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  • Gemma Elaine

Week 2: Narrowing the focus and researching the topic

Updated: Aug 5, 2021

My Question

This week I continued to try and narrow my focus and come up with a research question that is narrow enough that I can research the topic successfully but broad enough that I can find information and a design solution. My previous questions were too broad and didn't necessarily lend themselves to a design solution.

This week I narrowed my question to

"How might we help promote good self-esteem in children with prominent birthmarks"

My supervisor was happy with this question overall but not completely sold on the word "help", but she said at this stage it's enough to go forward. She suggested that perhaps the amendments of "support parents in supporting their children to have good self-esteem" to the question.

I had originally had the terms "sense of self" and "personal identity" but it was suggested that these terms a exceedingly broad and complex and using "self-esteem" would be better for me to explore.

Notes from Class

What I read this week

This week I explored Griffiths Southbank QCA library and found some promising literature on Picture Books. However, I was unable to borrow them as I did not have my student ID. I plan on borrowing them in the future. There were the following:

What are birthmarks?

I also researched different types of birthmarks and pigmentation disorders as I feel those with those conditions could face a similar stigma to those with birthmarks and are worth researching. Currently, I've researched each condition broadly and haven't explored and comorbidities or syndromes that are associated with them. I laid out my findings in Miro (a seriously great tool for exploring your research and ideas).

Some of these conditions are often temporary, such as the Salmon Patch and Strawberry Naevus and others are permanent (Port wine stain etc) without any medical intervention (such as laser treatment). Melasma is a condition that can affect those on hormone treatments (such as the contraceptive pill) or during pregnancy where dark patches appear on the cheeks. Babies are born with albinism and vitiligo typically manifests between the ages 10-30. I'd theorize that the experience between those with conditions that manifest and those who are born with them may have some nuanced differences as those with whom their condition manifests later may remember a time without it. This may be a case between mourning what once was and mourning what never was.

Birthmarks in Culture

Another area I research was some of the cultural representations and myths that revolve around birthmarks. The research is still just beginning.


As breakdowns and scholarly exams focused on the short story "The Birthmark" by Nathaniel Hawthorne kept coming up in my search results I thought I'd best give it a read.

A scientist (of the Frankenstein science-fantasy vein) marries a woman with a small hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek. He grows fixated with it and obsessed with its removal. The wife previously at peace with her mark and having received affection for it in the past becomes determined to have it removed with her husband's manipulation. Throughout the story the mark is referred to as the "fatal mark" and the scientist is repulsed by it. However by the end of the story the scientist successfully removes the birthmark but also removes the link his wife had to an "angelic" being that had been granting her life, thus leading to her death.

Reading this as someone with a birthmark of much more substance than the poor woman in this story was like reading an extremely personalized horror story. Feminist readings aside the whole story is quite horrifying. I don't believe we're meant to sympathize with the scientist and instead see him as the "monster" in the story for his obsession with perfecting and for reaching too close to the domain of God.

It did introduce a myth I heard growing up, the one of an angelic touch. In the story, it is literally keeping someone alive. The version I heard growing up it was where an angel touched you and gave you a blessing.

Maternal Impression

Something that was once popular belief was that of "maternal impression" the idea that something the mother sees or experiences whilst pregnant can imprint or manifest on her unborn child. This was not exclusive to birthmarks but in this case, if a pregnant mother experienced a strong emotion then touched a part of her body it was believed that her baby will have a mark on its corresponding body part. Another is if the mother experiences strong cravings for a particular food the baby would have a mark that resembled that food - in fact, some languages reflect this myth in their languages with the word for birthmark translating as "cravings". Another belief was one that involved the nature of conception. This seems to be linked to ancient Jewish law and the story of Jacob and Laban in the Bible (Genesis 30.25-36). The myth being that conception during a woman's menstrual period would lead to the baby being born with a port-wine stain.

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