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How Winnie Harlow Inspired Miss Great Britain Glasgow to Embrace Her Vitiligo

How Winnie Harlow Inspired Miss Great Britain Glasgow to Embrace Her Vitiligo

Anonymous
Woman with vitiligo on her hands and feet

Nine years ago, a young woman who’d spent almost a decade trying to hide or disguise her vitiligo watched Winnie Harlow compete on “America’s Next Top Model.” That moment—of seeing a model who looked like her—sparked a journey of self-acceptance for Scotland native Aimee McKay. By sharing her story with others and simply letting people see her vitiligo, Aimee found the self-confidence to embrace her spots.

Although she had “zero experience,” in 2023 Aimee took a courageous step to compete in the Miss Great Britain beauty pageant. She went on to be crowned Miss Great Britain Glasgow, but her real victory was the liberation she felt when she stood before the judges in a swimsuit and zero fake tan and didn’t feel worried about how her vitiligo looked. 

We talked to Aimee about her struggles with self-esteem after getting vitiligo at age 10, her whirlwind first year as a beauty pageant competitor and how she hopes to inspire younger women to embrace themselves just as they are: “perfectly imperfect.” Here’s her story.

Name: Aimee McKay
Age: 27
Hometown: Fairlie, Scotland
Years with vitiligo: 17

LD: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first get vitiligo?

AM: My first white patch appeared when I was 10 years old. I was on a family holiday in Florida at the time when I noticed a small patch appear on my knee. My sister also had a few patches at the time, so I realized I was developing the same thing as her, [but] we didn’t know anything about vitiligo then. My parents started to research and we learned it was vitiligo. Neither of my parents have vitiligo and didn’t know anyone that did, so after doctors visits and research, we had more understanding of the skin condition. 

LD: A vitiligo diagnosis, especially when you are unaware of what it is, can be incredibly overwhelming and jarring. How did vitiligo impact your life?

AM: When I was a very young person and learned this was what I had, I wanted a cure. I wanted to “repair the problem.” 

My parents wanted to support me and we went to doctors to see if there was any kind of treatment or therapy. We lived on an island at the time and traveled via boat to the hospital for consultations. This very much affected my life as a pre-teen, as my family and I were unaware of “vitiligo” and I didn’t have any significant inspiring person to look upon at the time of diagnosis. (Happy that’s changing.)

I spent many years feeling extremely self conscious about my developing vitiligo. I always feared that every time my skin was exposed to the sun I was going to get more and more dappled areas and I found it pretty distressing. 

I was referred by the National Health Service to The Red Cross Charity, who color-matched makeup to my skin, then used a powder to set the correction. The makeup was helpful but heavy. My parents worried about the potential fragility of the loss of pigment and the effect of sun damage on my skin.

In your early teens you just want to “fit in” and feeling different can affect your confidence significantly. Teenagers can sometimes be insensitive and remarks people make really do cut deep at that age which can make you loathe your individuality rather than embrace it. 

At age 18 I was very excited to see Winnie Harlow on “America’s Next Top Model.” I had always watched the show so this felt amazing for me to witness. It felt reassuring to know that more people were going to be made aware of vitiligo and see the beauty in it. Winnie was a role model for me. 

Despite having such a positive influence/role model, I was still pretty insecure. As the more social media developed, the more unrealistic expectations of perfection were being broadcasted to society, making feeling “imperfect” difficult as it’s very easy to compare yourself to others. 

At 21, I got my first tattoo to cover a dappled area on the side of my stomach and at 23 I got a second tattoo on my back after another dappled area appeared. They were both lovely tattoos but in reflection I did get them in these areas for the wrong reason.

Aimee McKay, with visible vitiligo, poses in a bikini for Miss Great Britain Glasgow
Photo by Chris Perfect

LD: You’ve had a whirlwind year with entering and winning your first beauty pageant ever. Tell us about how you got started in the pageant world.

AM: My Miss Great Britain journey started only this year. At first, with zero experience, I felt I couldn’t possibly apply, but with a bit of research I learned I would be equipped with everything I needed to compete in the Glasgow Heat in July 2023. I also loved the ethos of Miss Great Britain: “Impact over image.”

In February 2023 I submitted my application and was accepted. I got a sponsorship from Elanic Clinic in Glasgow which enabled me to proceed and then I was announced a finalist! I couldn’t quite believe it, but I wanted to use this platform to bring awareness to vitiligo as I hadn’t yet seen anyone on stage representing vitiligo through the pageants I had followed. I believe in today’s society it is important to show the younger generation and anyone struggling with their self esteem that imperfections are beautiful and should be embraced. 

I put a lot of effort and practice into my on-stage presence ahead of the regional final as I wanted to show as much confidence as possible. I know how inspiring it was for me to see Winnie on “America’s Next Top Model” all those years ago and since this was all new to me and very out of my comfort zone, practice and dedication were key.

On the regional final night in Glasgow I represented “Miss North Ayrshire” and competed alongside nine other beautiful women ranging from 18-30 years old. Everyone looked incredible and really put so much effort into the night so I genuinely didn’t think I would win. 

Taking the stage for the first time in swimwear and zero fake tan, with bright lights shining on every single dappled area was something I never dreamed I would do in a million years. But wow, it was so liberating. I didn’t for a second worry about the appearance of my vitiligo, I was more concerned about delivering a great performance to the judges. It was a moment for me to get on that stage and be me

When I was announced and crowned the winner of Miss Great Britain Glasgow (which meant going on to represent Scotland in Miss Great Britain National final), I was absolutely astonished and so incredibly grateful to the judges for believing in me, dappled and all. This gave me an incredible platform to create my campaign #PerfectlyImperfect.

woman with vitiligo on hands
Photo by Brian Hayes

LD: We love that campaign title! Tell us about what inspired you to work to redefine beauty standards through this theme.

AM: Although I am now confident enough to fully embrace my unique dappled skin, I have also spent many years not feeling that way. I used to feel like [vitiligo was] a lifelong burden due to societal pressures of perfectionism. [So I knew] I had a duty with my platform to show that you don’t need to be a victim to these societal pressures. Instead, embrace yourself unapologetically and show the true beauty in being confident in your own skin and that being “perfectly imperfect” is completely normal. 

[Just as Winnie Harlow inspired me as a role model,] I believe in pageantry it is very important to be a role model to the younger generation so that young women don’t strive for unrealistic expectations of what they should be. Just be you because you are enough. 

LD: That’s such an important message. Where do you look for inspiration or encouragement when life with vitiligo feels lonely or difficult?

AM: I believe that true happiness and contentment come from within yourself. It’s very important to not compare yourself to others because that can have a very negative effect on your mental health. I looked at Winnie Harlow in my early teens and 20s as a beacon of strength as she was such a successful supermodel but the true difficulties with self esteem lifted when I started showing my vitiligo off and sharing my story to realize that most people were so encouraging and interested, not nasty and judgmental. For me, this was [when] self acceptance truly began and I was able to not feel lonely or distressed about my vitiligo. I would love to inspire others [to] embrace themselves, as I believe if they do they’ll see the beauty in their dappled skin and become a more confident person. 

I still struggle with certain things like the fact that all my eyelashes on the left hand side are white; I get individual eyelashes placed on them to create a darker, thicker appearance. It makes me feel more confident within myself but [it’s important to do] it for yourself and not to be someone that you feel you need to be to fit society’s pressures—I just enjoy being glam! 

LD: Now back to you—how are you feeling about your vitiligo today?

AM: Now, at 27, I can say I finally embrace my vitiligo. Now I realize individuality and uniqueness are powerful, and if anyone makes a negative remark, that’s a reflection of their own issues.

When I was in Ibiza in June 2023, a girl pointed out my vitiligo, saying “Oh what’s…?” whilst proceeding to touch an area next to my bikini line (Very intrusive, I know). I explained to her it was vitiligo like the model Winnie Harlow and she responded, “At least you don’t have it on your face.” When I responded, ”I do, I just have make up on,” she didn’t know what to say.

I was saddened that some people still believe it’s appropriate to say something like that but it didn’t affect my self esteem at all as I’m now confident in my skin. But I haven’t always been, and that remark said to 21-year-old Aimeé would have extremely upset me. So there is definitely still a lot of work to be done in society to make people feel they can embrace who they are unapologetically without fear of judgment.

woman with vitiligo poses with hands on hips
Photo by Brian Hayes

LD: What advice do you have for other women with vitiligo?

AM: If you are struggling to accept your dappled skin and are using products to cover the white areas but would love to feel comfortable enough not to have to do that, [start small]. Try slowly—every time you go [out], don’t cover one of your dappled [spots] and each time [as you] cover up your [spots] less and less, you’ll probably realize that some people may not even notice them, or if they do look and you are wearing your dappled skin with confidence, they will probably be admiring you for that. 

I wish I hadn’t spent so many years [feeling] self loathing about my skin instead of just embracing who I am, so my advice would be to try and not have the same regrets as me because you [are] perfectly imperfect and that is beautiful. Also if you would like a great confidence boost, get on a pageant stage, as it’s so liberating and assuring when you are being cheered on and celebrated for simply being you. 

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