“I grew up getting medical treatments, and people would always stare and make comments, but at the same time I would totally forget about it,” the 25-year-old from Fresno, California, tells PEOPLE. “When I was a kid, I was more concerned with the next Barney episode or playing Legos with my cousin.”
Hodges’ self-confidence was shaken when a photo was taken from her personal blog and turned into a viral Internet meme in 2014 with the text, “1 like = beautiful,” mocking her appearance.
“I really didn’t have any insecurities until I went viral on Facebook,” she says. “That opened a whole door of insecurities I never knew I had. I read about 30,000 comments, but there were way more than that. For the first time in my life, I saw myself through the eyes of thousands of strangers. It was a very confusing time and made me question a lot of things.”
Hodges admits that moving past her public ridicule was a difficult process.
“I had great days when I thought, ‘Something amazing can come of this.’ But I did have days of, ‘This is terrible and I don’t know what to do,’ ” she says. “There were self pity days, but I realized on the self pity days I was only seeing the small pieces of the puzzle. I decided that anything is possible, so I made my dream board and wrote down a bunch of my dreams that I wanted to do so I could change my focus and my attitude the moment I opened my eyes.”
Hodges says her friends also rallied around her, making staying positive easier.
“My friend base has been super supportive and encouraging, keeping me accountable,” she says.
Now, Hodges is back in a positive place, and continues to share her journey living with her birthmark as well as writing uplifting and inspirational posts for her personal blog.
“My blog has morphed as I’ve grown,” she says. “One blog entry turned into another and another. It’s morphed into sharing my story as things happen. It’s been unexpected but fun. I love my birthmark, and I wish that other people could see it the way I see it.”
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Hodges — who chooses not to wear makeup to cover up her port wine stain because she found the thick foundation to be uncomfortable — says her blog has enabled her to reach other people who may have similar birthmarks or other features that they feel self-conscious about.
“A lot of people with birthmarks or similar conditions will email me and say, ‘I thought I was the only one,’ ” she says. “A really common one is, ‘I wish I had a voice,’ ‘I wish I felt like I could share my story or my picture.’ Even people who don’t have birthmarks or physical differences are drawn to it. While it’s an external stain, a lot of people feel internally stained, or they feel like other people stare at a feature, or they don’t like their hair or their weight, or they have a past regret. A lot of people feel voiceless.”