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How Art Helped This Graphic Design Student See Her Own Beauty

How Art Helped This Graphic Design Student See Her Own Beauty

girl with vitiligo in designer gown

Graphic design student Daniele Lee didn’t set out to become a model. Yet, in the past year she’s appeared in advertisements in the New York Times and walked for The Real Catwalk, a body positive non-profit started by America’s Next Top Model Season 24 contestant Khrystyana Kazakova. Now, the student, artist and graphic designer is sharing how her creativity has helped her come into her own. 

Name: Daniele Lee 
Age: 19 
Hometown: Great Neck, NY 
Number of years with vitiligo: 7 

LD: Hi Daniele, tell us a bit about yourself.

DL: I am currently a sophomore at Binghamton University, pursuing graphic design. I have immense passion for the arts. Some of my hobbies include dancing and playing with my dogs. I am a big foodie and I love fashion.  

LD: Would you like to tell us about your journey with vitiligo?

DL: I developed vitiligo when I was twelve years old. From then on, I struggled tremendously with self esteem, falling in and out of feeling incredibly insecure.  I often look back to the times where I couldn’t even leave the house without makeup. However, I slowly began to see clarity within my situation. I began to channel my thoughts and feelings through my artwork, dance and writing. The courage buried deep underneath began to resurface. I was determined to redefine myself by taking every opportunity to show the world the person I had become. 

LD: You mentioned earlier that you’re also passionate about the arts. I’ve also read that you created an impactful series of self portraits focusing on the progression of your vitiligo. Can you tell us a little bit more about that series, and your journey as an artist? 

DL: For my AP studio art concentration, I decided to paint portraits of myself. I struggled to actually pull through with the project because I never really liked how I looked. It took the whole school year to do so. Painting yourself makes you study your features and really examine yourself, visually. It was kind of a therapeutic thing for me. It helped me to put myself out there and be fearless. It was featured for the whole school to see and I was really proud of myself. I had many people come up to me and say that they were proud of me. I think that putting yourself out there and taking that risk will lead to some amazing experiences. 

portrait of woman with vitiligo with sunbeam behind her
Art by Daniele Lee

LD: You’ve certainly done that. The last year or so has been busy for you. You’ve been featured in ads for Glossier and walked for The Real Catwalk. How did you get involved in each of those projects, and what were those experiences like? 

DL: I never really did any modeling before. I’ve only done some photoshoots with my friends for fun. I reached out to Glossier over Instagram and I said I would love to be featured. I wasn’t really thinking anything would come out of it. They got back to me and offered me a campaign. I was really honored that they trusted me to fulfill their vision.

As for The Real Catwalk, Khrystyana is the sweetest person. She reached out to me to see if I wanted to do The Real Catwalk. I had worked with one of her friends who was a photographer before. The experience was amazing. The most inspiring part was looking at the other participants’ faces and expressions after they walked the runway. They all seemed to be glowing with pride, happiness and fulfillment. Seeing everyone’s reaction after, I could tell that this walk meant something special to each one of them. As for me, the moment I took the fabric off, I was on a euphoric high. I’ve never felt so empowered! The most rewarding part of my experience with these professional projects is when people with vitiligo reach out and ask how I am so confident. I never thought I could be an inspiration to others. 

LD: How has becoming a model affected your relationship with your vitiligo? 

DL: I definitely saw the power of seeing yourself in a positive light. I think it’s really hard to think of ourselves as beautiful. But we are. Our bodies are beautiful. I think that my relationship with vitiligo has definitely changed. I think that modeling has shown that our differences should be celebrated. 

LD: You seem to be so comfortable with putting yourself out there. What advice would you give other women with vitiligo? 

DL: I think there are so many ways that can help you feel beautiful and confident. I think having a good support system is super important. I had my art, but it could be anything from journaling to photography to having a fashion show in your room. It is such a personal journey. Vitiligo is a beautiful thing and I think that if you can’t see it for yourself there are so many other people out there that think it is absolutely beautiful. 

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