When it comes to beauty and being human, we have one thing in common: we’re all different in the best ways possible; from race, age, religion, ability, size, gender identity, and creed, we’re all exquisitely unique.
Vitiligo, a disease that causes the loss of skin color in beautiful, peculiar patches, is finally being represented throughout Hollywood. Model Winnie Harlow, The King Of Pop Michael Jackson, comedian Joe Rogan, and actor Jon Hamm are a few examples of celebrities with vitiligo who are boldly making a difference and educating the masses.
For those growing up with vitiligo when it had zero representation in the media, times were most likely difficult. There was no readily-available knowledge of the disease, considering vitiligo is rare, affecting only about 0.5% to 1% of the world’s population.
Today, individuals with vitiligo are rejoicing around the world; they’re being seen and celebrated. Education on the skin condition is finally being spread, and most importantly, vitiligo is being seen as beautiful.
Winnie Harlow On Representing Vitiligo
Pictured: Winnie Harlow Source: Racked
Diagnosed with vitiligo as a small child, model Winnie Harlow spent her early years feeling very alone. “Growing up, I never saw anyone like me on TV, billboards, or on the runways. I felt like I was the only person in the world like me,” she said in a recent interview with People Magazine.
Today, Winnie works alongside one of her supermodel colleagues, Heidi Klum, on the fashion competition series Making The Cut, which also features fashion world legend Tim Gunn and designer Jeremy Scott.
“My 16-year-old self would never think that this would be my life. Naomi Campbell texted me a couple of days ago,” she told People. “Stuff like that is insane. When I look back on it, I’m like, ‘That’s pretty cool.'”
To get there, she had to go up against an abundance of obstacles — including powerful industry insiders who made her feel like modeling wasn’t for her. In 2014, Winnie appeared on America’s Next Top Model. “At that point in my life,” she said, “I was told or made to feel like I couldn’t model or that it wasn’t for me.”
Though Winnie has remained fairly tight-lipped about her time on America’s Next Top Model, it’s clear that it wasn’t all love, light, and smizing. “My mother always said, ‘If you don’t got nothing good to say, don’t say nothing at all,’” quipped the Jamaican-Canadian model.
Despite the lack of encouragement on the ANTM set, Winnie said that for her it was the representation of vitiligo that mattered most, so failure was not an option. “My plan was to never fail,” she mentioned. “I’m from the hood, and my goal was to never go back. I wanted to take care of my mom and my sister and make my dad proud.”
Today, Winnie’s presence in the fashion world has gone one massive step further. “This feeling is indescribable,” wrote Winnie in an Instagram post featuring a young girl with vitiligo posing next to an ad for the model’s collaboration with Paul Mitchell. “Look at her beautiful smile! I see younger me in her, and I’m proud she sees herself represented.”
Source: Winnie Harlow’s Instagram
Growing up, Winnie was bullied for her vitiligo, but she said it taught her an important lesson: to stop focusing on what other people think. “It was my opinion of myself that I needed to keep myself happy. Like, I think I’m beautiful, I think I’m funny — I don’t have to look to other people to know those things about myself.”
Winnie knows the importance of self-love, and her mission is one of unity and true, unedited representation for those with vitiligo. Before fame, she lived a life defined by vitiligo, but today, Winnie is embracing her beautifully unique skin and helping others do the same.
An Interview With Bryson Southard
Bryson Southard, a student from South Carolina, was diagnosed with heterochromia at birth. “When I started school, I was known as the kid with two different colored eyes,” he tells The HBM. “The response was positive; my peers loved my eyes.”
When his vitiligo started to develop at the age of 8, though, the positivity from his fellow students was quickly swept under the rug. “My vitiligo made me a very easy target for bullying,” says Bryson. “And I endured plenty of it, which always left me feeling alone and isolated.”
Today, Bryson has grown to love how unique his vitiligo and heterochromia are. His confidence has reached whole new levels, and much like Winnie, his mission is to educate and change the old-school perception of vitiligo.
The HBM sat down with Bryson to talk about navigating his journey with vitiligo.
The HBM: Tell us a little about yourself and your story.
Bryson: My name is Bryson Southard, and I currently live in Tucson, AZ. However, I am originally from the Charleston, SC area, specifically Moncks Corner. I am currently a dual-masters student pursuing an M.A. in Higher Education and an M.A. in Human Rights Practice. I also make content on TikTok about vitiligo and mental health awareness among some other random posts.
My vitiligo showed up when I was around 8 years old. It initially started as a small spot on my side, which then spread to a small spot under my left eye. As I was ending middle school and starting high school, that small spot then became half of my face.
The HBM: What was it like growing up with vitiligo?
Bryson: As a kid, it was honestly really tough. Especially being in middle school, which is arguably one of the worst times anyways. I was really insecure about my appearance; partly due to comments and questions from peers pertaining to my vitiligo. During this time, I was also trying to learn to accept that it wasn’t going away, which was difficult for me.
In high school, my vitiligo started to become really noticeable. I can remember feeling as if all I wanted to do was hide, which eventually led to depression. But when I graduated and started college, this outlook started to change and I finally began to embrace my vitiligo. It was definitely a long road, though.
The HBM: How do you describe vitiligo?
Bryson: In the past, I would say things like “I lose the pigment in my skin,” or “It’s an autoimmune disorder.” Now that I have become more comfortable with it, I just tell people straight up that it’s vitiligo. That typically starts a conversation about what it is, etc., but I always think it’s cool when I have the opportunity to educate someone about vitiligo.
The HBM: You mention on your TikTok that you have heterochromia, but it’s not connected with your vitiligo. Do people often ask if your different colored eyes are due to your vitiligo?
Bryson: Yes! All the time. Honestly, if I met myself as a stranger, I would assume the same. But it was actually coincidental that I happen to have both. I was born with my heterochromia, but my vitiligo didn’t develop until later in life.
The HBM: You’re using your platform on TikTok to educate and possibly change people’s perception of vitiligo. What made you come up with the idea to start making videos on vitiligo?
Bryson: First off, thank you for that comment. The one thing about my content that I hope I can achieve, at the very least, is to make a difference. Honestly, as cliché and corny as it sounds, there was no “idea.” I just randomly started posting to TikTok for fun in the Summer of 2021 when I moved to Tucson.
Eventually one of my videos gained some traction, which then opened the floodgates to so many questions about my vitiligo and heterochromia. So, I started answering them on video. Before I knew it, my videos started gaining more and more views. People seemed to really enjoy the content.
The HBM: How do you feel when you get to educate others on vitiligo?
Bryson: Honestly it’s a pretty incredible experience. As someone who struggled with my appearance for so long, being able to now educate others about the condition and break any misconceptions is such an amazing feeling.
Not only am I able to continue towards my journey of acceptance and confidence in my appearance, but I am also able to help others do the same. I think given my social media presence, I am oftentimes seen as the “vitiligo guy” but I hope my willingness to share my story inspires others with visible conditions to do the same.
I think education and representation have the power to change the world and even if that’s on a micro level, it still matters.
The HBM: Are there any vitiligo stereotypes you’d like to address?
Bryson: Personally, one comment or comparison that I get a lot is my resemblance to a dog or cat. I have pretty mixed emotions about the comment because I know people don’t say it to be mean and genuinely have good intentions, but it’s always awkward for me.
It was an insult that many kids used growing up, so I always have that thought in the back of my head when people make the comment. I’ve also had conversations with others that have vitiligo about this comparison, and it’s a pretty common feeling amongst those I’ve spoken to.
The HBM: What advice would you give someone struggling to find comfort in their skin due to vitiligo or other very noticeable skin conditions?
Bryson: Things get better. At a certain time in my life, if someone told me that, I would roll my eyes at them because they truly didn’t understand what I was going through. But, as someone who has grown up with a noticeable skin condition that I wasn’t able to hide, I can attest that that motto is real.
The journey towards self-love may not be easy, and you’ll meet some pretty rude people along the way, but the people that do support you will make all the difference. They gave me the strength to grow into a person that genuinely loves his appearance. Once I realized that my vitiligo didn’t define me, I was able to truly find myself.
Keep pushing forward, always.
Media, in all of its forms, has immense power to shape ideas; it can influence how we see others and how we see ourselves. Accurate, authentic representation can break down barriers, open us to new ideas, create powerful role models, and even be a source of inspiration.
Bryson and Winnie know the power of real, genuine representation. Their lives were changed when they were diagnosed with vitiligo but little did they know, it would eventually shape them and their self-confidence for the better.