“It wasn’t uncommon for my mom to be continually confronted with questions about what happened to her child or receive stares and comments that insinuated their belief that I was abused,” she explained. “I wanted to create a book that shined a bright light on these various differences and the emotions behind those who possess them, while also bringing a normalcy to the topic.”
As she got older, unwanted comments and questions would be directed towards her.
Is that a black eye?
Are you okay?
How’d you get that shiner?
So, how does the other guy look? (followed by a sarcastic chuckle)
“I quickly grew tired of the unwelcome stares and unsolicited comments. I was teased here and there by my peers in grade school, but as they got to know me it didn’t last long,” added Stuckey. “Thankfully, I’ve never experienced bullying or any traumatizing events throughout my adolescence, but sadly that’s not the case for many in the skin-different community. This is a large part of what motivates me to spread awareness and be the voice to many who feel voiceless.”
That desire to help make a difference for kids facing self-esteem challenges due to being skin different and to raise awareness inspired her to start an online community. She later founded Beautifully Blemished LLC, an organization created to help empower those with visible skin differences to “own their blemishes and find the beauty in their imperfections,” said, Stuckey.
Her first venture into book writing took on the topic she is most passionate about.
“Whether it’s a birthmark, eczema, vitiligo, moles, scars or other visible markings, it can be difficult to find the beauty in being different,” she said. “’Beautifully Blemished’ poetically compares skin imperfections to crisp autumn leaves, majestic rocks nestled in Savanna green grasses and other awe\-inspiring wonders of nature.
“It helps children see the unmatched beauty in their uniqueness and provides understanding to various skin conditions. This heartfelt picture book allows children to discover that whether speckled or spotted, bumpy or blotted, there is beauty in our ‘blemishes.’”
Stuckey hopes her audience won’t only be kids who are skin different and thinks it’s just important that those that aren’t read it, too.
“This book is meant to empower children who have visible skin differences, but it’s crucial that boys and girls who don’t find themselves in this category are exposed to books like these, as well,” she said. “The efforts to spread awareness and normalize skin differences can only be effective if those who are unfamiliar or have never been exposed to this type of information are being exposed to this type of information. And what better place to start than the hearts and minds of children? That’s where I believe these efforts have the most impact.”
For the illustrations of the book, Stuckey worked with a talented artist named Traci Allison.
“I continuously tell everyone how she was absolutely the right fit for this project,” she said. “I loved her work from the moment I saw it, and loved her from the moment we had a chance to talk in detail about the project. We worked very closely on every aspect and she was able to bring my vision to life in such a unique and beautiful way.
“Each and every detail of every page was intentionally thought out. From the color palette used to the mediums and textures to the nationality of each character to the look of their ‘blemishes’ and the clothes they’re wearing. We worked to make this book the very best it could be, and I believe we succeeded.”
Stuckey moved to the Midwest in 2002 to attend the University of Chicago, graduating with a degree in Business. She has spent the majority of her adult life in Chicago. She and her husband Torri, have lived in Flossmoor with their four children, Zoe, Caleb, Tori and Miles since 2011.
“We truly love our community,” she said. “The message I hope to pass on to young readers of this book is that they were each uniquely created with beautiful intention. And that the differences that are showcased outwardly on our skin make us one-of-a-kind and valuable beyond measure. I hope that with the last turn of the page, readers are left feeling inspired, empowered and appreciative of the differences they possess.”