I have vitiligo. It runs in the family. My dad has it, his dad had it. So along with the Prance family dashing good looks (what?), I inevitably got it. It’s a part of my personal DNA and is something that people first notice about me. It’s around this time of year that it inevitably becomes more noticeable – as my skin gets darker, the white gets whiter. So while I have always loved summer, I have always spent it a) getting spray tanned so you can’t see the white parts, and b) arming myself with a barrier up against all the inevitable stares/glances/well-meaning questions. Of course when I was younger it was bad, so, so bad. A tall, painfully thin teenager does not want to be any more conspicuous than she already is.
But oh, how times have changed. As a busy working mum of two young girls, I no longer have the time or inclination to spend my Saturdays in a tanning booth*, so more often than not, my white bits are fully on display. The reason? Perhaps it’s to do with age, the wonderful inner clarity that comes with growing older and (slightly) wiser and to not care so much. But I do also feel strongly that the recent shift in the global mindset of inclusivity has a lot to do with it. As a child when the ‘What’s that on your hands’ questions came, I would burn red and use humour as a defence mechanism, mumbling something about being the same as Michael Jackson. Now, when people enquire, I stand tall and say, “Oh you know Winnie Harlow, yeah, I’m like that supermodel.”
As we know, the industry can often take a lot of heat. The models are too skinny – bad role models – the models are too pale, too dark, too this, too that. But in my humble opinion, the beauty and fashion industry is rocking it of late.
Photographer Peter DeVito recently released a series of photographs of models with vitiligo, albinism, freckles and birth marks, telling Teen Vogue he created the artwork to “empower more people and to help normalize skin conditions”. And while Teen Vogue slightly contradicted his message, writing, ‘beauty is more than skin deep’, a statement surely suggesting that those with skin conditions are not beautiful on the outside too, DeVito’s thought was there. Missguided has recently launched its #inyourownskin campaign featuring six models with different skin types, while CoverGirl used a model with vitiligo for the first time.
And while we might not all the way there, yet, we’re taking it one step at a time. Yes there may be also be some suggestions that models with different skin conditions/disabilities should be the norm, and not a commodity to capitalize on. However, I truly believe this will be the case ten years down the line. There won’t be news stories about these models, or photographers creating projects about skin condition, as it will be the norm for these models to be used alongside those models without the differences.
Having a daughter who also shows signs of carrying on the vitiligo family tradition, I truly hope that this happens before she becomes aware. In the words of Isabella, a 17-year-old model for the Missguided campaign, “But, ultimately, the goal is to have a mixture of women in the same space, so women with a disability or disfigurement are also considered normal.”
*I’m not saying I never spray tan, obviously.