My name is Natalie, and I’m from London in the UK. I work as an executive assistant in finance. I’ve been living with vitiligo since childhood, and I am a writer and lifestyle blogger.
My blog, Being Just Us, focuses on themes that often surround the condition, such as being a teen with vitiligo, dating as an adult with vitiligo, and how to feel confident when with a skin condition. I’ve always loved writing so when I started opening up about my personal journey, the natural thing to do was start a blog documenting my experiences, and in 2018, I started Being Just Us.
As a child, I was completely unaware that I had the condition. I developed the condition at 3 years old, and my innocence prevented me from understanding society’s expectations and judgments on appearance and skin colour. Like most young children, I just thought people were people. As I got older and entered my teen years, reality started to kick in, and insecurities formed. I didn’t want people to look at my skin or ask me any questions. And so, I quickly mastered how to disguise my patches with thick makeup and layers of fake tan. Suddenly, I was very aware that society didn’t accept skin conditions, and so I covered myself up.
Things were different as a child though. Where I lived, everyone accepted me. However, I do remember one episode with a boy at school. He reached out to touch me whilst we were out playing, but then he stopped himself and said - ‘I don’t want to catch your skin.’ An alarm bell rang in my head, but my parents reassured me that I was beautiful as I was.
As I got older, I tried to cope with it. Up until the age of 11, I was being treated as we were desperate for a cure, but nothing worked. So, as I entered my teenage years, I just remember watching it spread. As my self-esteem plummeted and I felt the pressures of society, things got worse. I used to read magazines where everyone was white, pretty, and of a particular size. I never saw anyone that was of mixed race let alone had a skin condition like mine. This all made me realize just how different I was compared to everyone else. It formed a negative perception of my skin, and in my head, I just felt like everyone was judging me because of it. My teenage years were my hardest years by far.
I didn’t even consider dating during my teens. Trying to explain my skin and having people see what I look like was something that I just didn’t want to face. At school, if I ever heard that a boy liked me, I would automatically question it and think to myself - “there’s no way someone can fancy me with my skin like this.” My mindset around vitiligo profoundly affected my relationships in the future because I wasn’t comfortable with myself. I always used to question whether I should tell the person I was on a date with, about my skin or if I should wait for them to ask me. I was constantly asking myself - “how should I explain my skin to this person?” In my mind, I forgot that a guy could like me for who I was without my skin being an issue. I forgot that I was someone with a personality who deserved to be loved. I forgot that I was open, honest, and friendly. That just all went out of the window because the only thing I was focused on was my vitiligo.
However, there was a moment during my later dating years that cemented the fact that others don’t focus on my skin as much as I do. The experience allowed me to recognize myself as Natalie rather than ‘Natalie with vitiligo.’ I would always wear a blazer, a long-sleeved shirt, and jeans so that the other person couldn’t see my skin. I would talk with my hands under the table which was so hard for me as I’m often quite animated. I recall being on a date with one particular guy. I was feeling anxious as I always did, but suddenly he took my hand from under the table, placed it in his, and then looked at my skin and said, “your skin is really beautiful.” He also said that a close friend of his had the condition too. The fact that he was so open and honest made the elephant in the room and the worry in my mind disappear. This was the moment that helped me to enjoy dating without worrying about what my skin looked like.
So, when I first started writing about my skin, the first thing I started writing about was not feeling alone. When you have a visible skin condition, it’s really important to reach out and talk to those around you. I used to feel like I was the only person in the world with vitiligo. I used to feel like vitiligo held me back because I was worried about other people’s judgments, so it was difficult to even start on a journey of body positivity.
Body positivity is a hard thing when you’ve spent time trying to treat your appearance. I tried topical steroid creams, various tablets, and homeopathy. After my 30th birthday, I tried UVB Narrowband treatment which had a positive effect on my skin. I used to go to the hospital twice a week before work at 6:30 AM, and I’d stand inside a booth, and when it switched on, the booth would fill with UV light. Within 4 months, I started to see results. I loved watching my pigment return. I loved seeing my arms and legs turn brown again. However, after having a conversation with a friend about the treatment I was having, I started to question why I was putting myself through this. I realized then that I wasn’t having treatment for myself but for the acceptance of everyone else. I wanted people to accept me, and that wasn’t the right reason to be having treatment. While my body was responding well, I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to lose all of my vitiligo because it had made me who I was. It was part of my identity.
My real journey towards self-acceptance started in 2013 when I appeared on a UK news show called LondonLive. The Vitiligo Society had asked if I’d be interested in sharing my story after they had been approached by the show’s news producer. It was an opportunity that sounded interesting, but the thought of appearing on live TV made me very apprehensive. I had spent so many years hiding my skin that being open felt completely counterintuitive. I remember thinking about it, and I remember asking my Mum and some friends what I should do. They all said it would be a great opportunity to share how my skin had made me feel for so many years.
So… I decided to take a leap of faith. I had never done live TV before, and I was afraid. But despite the nerves, it felt like the right thing to do.
Speaking out on the show was one of the most liberating things that I could have done for myself and my skin. I had never been open about my skin, yet there I was openly talking to the Nation about the one thing that made me feel so insecure. I decided to be honest about how hard it has been living with a condition that is so visible. I spoke about how I used fake tan and makeup to cover it up. After the show, so many people started to reach out to me, telling me how they had vitiligo too, and how they had never been open about their skin. They told me how they felt deeply isolated, uncomfortable, and restrained because of their skin.
After my appearance, opportunities to share my story started to come up with magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Stylist, Dare magazine, and Happiful. I also appeared in a campaign with the beauty brand, Dove, and I started to work with prominent charities in the UK that supported those with visible differences and vitiligo. Meanwhile, I started to grow my online presence and became part of the most amazing vitiligo community which is supportive and empowering. The community has even allowed me to make genuine friends who have vitiligo as well. I love sharing parts of my journey, and I love helping people feel comfortable in their skin, especially women and children.
Photo credit: Andrew Mhango
Today, I am so passionate about empowering women to be confident in their skin. Having lived with vitiligo during my childhood years, teen years, and now adult years, I want others with vitiligo and other visible skin conditions to know that it is okay to be different and that your skin doesn’t define who you are. I want others to feel comfortable in their skin, and I hope that the next generation doesn’t go through what I went through as a teenager. I love sharing my experiences, connecting with the community, and reassuring people, especially those who might be at the beginning of their vitiligo journey. I’d love to write a children’s book someday that features a character with vitiligo, I want to normalize the condition for young children. I’d also love to write a book that talks about being body confident and living abundantly. Because when you have a visible skin condition, that is actually possible. It really is.