What is beauty? Is it all about the flawless appearance or does being unique also play a role?

Proudly known as a “vitiligo spokesmodel”, Winnie Harlow is an influential activist changing the face of fashion and beauty.

Discovered on Instagram by America’s Next Top Model creator Tyra Banks, Winnie Harlow is now one of the world’s most recognisable models. She has vitiligo all over her body, which is particularly visible on her face as asymmetrical white spots that surround her eyes, nose, lips and chin. Yet, she’s walked countless runways, appeared in Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade, and became a role model to her 4.6 million followers on Instagram.

It seems as if not all women who strut the catwalk conform to the ideals of beauty, however, vitiligo is not simply a cosmetic condition. It is a disease – an autoimmune disease – that causes the immune system to attack skin cells, resulting in loss of pigment. It can affect any area of the skin, but commonly occurs on skin that has been exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck and hands.

Weak correlations between vitiligo and endocrinopathies, Type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia areata are also observed. In small studies it was found that vitiligo might negatively affect hearing and eyesight.

Vitiligo affects one in every hundred people and can strike anyone at any time. It is in no way a life-threatening disease. However, it is life-changing. In fact, most people with vitiligo don’t feel beautiful or even comfortable with regard to their appearance. There’s no doubt that the aesthetic changes and visible differences can cause significant psychological issues. It is a personal struggle that, in spite of the visible traits, is largely invisible to the rest of the world.

Most sufferers want to get rid of it, and many are devastated by it. Some are so ashamed of how they look that they refuse to leave their homes in daylight, they quit their jobs, and they lose relationships. For sufferers it is not uncommon to deal with bullying, social neglect, physiological trauma and depression.

Can vitiligo be cured? Scientists have not yet discovered the exact cause of this disease and suspect that genetics could also play a role. There are no proven remedies to cure it. A combination of medical creams and light therapy, as well as makeup to cover the light areas of the skin may improve appearance.

Michael Jackson revealed his painful struggle with vitiligo in an interview with Oprah and eventually used the depigmentation cream, monobenzone to remove the remaining pigment to even the colour of his skin. A safe way to cover up vitiligo for those who feel the need to, is by using camouflage products. It contains up to 25% more pigment than normal cosmetic foundations and tend to be waterproof.

Messages of diversity and inclusion are becoming more prominent because of people like Winnie Harlow. Vitiligo awareness is on the rise.

Why is there a stigma around being different when we are all different?

Source: unmassmed.edu, health.com, metro.co.uk, medicinenet.com, health24.com, livingdappled.com, vrfoundation.org, womanshealthmag.com, harpersbazaar.com

DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.