You may have seen Bianca Schönhofer on TV recently. As one of the new faces of Venus, she’s making waves as the first vitiligo model for the razor brand. But what’s more inspiring is her unwavering confidence – despite dealing with both vitiligo and a hearing impairment since a young age. Find out how the international model used a love of photography to fuel a bold career.
Hometown: Austria, Vienna
Years with vitiligo: 20
How long have you been modeling and how did you get started?
At the age of 16 I received a reflex camera from my parents because I always got good grades. I started taking pictures and one day I saw a picture of my spot. I was so fascinated – I hadn’t really noticed my vitiligo before. I started to love my spots more and more and so I took more photos of myself and put them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the spots was a kind of therapy for me to build my self-confidence. At the time I never thought I would become a model. Then a photographer on Facebook found my pictures. And that’s how my modeling career started.
Tell us your story about life with vitiligo.
I’ve had vitiligo since I was a toddler. Today I have spots on my face, back and arms. The spots are constantly changing. In the summer they get more noticeable as my skin gets darker and in the winter the spots regress again. Sometimes I also get spots on my legs when I wear shorts, but they go away quickly.
How has living with vitiligo impacted your life?
I knew that I was different early on. It was hard when the other teenagers called me names, laughed at me and made me feel like an outsider. I was and am grateful to the people who stood by me and took me as I was. Today, I’m the person I always wanted to be – self-confident and strong. Vitiligo no longer affects my everyday life.
You also live with a hearing impairment – what’s that like?
I’ve been hearing impaired since I was little, which means that I am deaf in my left ear and I wear a hearing aid in my right ear. I find it difficult to hear. For years, I have been learning to read lips and sign language. I’m always trying to make the best of it.
You’re living with two things that most people would find difficult – a hearing impairment and vitiligo. What’s your secret to confidence?
It is and always will be hard for me. Just the thought that at some point I’ll become completely deaf and no longer be able to listen to music scares me. There are also days when I just feel ugly and different. But of course, those feelings are short-lived. I always try to make the best of it. I’ll become deaf? No problem. I’ve learned sign language and I’m part of the deaf world. If I can’t hear well, at least I can communicate with my hands and understand the language. If I feel bad and ugly, I know what I can do to get better – take a few more pictures. We should always do what makes us happy. It opens doors.
You recently got the chance to model for a Venus commercial. What was that like?
I’m so happy to be the first model with vitiligo for Venus– it’s a big deal. I was browsing Instagram one day and got a notification – I had a new comment from Ground Glass Media about a modeling gig. Just days later, after submitting my application, I did a Skype interview. Five days later, I was on a flight to Mexico for filming. The two-day shoot was intense, but I’m so thankful for the experience. I got to know so many women who were strong and beautiful in their own way.
What other modeling jobs have you landed?
At the moment, you can see me at Kids of the Diaspora for the Designer Leni Charles. She is so great, and her clothing collection stands for inclusion and integrity. I’m also featured in a new music video by Der-Con, an Australian rapper, that will be released soon. I was honored to participate as a model –he has vitiligo too, so it goes without saying that I’m happy to support him.
What’s your advice for others living with vitiligo?
Accept your vitiligo as part of your life. I know you’ve heard that before and you’ll hear it again. I always present my vitiligo as art in exhibitions that many people want to see. Something special and new.
Photo of Bianca Rosemarie by Anna Besko
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. 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.