A powerful portrait series shows us the beauty of birthmarks.

Linda Hansen got her start doing commercial photography in Denmark. But she knew she wanted to use her camera for more than just selling products.

After experimenting with a few different projects (she once traveled the country photographing and interviewing other women named Linda Hansen!), it was a conversation with an old friend that sparked what would become her most important work to date.

Hansen's friend, a woman she had known since childhood, had a unique and distinctive birthmark on her face (called nevus flammeus nuchae or sometimes a "port wine stain"). They'd often talk about how people reacted seeing her on the street and some of the strange (and mean) comments she'd get.


"I got the idea that I have to take photos. I have to meet and talk with these people," Hansen says.

Hansen began searching for more people like her friend for a series of portraits. Surprisingly, they were incredibly easy to find.

A casual casting call on Facebook got shared hundreds of times. Hansen started noticing people on the street who might fit the bill. Friends and acquaintances connected her with potential models.

Seemingly everyone knew someone with a birthmark they'd be proud to contribute to her project. (According to WebMD, about 1 in 300 babies are born with some form of the condition).

All photos by Linda Hansen, used with permission.

In her portraits, Hansen aims to challenge how we all see and treat each other. And ourselves.

One of the models, a man, was extremely nervous. He had only let people photograph him from his "good side" for as long as he could remember. And only in black and white.

A head-on, color portrait filled him with dread. But he pushed through.

"I was really surprised what people can say to each other. [The models] get a lot of rude comments," Hansen says. "Sauce face, pizza face." And that's not the worst of it.

She says doesn't understand how we can celebrate the beautiful uniqueness of, say, tattoos but look away from nature's own marks.

In her photos, Hansen challenges us to not look away. To not stare or sneak a glance. But to truly see and eventually see past the things that make us different.

"When we know each other well, the way we look isn't important anymore," she says. "So much worry about how we look, for who? For people we don't know."

She says society tells us we all need to be alike. Photoshopped models and celebrities convey the message "No wrinkles, no scars, no spots, no nothing," Hansen says.

"We all have our small differences, and that's what makes us human and unique."

All in all, Hansen took 32 portraits and compiled them into a book, called "Naevus Flammeus."

She's hoping the portraits, along with notes on the history of birthmarks and discussion of how (and, more importantly if) they should be treated, will make us all more aware of what makes us different; whether it's a birthmark, a scar, a set of wrinkles, or even something unseen by the naked eye altogether.

Because what makes us different is ultimately what makes us human.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.