Centre for Appearance Research (CAR)

Throughout 2021, researchers from the Centre for Appearance Research (CAR) have been working in partnership with Caring Matters Now to produce an online support resource for our teenage members. Our teenage members supported the development of the Teens Resource by sharing their insights and thoughts about the content they would find most important and helpful, including dealing with the reactions from others, engaging with social media, improving self-confidence, and age-appropriate medical information about CMN. The researchers further developed the online resource by utilising their own professional knowledge on age-appropriate therapeutic methods to improve self-confidence and self-esteem when living with a visible difference, such as CMN.

The Teens Resource is highly sophisticated and professional, yet accessible to all teenagers. The resource provides simple and effective psychoeducational activities which can be worked through at home by all teenage members. As a charity, we take great pride in the fact that our young people have been involved in developing the resource from the very beginning and therefore, we have confidence the Teens Resource will benefit the mental wellbeing of all our young people.

Over the Christmas holidays a Mum to a 16 year old girl with a large CMN on her leg made contact with us. She explained that her daughter had been under the care of a dermatologist until she was 10 years old and then ‘fell off the system.’ CMN had taken a back seat and the family ‘tried not to make a big deal of it.’ However, the older she became the more conscious she was of her CMN and she would wear ‘200 denier tights, even on the hottest day…never wearing anything that reveals it.’

Despite having a good relationship at home, her daughter had kept her feelings bottled up for some time and had developed an eating disorder. This young person had been referred to CAHMS and was on a very long waiting list. Mum wanted to know if there was anyone she could talk to about her birthmark so that she could learn to accept and embrace having CMN.

Our Young Adult Contact, Katy Jackson, who also has CMN on her leg, contacted the family sharing her story and offering a listening ear through a phone call. I mentioned to Mum that we had developed an Online Teens Resource and would be offering walk throughs with parents and young people. We met in January to walk through the Online Teens Resource, the family had had a look at the resource themselves and had decided to start with the ‘Fear Ladder’ self-help tool. The young person doesn’t like to show off her CMN on her leg and has missed opportunities to go swimming with her friends. We talked through the Reassure and Distract Technique, ‘Plan a Response’ and the ‘Fear ladder’ in the toolbox.
It became clear that the young person wasn’t ready to set a goal using the ‘Fear Ladder’ just yet!
Instead we focused on the ‘Catch it, Check it, Change it’ exercise where the young person could focus on being more aware of her thoughts and try to reframe them. We agreed to meet again in 4 weeks.

We met in March, the young person had used the ‘Catch it, Check it, Change it’ resource to detail her thoughts on showing her family her CMN before going on holiday together. She had told her school friends and showed them her birthmark and hadn’t even told her Mum! She had also considered applying for a job which would require her to wear skin-coloured tights- something she would not even have considered before!
Mum reported a big change and the young person feels much happier in herself. The young person knows that she can revisit the resource at any time in the future if these thought patterns return. Using her reframed thought pattern, she feels ready to attempt the ‘Fear Ladder’ and work towards attending a music festival with her friends.

We invited this young person to share her experience of using the Online Teen’s Resource in a podcast with CAR, we expected her to say no but she didn’t! Again, this was a massive development in her confidence! She was very open on the podcast, sharing how much she had been struggling and how much that has changed, she said “nobody should have to feel that they have to hide their birthmark.” The podcast has since been released on ‘Appearance Matters: The Podcast!’ and can be listened to here.

Below is a testimonial from this young person’s Mum;

Ourselves and daughter Becky are new members of CMN. I can honestly say that talking to both Katy and Hannah, has not only been beneficial for Becky, but us as a family too.

Becky has a medium-sized CMN, that’s runs all down her left leg, which she has had since birth. As a family we have tried not to make a big deal of it, as this is her beautiful self, but equally acknowledged that others may stare and say hurtful things. The older she has become the more conscious she is. We have always encouraged Becky to talk to us, however she kept her feelings bottle up for some time.

We first reached out November 2021, looking for help and advice, from people who also have CMN or had a better understanding, to help Becky learn in time to hopefully accept and embrace having a birthmark.
We were sent the welcome pack, that gave us more information than we ever had before, even after visiting a dermatologist up until she was 9 years old. The group has been amazing, especially Katy and Hannah, who have both talked and listened to Becky, whilst sharing their stories too. The teen resource pack she was sent has really helped, it gives her the tools to think about how she feels and how she can turn some of those negative feelings into positives! Since our first call, we were all equally surprised that Becky was even talking about her birthmark to a new group of peers at college, I can safely say this wouldn’t of happened without these guys support and encouragement.

I wonder if we should of reached out earlier, but then I believe in timing, it was the right time for us all. I’m just glad we did!

To find out more about the Online Teen’s Resource click here.

or if you would like to arrange a walk-through of the resource please contact hannah.cree@caringmattersnow.co.uk.