How does it feel to bare your spots – and possibly one of your biggest insecurities – to the world? Most people living with vitiligo hope they never have to find out. And yet these eight girls with vitiligo did just that, and shared their emotional first reactions to seeing their portraits with us.
The portraits are part of London-based photographer Brock Elbank’s latest series, “Vitiligo.” Celebrating the beauty of the human form, the series features people of all genders, ages and ethnicities with the condition. His previous series, Freckles, attracted 6,500 applicants from around the world and people from every continent traveled to London for the 175-portrait series.
We asked eight of the girls who have been featured in the series to share their stories with vitiligo and the emotional moment when they saw their photos for the first time. Here’s what they had to say.
Eva Khyne-Sam | 29 years old | London, United Kingdom
“When I was 23 years old, I discovered my first vitiligo spot on my left hand while I was at a friend’s birthday party. I’ve had vitiligo for over six years and today about 15% of my body is covered in vitiligo. It has made me a stronger person. Living with vitiligo has shaped me into who I am today, despite my struggle to accept it at first. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
The first time I saw my photos I was in tears. I called Brock and expressed my emotions and how these photos made me feel accepted. The photos inspired me. They triggered old feelings and they made me realize how far I have come on my vitiligo journey.”
April Mitchell | 26 Years Old | San Diego, California
“My spots first appeared when I was just eight months old and spread rapidly to cover almost half of my body by the time I was four. It did have an effect on my confidence. Being upfront about it and telling people what it is helped a lot. I don’t have to worry about it and it’s not always on my mind. Of course I have my days where I am less confident with it. But 98% of the time I’m fine with my vitiligo and I’m glad I can just be upfront and accepting of it.
I turned on my phone after landing at LAX from London, and the first things to come through were the photos. I didn’t really get emotional while I was there, but as soon as I opened the photos that he sent I started to tear up a little bit. It was amazing how he was able to capture the real me, just as I really see myself in the mirror every day.”
Rochelle Richard | 28 years old | London, United Kingdom
“I’ve had vitiligo for about 18-19 years. My first spot was discovered on my hands at about 11 years old.
Today I have vitiligo on my face, both hands, feet and elbows. Living with it impacts my life in only positive ways now, however it hasn’t always been this way. It used to get in the way of taking big opportunities. For example, I sing, so I used to believe that once I get on stage and sing, people would bypass my voice and stare at my skin which used to make me feel uneasy. Now it’s all positive and I sing everywhere I can! Having vitiligo opens new doors every day and allows new opportunities to be grabbed which I do gladly with both hands.
My reaction to seeing the photos of myself was quite surreal. Before this shoot I had never let any photographers take such close-up shots so not only was it personal, it was another of the moments I realized I had really won the battle I used to fight. The photos were amazing and the feedback was even more amazing. The real Rochelle was captured and I was at ease with that. The inner happiness I felt is shown in the photos. It was a great shoot!”
Lucy Clark | 39 years old | London, United Kingdom
“I’ve had vitiligo for around seven years. I was 32 when I noticed my first white spots, although I think possibly I had some tiny ones under my arms years before that, but I never knew what they were. Vitiligo covers about 15-20% of my skin and most of it is around my hips and under my arms, so isn’t too noticeable, especially in the winter when I’m covered up. When I started to get patches on my arms, hands and neck, I became very self-conscious about it for a few years and for a long time, I only really wore long sleeves and high necked clothes. This was my “dressing like a Victorian” era. Now I am much more relaxed about it and I’ve learned to accept my white spots as part of me. I’m careful in the sun, but other than that, nowadays the vitiligo doesn’t have any impact on my life.
Seeing the photos for the first time was quite emotional. I love Brock’s style and the way he captures the beauty in difference. I felt they were a real celebration of my skin and I was proud that I took the leap into the unknown to be part of the project.”
Bailie McGloin | 19 years old | Manchester, United Kingdom
“I was born with one white patch, but my first vitiligo patches started to appear on my knees when I was around six years old. Today I would say around 40% of my body has vitiligo. I have markings in pretty much every crease and curve even if they are small.
When I see vitiligo on other people, I am in love with it and for some reason have never seen it on myself. The pictures gave me an excitement and a new appreciation for something I very much sometimes take for granted. It got me excited to share them and show them to people who have told me from the beginning how special having vitiligo was.”
Sandra Terepins | 34 years old | San Paulo, Brazil
“I’ve had vitiligo for almost 20 years now. I was turning 15 when I got my first spots on my eyelids. Today I have quite a lot – I would guess something like 40% spread throughout my body. It does impact my life but less than it did before, when I had much less than I do now. I live in a tropical country and am quite exposed to the sun so I have to be extra careful. Sometimes I just don’t feel comfortable wearing all types of clothes – not only because people stare, but also because I don’t feel beautiful. But most importantly, vitiligo changed my life. Even with very few and small spots, I started acting somewhat differently when they appeared, socially exposing myself less than before. I had always been an extrovert and outgoing girl and vitiligo changed that for me. Years have gone by though and I feel a lot more comfortable in my skin now. In fact, I know now that vitiligo has positively affected my life in many ways and I am definitely a better person after all I’ve been through.
Seeing my photo on Brock’s Instagram – I found it extremely strong and beautiful. I got quite emotional about it and saw the real me there.”
Bianca Rosamarie Schönhofer | 24 years old | Austria, Vienna
“I have had vitiligo since I was five or six years old. Over time, vitiligo has made my skin almost entirely white. I get some color back in my spots through the sun. And I’m happy with my vitiligo. I don’t see it as a disease but as art.
When I saw the photos from my shoot with Brock, I was positively shocked – immediately in love my photos.”
Kiera Walcott | 21 years old | Hertfordshire, United Kingdom
“I’ve had vitiligo for 10 years. Today it covers 75% of my face, and I have speckles all over my body and a lot on my forearms and chest. I used to be very depressed and self-conscious and cover up. I still get nervous around new people I come into contact with, but I am fine having my arms out around strangers. I always have a full face of makeup on, but now I have accepted that I have vitiligo so I am not depressed about my face anymore. I am still very conscious about the patches on my chest though – I really don’t enjoy those.
When I got to see my photos from Brock’s shot, I was very happy with them. I was seeing my beauty from someone else’s perspective. It filled me with pride to say it was me.”
Interested in participating in Brock Elbank’s Vitiligo Series? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to receive an automated email reply with the details and how to apply. The series is shot in South East London and participants are responsible for travel. Anyone with vitiligo is encouraged to apply and any age, gender and ethnicity are welcome.
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.