Vitiligo and the Body Positive Movement

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Vitiligo and the Body Positive Movement

It’s your time to shine—yes, even if you have vitiligo or another skin altering condition. The body positive movement is all about raising awareness on the importance of accepting your skin and your body — no matter what it looks like. Take a look at social influencer Ash Soto’s story.

One of the most-troubling consequences of vitiligo is the effect it can have on one’s emotional health and self-esteem. Appearing as white patches on the skin, which result when pigment-producing cells in the body are destroyed, vitiligo can negatively affect a person’s body image and quality of life.

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Eagan, Minnesota, and a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, says it can be particularly distressing to develop the condition at a young age, when individuals are also developing self-esteem and forming their identities. For one of his teenage patients, the experience was very traumatic, Dr. Crutchfield says.

“He said oftentimes he would go to the store and people would refuse to put change in his hand because they were afraid to touch him. If he was in a relationship, people would end the relationship thinking he had a disease they could catch. It’s very emotionally charged,” Crutchfield says.

Adding to the troubling element of vitiligo is the fact that there’s no way to stop it from spreading or recurring. And there’s no way to tell how much of the skin will be affected. That wait-and-see element can add to the distress.

But an increasing number of stories show encouraging news about vitiligo and body image. Individuals with the skin condition are becoming more vocal about accepting and loving their skin and their bodies as is.

Ash Soto is one of those people. The 22-year-old Orlando, Florida, native uses Instagram (where her account, @radiantbambi, has more than 150,000 followers) to put her vitiligo on full display. Her photos are accompanied by inspiring captions urging her followers to love themselves and be body positive no matter what you look like.

But she says she didn’t always have such an optimistic outlook.

Learning How to Accept Your Body — and How Vitiligo Was Changing It — Was Trying, Soto Says

“I got diagnosed around the age of 12,” Soto says. “It started as a little white spot on my neck. A couple of months passed by and I realized another one had appeared, and I knew something wasn’t right.”

Her dermatologist diagnosed her on the spot. Fear and confusion came next. “I had never heard of vitiligo and had no idea what was going to happen to me,” Soto says. “I didn’t know how fast these changes were going to occur.”

Soto says she was picked on by other kids at school, which, when combined with the fact that she wasn’t comfortable in her skin, made her hate going to school every day. “I’d come up with any reason not to go because I didn’t want the kids to make fun of me again,” she says. “I didn’t get to go to dances or hang out with friends. I was in the state of mind that I couldn’t even do that.”

She would wear oversize sweaters because they covered up her skin and made her feel safe.

Going through puberty while grappling with her diagnosis was extremely challenging. “I feel like it was really hard for me to hear people say things about my skin when I was trying to learn how to accept it myself,” she says.

After all, she wasn’t born with the condition. She needed to come to terms with what was happening to her skin and realize there wasn’t much she could do to stop it.

Read on: Vitiligo and the Body Positive Movement

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