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From being cruelly branded a Dalmatian as a child to being celebrated as a confident Instagram star with 116K followers, Yulianna Yussef's journey to self-acceptance is one of courage and resilience in the face of bullying and discrimination.
Yulianna's birthmarks once made her feel like an outcast. She remembers being called a Dalmatian, a giraffe, and a cow. People avoided her, afraid her birthmarks would "jump at them" if they spoke to her, and told her she needed to take a shower to clean the "mud" on her body.
But Yulianna refused to let their hurtful words define her. Instead, she turned to social media to share her story and educate others about congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN).
Now, she's an Instagram influencer with a massive following of fans who look up to her as a role model for self-love and acceptance.
The Ukrainian-mixed Lebanese native, who is currently living in Poland, was born with a rare and large birthmark that extends along her entire back - a condition known as congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN). While approximately one percent of babies are born with CMN, they are often smaller in size. In some cases, the marks may also be accompanied by hair growth.
In addition to the CMN that extends from her back to her front, Yulianna's dermatologist estimates she has "around 2000" birthmarks on the rest of her body.
Looking back at her childhood trauma, Yulianna shared that she was once a carefree child who paid little attention to her birthmark - until she turned eight.
She started noticing that she was "different" and became more aware of the stares and glares directed at her birthmark. Some parents even went as far as to forbid their children from playing with her, afraid that she "was contagious".
At the peak of the bullying, around age 14, Yulianna rarely ventured outside, only daring to do so under the cover of darkness to avoid the cruel comments. Strangers often offered her unsolicited advice on how to remove her birthmarks – often referring to them as "ugly warts", leaving her feeling unlovable and unwanted.
"I was made to believe nobody would ever love 'a girl with a black and hairy back'," she shared. "My childhood was a difficult and traumatic time."
After years of 'hiding', hating herself and being 'afraid' of people, she thought the only way to move forward was to boost her own confidence.
After years of hiding, despising herself, and fearing people, Yulianna realised that the only way to move forward was to build her confidence.
"I made a decision. The decision was to be happy, healthy, feel beautiful and confident and sexy in my own skin, and I am now. But it's been a long way to this," she insisted.
Yussef began documenting her life – and her struggles on social media. Today she has 116K followers on Instagram and receives praise from hundreds of strangers, calling her 'beautiful' and 'strong' for speaking out.
Yulianna's posts are more than just pretty pictures - they're a testament to her mission of showing others that living a normal life is possible despite the challenges of her condition. Her Instagram showcases the beauty of CMN, while highlighting the realities of living with it. For example, the birthmarks increase her risk of developing melanoma, and some days she wakes up fearing any changes in colour or growth.
Additionally, Yulianna frequently answers questions about the condition - including the fact that they are not treatable, contagious, or inheritable, that they can be "fluffy" and have hair on them, and, in some cases, they can be incredibly itchy, especially for children.
In one of her posts, Yulianna explained, "My goal has always been to demonstrate that yes, you can live a sort of normal existence no matter what the condition".
She wrote, "Some days I wake up in fear, spending hours checking each and every birthmark, looking for any changes in colour, thickness, growing spectrum, because the reality is I worry, of course, I do. But, after years of hating my skin and this condition, I finally accept myself, birthmarks and all. My skin no longer prevents me from living an adventurous existence and wearing whatever I want."
Over the past five years, Yulianna has dedicated herself to promoting awareness of CMN, skincare, and skin cancer and has made significant strides as the CEO and founder of a revolutionary device called the NEVISCOPE.
The NEVISCOPE is a small, innovative medical device that can be easily connected to a smartphone. With its professional-grade camera, the NEVISCOPE is able to capture high-quality images of any changes in the skin. These images can then be sent to an app that utilises AI and connects users with dermatologists and doctors who can provide e-consultations within 36 hours. This device has the potential to save lives by detecting skin cancer at an early stage.
The inspiration for the NEVISCOPE came from Yulianna's personal experience of having melanoma and not being able to visit her dermatologist. She took photos of her skin with her iPhone and sent them to her doctor, but he was unable to diagnose her condition without a dermatoscope. Thus, Yulianna created a pocket-sized device that would make it easy for anyone to capture high-quality images of their skin and send them to a doctor or dermatologist for a consultation.
The NEVISCOPE is not only helpful in detecting melanoma but can also detect other forms of skin cancer. Yulianna is also committed to using the profits from her device to help children who have cancer.
Featuring: Yulianna Yussef
When: 28 Mar 2023
Credit: Yulianna Yussef/Cover Images
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