This Girl Had Been Hiding a Big Secret Since ChildhoodBy Luisa K
In today’s world, it is difficult to know what to believe and what not. Factors such as social media and the use of filters and Photoshop make it more difficult to identify what is real and what has been modified. This is particularly challenging when it comes to dating or building new relationships, whether they are friendships, romantic relationships, or business partnerships. Although the use of home devices and social networks make us feel as though we are always connected to the net and our lives always on display, it’s equally as possible to disguise the truth and shield our true selves by wearing some form of mask. You can never be too sure who you’re meeting both online and in real life. In fact, many people hide a multitude of secrets which, if revealed, can come as quite a shock!
A Filtered Life
Whereas social media was once full of often grainy and spontaneous snaps of our daily lives, outfits of the day, and makeup looks, we now use various tools and filters to show only the best parts. Rarely does anybody share photos that haven’t been filtered or modified somehow, and people only show the highlight reels rather than their reality.
Filters are everywhere now, and there are so many to choose from. Tools available on apps such as Instagram, Facetune, and Snapchat make it far too tempting for users to tweak and perfect their facial features, body shapes, and even their location. This girl used a filter to hide the shocking truth from her family and friends. Imagine having to use filters to hide such a big secret from your nearest and dearest!
Imperfection is Beauty. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Different!
We all have so-called flaws and blemishes that we’d prefer to cover up with filters and Photoshop. In more recent years, we’ve seen more diversity in the fashion and beauty industries which is rather refreshing. Features such as stretch-marks, scars, and freckles are no longer airbrushed out and therefore they’re being normalized, which can only be a good thing!
It’s scary, putting yourself out there are showing off body and facial features that have previously made you feel insecure. However, the story of this girl is not only beautiful but empowering too! It will show you that being different can be your greatest quality!
When she was just 11 years old, Mariah made an observation that would potentially change her life forever. The African American teen spotted a white patch on the back of one of her hands. Initially, she was alarmed but not overly worried by the skin discoloration but decided to show her mom anyway.
Mariah’s mom examined the discoloration but didn’t believe it was anything to be concerned about. She reassured her daughter that it was nothing to worry about and that it was probably just one of those things that would sort itself out. However, the coming months unfortunately, proved otherwise.
Cause for Concern
It didn’t take long for the discoloration to spread to other parts of her body as well. Within months of finding the first parch of pigmentation, Mariah noticed how the white patches were spreading to her face, nose and eyes too.
Naturally, the teen was confused. She wasn’t in pain and didn’t feel any discomfort, yet the white spots were spreading all over her face. Mariah shared that “It was like a really small spot on my hand, and it kind of gradually spread to spots on my nose and my eyes, and that’s when I first started to notice it.”
More to It Than Meets the Eye?
As the pigmentation continued to spread to her face, Mariah’s mom decided to take her teenage daughter to the doctor. They both realized that it was time to seek professional advice on the apparent skin condition.
After the consultation with her local doctor, Mariah and her mom came away with no certain answers or explanations. The doctor explained that it wasn’t anything to be worried about, but he couldn’t precisely diagnose what it was. In need of a more accurate diagnosis, they went to see a dermatologist for a second opinion.
The Life Changing Diagnosis
Things were beginning to look up. The mother and daughter felt as though they were getting somewhere after seeing a dermatologist. They were in the process of starting a professional treatment plan when the pigmentation started to spread more rapidly over Mariah’s face.
By now, the discoloration had taken up about 90% of the young girl’s face. Mariah slowly realized that her life and appearance would never be the same again. She saw dermatologist after dermatologist, each of whom referred her to another specialist. Finally, she received a concrete diagnosis – vitiligo.
The Irreversible Impact
Although Mariah now understood that the effects of her condition were irreversible, the reality hadn’t quite sunken in. At first, she was just pleased to finally have been given a diagnosis after having seen four dermatologists. But she still didn’t know much about vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a skin condition that affects around 50 million people in the world. Yet, despite it affecting so many people worldwide, doctors, dermatologists, and specialists still don’t know much about vitiligo. They’re yet to learn what causes it and why it happens.
Struggling to Cope
What is known about vitiligo is that it is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body unwillingly and unknowingly starts attacking the melanin cells. Melanin is the pigment in our skin tone that gives skin its color. When the body attacks the melanin cells in the body, the skin begins to lose its color.
Like with many autoimmune diseases, it is believed that the condition is caused by stress. Vitiligo doesn’t cause physical pain or discomfort, and it isn’t life-threatening either. However, the uneven pigmentation patches on the skin can make sufferers feel insecure about their appearance, which can cause mental health issues.
Mariah began to feel very insecure about her appearance as a result of her developing skin discoloration. She was diagnosed at such a difficult age – during her teen years when we all go through periods of questioning our looks and personal appearance.
Mariah said that she was already suffering from low self-esteem before her vitiligo diagnosis, which only made things worse. She found it difficult being different and didn’t feel as pretty as the other girls. To start with, she tried to ignore it, but the white patches began to grow and spread on her face so much that they began merging together.
Wake Up, Makeup!
When you’re faced with a traumatic event at such a young age, it can be helpful to pour your energy into something creative. Mariah turned to makeup but not because she wanted an artistic outlet, but rather she desperately wanted to cover her white patches to look more like the other girls in her school.
Desperate not to be different or to stand out from the crowd, Mariah said, “I didn’t want to be known as the girl with the skin condition.” Every morning she would wake up before school and spend 45 minutes applying heavy makeup to her skin to disguise her pigmentation. She admitted that nobody knew she had a facial skin condition; they just noticed that she wore makeup.
An Obsessive Regime
Mariah’s main go-to products were foundation and concealer. Her 45-minute daily regime of applying endless amounts of concealer and foundation on her face to cover the white patches had become obsessive. Not only was she obsessed with disguising the vitiligo, she also wanted to make sure that her makeup looked as natural as possible.
She revealed that “It got to the stage where I wouldn’t let anyone see me without makeup, apart from my close family. If I went for a sleepover at a friend’s house, I’d sleep in my makeup and wake up early before anyone else to touch it up.”
An Expensive Habit
Of course, not only was her makeup obsession taking up heaps of her time, it was also turning into an expensive habit too. She said, “I would go through setting powder in two weeks, so I was buying $25-30 setting powder every two weeks, and I was buying foundations every month, so I was going through hundreds of dollars of makeup… Wearing that much makeup all the time was time-consuming and expensive.”
On top of all that, her makeup obsession began to cause issues in other areas of her life too. For example, it stopped her from being able to enjoy a normal teenage life and having fun. She felt self-conscious and insecure around boys and would never hug anybody because she didn’t want to spoil her makeup and risk revealing her true skin.
Life Goes On
They say that a change is as good as a rest, and that certainly proved the case for Mariah. After graduating high school with straight A’s, the determined young woman threw herself into her studies and landed a place at university, studying Sociology & Criminal Justice.
At first, Mariah’s parents were worried that university would be too much for her to handle and could negatively affect her mental health. She was in a very fragile state. Fortunately, she found the environment at college much more open-minded and liberating than at school. This encouraged her to think positively because she now knew she was in control of her future.
The Truth Is Out
After years of masking her face and her vitiligo with makeup, Mariah decided that it was finally time to let people see the real her. It was a gradual progress, which involved her wearing less and less makeup which she found to be empowering.
Unlike in junior high and high school, where there was a lot of pressure to look a certain way, university made Mariah feel more accepted. As she began to wear less makeup and reveal her skin condition, she was encouraged by her friends at university who told her she didn’t need to wear so much makeup.
The Start of a New Beginning
After some time, Mariah finally started to be more open about her skin diagnosis, and in the end, she felt comfortable to go completely makeup-free. She embarked upon a new makeup-free life and even started sharing pictures of her without makeup on social media.
The response from the pictures she’d posted online was overwhelming. People reached out to her with warm messages and encouraged her to be herself. It also made it easier for Mariah to tell people about her vitiligo because many had already seen the pictures of her natural skin on her social networks.
Daring to Be Herself
Now 22, the young woman is proud to announce that “‘I do not wear makeup anymore to cover up my condition.” Mariah has accepted who she is and her condition and no longer feels the need to use makeup as a skin disguise.
She has also transformed her own personal experiences into an inspirational example for other sufferers of vitiligo and young women who also struggle with insecurities about themselves. Mariah now loves the skin she’s in and refuses to let her diagnosis or appearance define who she is or limit what she can achieve.
Social Media for Good
Mariah’s story has turned out to be very positive and encouraging. She uses social media for good and has gained an impressive following on her social media platforms. At present, she has 35, 000+ Instagram followers, where she shares daily content to encourage self-acceptance.
You can tell how far she has come by the way she lightheartedly uses hashtags, such as “Panda Bear” and “Vitiligo Queen” – a far cry from where she was at the beginning of her journey. There’s no hiding her skin anymore. The photos she posts clearly emphasize the pigmentation in her skin and highlight her unique appearance.
Feeling Comfortable in Your Own Skin
Of course, now there are also available treatments to correct her skin, such as laser treatments, which will reduce the appearance of the uneven pigmentation on her skin. Yet, the vitiligo queen says she doesn’t want any of it!
She’s come to accept and love how she looks and says that she wouldn’t want to change a thing about her appearance. “I think I was meant to go through it for a reason so I can help others go through it and make it easier,” she explained. “I definitely wouldn’t have taken it away because I would not have been the person I am today without it.”
A New Decade Means a New Chapter
The year 2020 marked a new chapter in Mariah’s life. At the start of the year, she shared a very emotional before and after photo with the caption: “This new year and a new decade is the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I have gone through not one transformation these last ten years, but two. One: going through losing myself and hiding behind makeup because I was afraid and ashamed of what being judged on what I looked like.
“..And two: growing to love myself unapologetically inside and out, accepting my skin, and embracing my beauty and uniqueness. I love the woman I am becoming, and I LOVE MY VITILIGO. G-d made no mistakes when making me the way I am, and I am thankful every day for the person it has made me. These years have not been easy, and at times I still struggle, but I am on the right path and cannot wait to see what is in store for me in the next decade!”
Positive Role Models
In the same caption, Mariah continued her post by thanking her followers, family, and friends for all of their support through the years and for giving her the courage to be herself. She also pointed out that there was another influencer who inspired her and changed her attitude towards her skin condition.
One of the most famous influencers with vitiligo is Winnie Harlow. If you’ve been reading this and thought that the condition seemed familiar somewhat, then you may already be aware of Winnie and how she has taken the fashion world by storm. Winnie also has vitiligo and is an international supermodel.
What Happened to Winnie Harlow?
Being diagnosed with vitiligo has certainly not held Winnie Harlow back. Winnie was diagnosed with the condition when she was a child and has previously shared how she suffered terrible bullying during her childhood years.
Other kids at school would call her names, including “cow,” “zebra,” and other disgusting remarks, referencing to her facial pigmentation. She ended up changing schools countless times to get away from the bullying. It got so bad that in her early teens, she even considered suicide!
An Amazing Opportunity
What Winnie didn’t know was that her life was going to change in a big way for the better. She was discovered on Instagram by Tyra Banks, the host of America’s Next Top Model, and was a finalist in the 2014 season.
Although she didn’t win, the exposure helped her to get noticed in the international fashion industry. Since then, Winnie’s modeling career has gone from strength to strength. She has been featured in many big campaigns and worked with all the big names in the industry. Winnie even collaborated with Kim Kardashian on a range of beauty products.
Refusing to Be Defined
Despite having faced heartbreaking struggles after her initial diagnosis, Winnie is now comfortable and confident in her skin. Winnie, like Mariah, does not let her vitiligo hold her back and refuses to label herself as a “vitiligo sufferer.” She is not a sufferer, and she is not her skin.
Winnie has said that she has no problem talking about her condition, but that’s not the only thing about her. Yes, she has vitiligo, but it only affects her skin’s appearance, not who she is or what she is able to do.
An Inspiration and an Icon
Winnie made headlines when she was first welcomed into the modeling industry. Her work on and off the runway has been highly celebrated, and she is considered both a style icon and a great role model. She has single-handedly helped to break the stigma around vitiligo and normalize being different.
The supermodel was the first person with vitiligo to ever appear in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show and the first to grace Vogue magazine’s cover. As well as being a role model to vitiligo sufferers, Winnie also hopes to inspire all young children who feel uncomfortable with who they are.
Imperfection Is Beauty
As Marilyn Monroe once said: “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring!” One of the most important messages from both Winnie and Mariah’s stories is that it’s not just ok to be different – it can actually be pretty cool and quite possibly, your greatest asset! It’s wonderful to see brands encouraging positive body image by expelling body shaming!
In response to being featured in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show, Winnie said: “It’s a door-opening for everyone. We are all the same because we’re all different. People always ask me what you would like to say to little girls with vitiligo. It’s bigger than that… it’s those little girls with vitiligo; it’s that little girl who didn’t like her hair, it’s that little girl who had freckles, it’s that little boy who got teased because his lips were too big.”