MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - For many years, Mid-South native Jasmine Gray, 29, struggled with the concept of beauty, and a rare birth defect made the challenge even greater.
"I was born with an illness called arteriovenous malformation. And that's basically a long word that means my arteries and my veins are connected incorrectly," said Gray. "As they grew, they began to distort different areas of my face and deform what I look like on the outside."
Puberty was more than just an awkward period for "Jaz." It was also painful. She recalled the tough memories of that time.
"Having to run to the emergency room because you're bleeding all over the bathroom floor and your parents don't know how to stop it," she said.
As a child, she spent months at a time in the hospital, as she underwent more than 40 surgeries.
"I've had surgery where I've woken up and didn't have a face ... to have it rebuilt all over again," said Gray.
Jaz said her friends, family, and her faith provided the strength and push she needed to turn her pain into purpose. Jaz now shares her mantra at speaking engagements, workshops, and through online videos. She also received a master's degree in television and film and started producing a film about survivors of rare birth defects.
"Through those surgeries, I've learned that your sense of who you are as a person can be challenged. When you are taken from a sense of normal--looking like your normal self--to a sense of being, looking like someone on the outside, being outside of traditional forms of beauty," said Gray. "I told myself to say you're worthy, you're valuable. God loves you."
Her social media following took off earlier this year when, for her birthday, she celebrated with a glam photo shoot. Click here for video.The overwhelming response reinforced what it took Jaz years to discover--that beauty truly is more than skin deep.
"For me, understanding who I am in God impacted my identity and my identity impacted my self-worth and my self-worth impacted my sense of beauty," explained Gray.
Jaz also created a children's charity. It's called "Jaz's Jammies" and collects pajamas to be distributed to children in hospitals and homeless shelters. She said it will help to provide a sense of normalcy during tough times. For information on how you can donate, click here.
Her blog, The AVM Project, details the inspiring stories of others across the nation with Arteriovenous Malformations.