In your lifetime, beauty marks have likely been seen as a sign of, well, beauty. This is partially dictated by Hollywood’s elite. Cindy Crawford, for example, is notorious for her iconic “blemish.” Yet, even she considered having surgery to get rid of it. “I would get teased by the other kids in school, so I definitely wanted to get it removed,” the supermodel told Vogue. These days, Crawford realizes that her well-placed spot helps her remain recognizable and unique. It also helps other women with beauty marks to have an ally with which to identify. Speaking candidly with the magazine, Crawford did admit that she’s still not sure if she’d have added a beauty mark if “designing [her] face from scratch.” Gasp! It’s hard to even imagine Crawford without it.

The American supermodel isn’t the only one with an iconic beauty mark. Kate Upton and Blake Lively have certainly helped the spot stay en vogue today. But, just what is a beauty mark anyway? And why do people love them — or hate them? Here’s the unadulterated truth.

Not all moles are beauty marks

Woman with beauty marks

“All beauty marks are moles,” Neal Schultz, a New York City-based cosmetic and medical dermatologist and host of DermTV, explained. As such, the shape, color, and even texture can vary. This naturally raises the question: Why are there two different names?

“Because the term ‘beauty marks’ has an aesthetic connotation, we generally tend to call moles on the face beauty marks, while the same exact mole elsewhere on the body is just called a mole,” Schultz clarified. So, while Cindy Crawford and other big names with facial moles are often credited with having iconic beauty marks, celebs with body moles aren’t given quite the same label. Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, has been dubbed the “mole-iest” — not most beauty-marked — sex symbol of all time by Slate because her pigmented spots happened to land not just on her face, but on her neck and chest as well. Who knew the social science behind moles could be so complicated?

Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s … a beauty mark

Woman beauty mark cheek

If you’ve ever heard of a beauty mark being labeled a birthmark, that’s not exactly fake news. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there are several kinds of birthmarks, but each one fits into just two main groups: pigmented and vascular.

Pigmented birthmarks simply mean your spots contain more color than other parts of your skin. Moles, Mongolian spots, and cafe-au-lait spots are all considered types of pigmented birthmarks. Vascular birthmarks, on the other hand, are formed when “extra blood vessels … clump together.” Salmon patches (sometimes known as “stork bites”), hemangioma (what some people call “strawberry marks”), and port wine stains, are some common forms of vascular birthmarks.

While vascular birthmarks — like stork bites and strawberry marks — are always something a person is born with, and therefore a real-deal birthmark, pigmented spots — like moles — are a bit more nuanced. You can be born with one, or you can develop one at a later point in your life. Simply put, if a person is born with a mole, it is then also considered a birthmark.

Shakespeare was into them

woman moles neck face

Whether or not your beauty mark is also a birthmark, romanticist William Shakespeare would’ve so been into it. Shakespearean expert and literary historian Stephen Greenblatt lectured students at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on “Shakespearean Beauty Marks.” While much of the world in Shakespeare’s time was focused on “spotless beauty,” the poet and playwright found imperfection to be rather stunning. Much of Shakespeare’s work features “figures who are, in the perception of age, ‘stained,’ and yet whose stain is part of their irresistible, disturbing appeal,” according to Greenblatt.

Innogen from the play “Cymbeline” proves this to be true as she just so happened to have a facial mole, or, beauty mark. “Her mole is not part of any formal perfection, but it is also not an ornament,” Greenblatt explained. “It is a mark of all that Shakespeare found indelibly beautiful in singularity and all that we identify as indelibly singular and beautiful in his work,” the historian further added. That’s right ladies, moles are beautiful.

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