Beauty Mark: APU Alumna’s Book Inspires a Movement for Young Girls

by Madison Hoff

Crooked teeth, love handles, freckles, and acne are just a few of the perceived flaws that prevent many young girls from thriving. For Jennifer Vassel, M.A. ’12, it was the birthmark that covers her shoulder and part of her back—the imperfection she sought to cover any way she could. “Before my prom, I hired a makeup artist to cover it because I wanted to look beautiful.” After years of hiding, Vassel emerged from the harsh realm of adolescence and began to see what some people call an angel kiss as her unique story to share, so she decided to pursue her lifelong passion for writing. She asked herself, “How can I manifest this vision God has given me?”

Through her writing talent and desire to emancipate other girls from the prison of self-criticism, Vassel turned her struggles with childhood insecurity into a powerful movement that helps young girls confront and overcome their own seen and unseen birthmarks.

To Vassel, an empowered woman is not one devoid of fear, but one who courageously takes the next steps toward her goals despite the fear she feels. Erin, the heroine in Vassel’s children’s book I Am Unique! (Budding Rose Publications, 2016) embodies this mindset. A young girl with a knack for acting and a large birthmark on her face, Erin longs to audition for the lead role in the school play. When her best friend questions her eligibility for the role because of her imperfection, Erin must decide if she will let doubt deter her from her dreams or rise above the negativity. Erin’s ability to pursue her purpose in the face of fear models Vassel’s courage. The fictional Erin represents countless girls her age struggling with lack of self-esteem. Real Girls, Real Pressure, a 2008 report conducted by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, reported that 62 percent of girls are insecure, 70 percent feel as though they do not measure up, and 6 out of 10 are so concerned with their appearance that they opt out of participating fully in daily life. These feelings begin as early as age 7, which makes Erin and the I Am Unique! movement—which has reached young women in the United States, Africa, United Kingdom, Philippines, and Australia—the perfect platform for young girls to discover self-love.

Erin and her story are poised to make their way off the pages of the book and into classrooms. Vassel partnered with an educator to develop a curriculum for girls based on self-love, with the goal of integrating the curriculum into schools and youth programs. She aligned the content to Common Core standards, and created activities aimed at inspiring girls, fortifying confidence, and identifying gifts. Vassel also created a parent guide, which includes activities and discussion questions to encourage open and honest conversations between the parent and child.

Erin’s journey mirrors the author’s own progression from doubtful to doubtless—Vassel also had to shift her mindset to see her vision come to fruition. The first in her family to venture into “authorpreneurship,” Vassel faced the fear of the unknown. She learned how to pitch her business at APU through the ZuVenturez program. Under the leadership of Jay Sherer ’03, MBA ’07, APU’s director of innovation and entrepreneurship, Vassel honed her vision and gained the knowledge to give it legs. “ZuVenturez gave me the infrastructure to confidently present my business to potential investors, if I choose to go that route.”

Vassel now shares her God-given light with those around her. She holds live events so that her young audience can see the person behind the book and witness success in the flesh. Whether speaking to a crowd or speaking one on one with a little girl, Vassel’s purpose is clear—to nurture a generation of women who learn to love who they are, realize their purpose, and achieve their dreams.

Madison Hoff is a freelance writer and English teacher living in Sioux City, Iowa. madisonhoff34@gmail.com