GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — Not long after Lauren Bednarz was born, doctors noticed a problem with her heart.
She was missing one of two ventricles that pump blood throughout the body, the result of congenital heart defects, and required two open-heart surgeries by the time she was 2 years old.
“The surgeries that I had rerouted everything,” she said, “where just the left side of my heart works.”
Now 31, Bednarz has gotten used to telling the story of the scar still visible on her chest, and on a recent Sunday, she took it a step further, sitting for a photo shoot with a Georgetown photographer for a new project that showcases women and girls with scars to help erase the stigma.
“Some women, especially, may feel like they are broken, like they’re not perfect, they should hide away, they’re ugly,” Bednarz said. “We’re not broken.”
That’s the message Nichola Cotto, who goes by Nick, wants to communicate through her new nonprofit, We Are Not Broken.
Since January, she’s taken pictures of more than a dozen women and girls showing off their scars to combat the idea that women should look a certain way. The project concept came to her when a friend agreed to let her photograph her following two major surgeries.
“I put a call out to take pictures of women with scars, and the next morning I woke up and my inbox was full,” Cotto said. “And I knew right then and there, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
The photo shoots are free for the subjects, and Cotto gives them all the photos to use and share as they please. She also shares the stories on her website and Facebook page.
Cotto is working to expand We Are Not Broken to the rest of the country and beyond. Through donations, she acquired a camper that she plans to outfit as a mobile studio to take across the country, and she already has plans to head to Tennessee in August to photograph women there. She’s also in talks with a woman in Toronto to take pictures of her, as well.
“I just want to capture their true, raw, natural beauty,” she said.
Cotto knows not all women will be comfortable sharing their scars with the world, and she doesn’t want anyone to feel like they have to; her goal is simply to provide a new avenue for people to define for themselves what their scars mean.
“So many people have this thing, like, if you have scars on you, like my open heart surgery scars or any scars, that you’re automatically different or you don’t fit a persona that’s out there in society, and it’s totally ridiculous,” Bednarz said. “Scars are cool. They tell a story.”
She was a little self-conscious about her scar as a teenager, but her parents offered her support and confidence that she knows not everyone has. She hopes her involvement with the project encourages others to see their own scars in a different light, whether they take part in the project or not.
“Wear them as a badge of honor,” she said. “They’re the reason why you’re here.”
Cotto is always looking for new subjects to photograph. Now retired from her career as a strength and conditioning coach, she sees We Are Not Broken as her mission in this new phase of her life.
“You have that scar to prove that you’re alive, that you’re living, that you have another day on earth,” she said. “So live it. Tell your story; be bold about your story.”