How Vitiligo Redefined Beauty for this Former Fashion Photographer
A former fashion photographer, Elisabeth Van Aalderen was immersed in the modeling industry when she first got vitiligo. The little white spots ended up changing her definition of beauty.
“In the fashion industry, everything is judged on beauty. For many years I was part of that culture. Now I believe that beauty is uniqueness found within,” said Elisabeth.
Today the Netherlands native is traveling the world with her camera and a new personal mantra: Dare to stand out. Here’s what she had to say about a life with vitiligo and how it impacts her life as a photographer.
LD: Tell us about your experience with vitiligo. When did you first get white spots and how far has it spread today?
EVA: Approximately 5 years ago – I was 25 at the time – I started to get tiny white spots on my left hand. After a few weeks the small spots turned into one bigger spot. That’s when it all started. Today my skin is 30% covered in vitiligo. The white spots are starting at all the places that are most exposed to the sun, rubbing of clothes, etc. So my face, chest, armpits, underarms, knees, ankles and feet are white.
LD: Have you pursued treatments for vitiligo?
EVA: When I was diagnosed, my doctor sat me down and start telling me how “bad” the situation was. She handed me several folders with titles like, “How to cope with vitiligo,” and she said, “Do not Google it,” I started to freak out a little bit. Was this really such a big deal? After some Google sessions and a lot of talks with friends and family, I started to do skin therapy. Creams, lightening-therapy, a gluten-free diet, a vegetarian-diet, no sun, a lot of sun, yoga – you named it, I tried it. Nothing worked. Eventually I stopped doing treatments because I needed it three times a day and didn’t want my life to be like that. It was so much time wasted on just looking “better.” I would rather spend my time on friends, family and photography. And after all, the spots don’t look that bad!
LD: It sounds like you’ve really embraced your skin. What is your everyday life with vitiligo like? Do you feel confident?
EVA: I have a love-hate relationship with it, which is quite tiring sometimes. The people who are most close to me know I struggle a lot. But I try to stand fierce and have a “screw-it” mentality: I wear bikinis on the beach, I wear shorts in summer and I wear revealing dresses at parties. People used to stare at me a lot, especially in foreign countries. But I am used to it because I’m tall, blonde with blue eyes and spotted skin. Many strangers step up to me and ask about my skin, and I actually like that – no judgement, just curiosity.
LD: When did you first get into photography and how long have you been a freelance photographer?
EVA: I got into photography 10 years ago. I finished my design degree in fashion really young and didn’t know what to do next. I always had a thing for photography, so I decided to study it. I actually used to whine at my mother all the time to get me behind the camera instead of her. Seven years ago, I launched my own company. For many years I did it as a side-project next to my career as a stylist and graphic designer, but now photography is my full-time job. I worked for many small designers on their collections, but also done commercial work for Bestseller, Selected Homme, Pieces, Jack & Jones and several online fashion boutiques. I have also photographed a lot of models for casting agencies. Now I mostly work on my own projects, and those photos will be available on my website for sale soon. I also have companies that I’ve worked for in the Netherlands, and they are still my clients.
LD: Has photography helped you deal with your vitiligo?
EVA: Yes. Photography is a part of me, because it’s my passion, my work. When I’m creating new stuff I don’t think about vitiligo. I can only think about the image I have in my head, the model I need to comfort or the surrounding I need to cope with. It’s a place where you don’t get judged, a place full of your own creativity and free spirit.
LD: It’s unique to see someone who loves to take pictures get on the other side of the camera, and even rarer given your vitiligo. You don’t feel camera-shy with your skin?
EVA: It feels quite natural to me, because I often test the light or try different set ups with myself as the model. Before I never used those pictures, but I feel like I have a story to tell with my vitiligo, so it feels good to express myself in that way.
LD: How has living with vitiligo changed your life?
EVA: Having vitiligo is a big part of my life. I believe that I have vitiligo for a reason, it’s my biggest and most difficult journey of self-acceptance. I used to work in the fashion industry, where everything is judged on beauty. For many years I was part of that culture. Now I believe that beauty is uniqueness found within. Why try to fit in when you were born to be unique? Dare to stand out. That’s my biggest goal.
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Her first spots appeared on her spine when she was seven years old and today vitiligo covers her entire body. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.