The History Of The Beauty Mark

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Call it what you will: a mole, a lesion, a melanocytic nevus (say that one five times fast). We prefer to refer to a small, brown, raised spot on the face as a beauty mark. Whether it sits above the eyebrow, off-center on the chin, on the cheek, or — in the case of birthday girl Cindy Crawford, who turns 49 today — next to the mouth, that little naturally occurring facial accessory is just too glamorous to be called a word that’s synonymous with a burrowing, bug-eating animal.

There’s nothing intrinsically fancy about a beauty mark. In medical terms, most are the type of melanocytic nevi called compound nevi, slightly raised collections of melanocytes (melanin-forming cells) that range from tan to black in color. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, most appear before your 20th birthday, and those early-forming moles are less likely to develop melanoma than those that form later in life.

Thanks to some sexy beauty influencers over the years, those of us with facial (sweet) spots have the distinct honor of calling them beauty marks — and being proud of them. But, compound nevi haven’t always enjoyed such a fashionable standing. Historically, they’ve been on quite a reputation roller coaster. Read on to learn the turbulent story of the beauty mark. It's what Cindy would want you to do.    
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Ancient Moleosophy
A number of ancient societies — most notably the Greeks and Chinese — practiced moleosophy, or moleomancy, a fortune-telling custom that relied on interpreting the placement of moles.

An ancient Greek manual often attributed to the prophet Melampus, Peri Elaion tou Somatos or On the Olives of the Body, assigns different meanings to moles on various parts of the body and face. For example, a mole on the lips was believed to indicate a tendency to overeat; a mole on the nose was associated with lust.

In traditional Chinese mole reading, that same nose mole indicates what may very well be the opposite of lust: a need to prevent unwanted sexual advances. Hair coming out of a facial mole was considered a good sign, and men were encouraged to let their mole locks flow; women could trim them without any spiritual consequences.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Witchy Women
For many centuries, facial moles were considered the farthest thing from beauty marks. Not only were they regarded as ugly (Ed. note: Rude!) at many points in history, but in the 16th and 17th centuries, they were equated with witchcraft.

During the witch trials of early modern England, inquisitors believed that some moles were “witch’s marks,” indicative of willing servitude to the devil. These inquisitors claimed to be able to tell the difference between a “natural” mole and a witch’s mark, but when the accused would insist that their moles were, in fact, natural, their pleas went largely ignored. In fact, a mole on the eyelid was considered irrefutable proof of being a witch.

Accounts that have survived from this era highlight several examples of people who, in fear of being accused of witchcraft, attempted to cut off their moles. However, this was usually in vain, as scars were also thought of as witch’s marks.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Style & Syphilis
In the 18th century, not long after the witch frenzy died down, facial moles did a complete 180 and came into favor.

Beauty spots became so fashionable among both women and men that those who didn’t have them naturally would wear fake ones. According to Lucy Inglis, author of Georgian London: Into the Streets, patches of black velvet — or, if you were on a budget, mouse skin — were cut into small ovals, and even heart, star, and crescent-moon shapes, and then glued to the face with a mix of glycerin and sturgeon swim-bladder extract. (Worth it!)

The trend caught on with Georgian-era prostitutes, not just because it had come to be known as an attractive feature, but because many exhibited the signs of syphilis on their faces. They used the beauty-mark patches to cover the blemishes that resulted from the disease.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Celebrity Skin
Although the fad of sticking on faux beauty marks faded as the 19th century began, the appeal of facial moles was reignited in the 20th century with the film industry and its stars. Most notably, epic '50s sex symbol Marilyn Monroe inspired throngs of women to use brown or black eyeliner pencils to draw dots on their cheeks. (Fun fact: Monroe’s beauty mark mysteriously disappears from her cheek and moves to her chin in Some Like It Hot.)

Monroe’s massive influence on beauty and style never faded, and it's her we can thank for establishing the mole as a desirable physical characteristic associated with sex appeal for the 20th century (and beyond). A beauty mark even found its way onto Ms. Pac-Man’s face when the game was introduced in 1982.

However, the true second coming of the beauty-mark icon didn’t occur until the late 1980s, when Cindy Crawford became one of the most recognizable models in the world. But, even though she’d become known for her next-to-the-lips mole, the fashion industry initially doubted its appeal, and it was removed from Crawfords first British Vogue cover in January 1987.

It has since become a signature part of Crawford’s look. And, it's helped open doors for other celebrities — like Eva Mendes, Blake Lively, and Natalie Portman — to embrace and flaunt the allure of their own beauty marks.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Faking It
Today, there are lots of ways to fake a beauty mark if genetics didn’t bless you with one.

The easiest one is probably already in your makeup bag: a long-wear, dark-brown eyeliner. Simply draw on a dot where you deem fit, keeping it on the small side to look more believable. Some great options: Sephora Collection Contour Eye Pencil 12hr Wear Waterproof in 13 Tiramisu, Rimmel London ScandalEyes Waterproof Kohl Eyeliner in Brown, and Make Up For Ever Aqua Eyes Waterproof Eyeliner Pencil in 25L Matte Brown.

If you’re worried about smudging and prefer a slightly larger spot, beauty-mark stickers exist! Hottiedots (isn't that fun to say?) come in sheets of 16 — simply peel off when you’re done.

For the more committed (and brave), there’s always the Monroe piercing (some dub it a Crawford). A flat disc anchors this face jewelry above the lip, off to one side; a labret stud or jewel is visible on the outside, mimicking a beauty mark.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
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