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    Personal Experience

    Winnie The Game Changer

    Three Years. That’s all it’s taken for Winnie Harlow, model, spokesperson and activist, to ‘shake’ up the fashion industry and prove there isn’t one type of beauty that is worthy of supermodel status.

    Correct me if I’m wrong……but three years doesn’t seem like too long ago, considering she has fronted international campaigns for Desigual and Diesel, made a cameo appearance in Beyoncé’s video for Lemonade, has given an influential Ted Talk entitled ‘My story is painted on my skin’ and has featured in adverts for major brands including Sprite and most recently, Converse.

    Still with me?!

    Last month Glamour Magazine hosted their annual Beauty festival where Winnie was invited to appear as a guest speakers. I knew she was likely to attract a crowd, so I didn’t ponder on the idea of buying a ticket (like I normally would!) and purchased a ticket instantly. After all this was a girl that was positively exposing Vitiligo, the skin condition I spent most of my life trying to keep a secret and along with her 1.9 million Instagram fans, I too, was fascinated by her beauty, attitude and her ability to disallow any negative judgement towards her appearance.

    Held at the iconic Saatchi Gallery at London’s Kings Road, I was thankful that the room where she would be speaking accommodated a small audience, after all the last thing I wanted, was to find myself at the back of the room stretching my neck to allow for a good view!

    With everyone seated and waiting in anticipation for her to arrive, Winnie soon emerged from backstage to a rapture of applause supported by a small entourage (as you do!). She looked effortlessly cool in a Stella McCartney ensemble which consisted of a white long sleeve fitted shirt that subtly revealed the Vitiligo on her upper body and olive drawstring wide-leg trousers. She was, as expected, aesthetically stunning.

    Walking eloquently on stage, alongside British model, Erin O’Connor, she was quick to wave and greet the audience with her wide smile. In that single moment, I didn’t get a sense she had adopted the attitude of a diva but what I did see, was a young, 22 year old girl with a positive aura that circulated the room instantly.

    Winnie has often been referred to as a ‘role’ model, something she has frequently challenged. Developing Vitiligo when she was just 2 years old, she has candidly shared details of what it was like growing up in Canada as a girl with Vitiligo. So when she talks about the taunts, the stares and the pressure to fit it in when being different wasn’t the ‘in’ thing, most of us know exactly what she means. Whether you have Vitiligo or not, Winnie is most definitely someone to admire, even though she adamantly brushes away any talk of being a role model. “The term role model means someone being imitated and I don’t feel like someone that should be imitated” she commented when asked. “I pull inspiration from everyone and am grateful that people feel they can pull inspiration from me’ she continued.

    Warm, honest and wise beyond her years, she spoke about being in the limelight and her hopes for the future. “I’d love to collaborate and work with beauty brands” She commented, before excitedly admitting she’d also love to be asked to walk the infamous Victoria’s Secret runway someday. Appearing on the front cover of Vogue or even Glamour magazine (to which a twinkle appeared in her eye!) was another thing she’d love to see happen in the future.

    When she isn’t boarding a place for another photoshoot, or walking the catwalk, like she recently did for Julian McDonald at London Fashion Week, Winnie likes to keep things casual in gym gear and sneakers.…which is somewhat hard to believe given her impeccable style choices. She spoke fondly about her family and friends and often calls upon her ‘bestie’ when she is away from home. She has formed a close friendship with model Jordan Dunn “who is from Sarf London” (as Winnie liked to put it!) and their similarities in that they are both of Jamaican descent, nicely connects two the beauties.

    Rumours of who Winnie is (or isn’t) dating is often a hot topic in the British press and when asked about potential crushes, she laughed easily before commenting that she thinks guys are ‘cute’, but until she’s actually met a guy in the flesh, its simply just admiration from a distance. She admitted to coming over all shy when she does spot that guy that makes her blush, a refreshing response that made me realise that, glamour aside, she too, has moments of weakness when it comes to dating and love.

    A lot has been said about Winnie trying to ‘distance’ herself away from consistently talking about her skin and whilst, ultimately her skin is the reason why the beauty industry is able to feel more diversified, I’m starting understand that not everything has to be about her skin. Her story of how she evolved as a girl with Vitiligo, has been reiterated so many times, that maybe now is the time to move away from her striking appearance and concentrate on her role within the fashion and hopefully, beauty industry. To have her be known simply as Winnie Harlow.

    With the final question being ‘what is beauty?’ she paused before eloquently explaining that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it’s a question that can be left open’ and with that she was whisked away, through the back door, to continue life as the Winnie Harlow the woman that is proof change is coming…

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    Personal Experience

    International Womens Day

    March is a significant month in the calendar for women across the globe, as it’s the month that celebrates and honors the achievements of women in multiple ways.

    When I think about what International Women’s Day means to me, I automatically think of empowerment, strength, unity and celebration. The movement can be traced back to March 8th 1908 when 15’000 women marched through the streets of New York, protesting for shorter hours, equal pay and voting rights. The following year, on February 28th, the first national women’s day (NWD) was announced making the last Sunday of every February the official day of celebration until 1913.

    Since then, the initiative has strengthened globally. As a firm placeholder in the calendar, it’s a day that brings recognition to our achievements across platforms such as social, politics, economics and culture. It’s also a day that celebrates reflection, advocacy and action and holds stance to our continued journey towards gender equality, which is something women are still striving for to this day.

    This years theme is; #BeBoldForChange which is a collective call for a better working world where there is equality. Events will be taking place globally, ranging from social gatherings, speaking events, corporate events, exhibitions, women’s networks and beyond, creating an opportunity for all women to get involved in one way or another.

    So with March 8th being the day when we celebrate all that it is to be a woman in today’s world, here are the women I’d like to give mention too who are defying the odds and have inspired me….

    Winnie Harlow

    Since appearing on ANTM in 2014, Winnie has carved out a high profile career in the fashion industry that has turned her into a globally recognised figure. In her role as model and activist, she has featured on Ted X Teen where she presented her speech ‘My story is painted on my body’ and also spoke at the 2015 women of the world summit about not letting people label her. She has walked numerous fashion runways, recently closing the show for Julian MacDonald at the 2017 London Fashion week. She is heavily photographed and often seen in the press being praised for her fashion awareness, confidence and for being the face changer of fashion that has inspired some many women and young girls to love and feel confident in the skin they’re in. She has accomplished so much in so little time; it’s easy to forget she is still only 22 years of age.

    Adwoa Aboah

    Whilst model Adwoa does not have Vitiligo what she does have is passion and boldness. In 2015 she launched Girls Talk (after a brief stint in rehab) a movement created through her passion for helping girls share their experiences and feelings in an environment where they feel safe and can trust. In 2016 she opened up her world and shared her own personal story, which highlighted her battle with depression, drugs and self-hate. In a brave video clip, you watch as Adwoa removes her clothes whilst speaking about her experiences, giving the powerful message that style isn’t about what you wear its about being comfortable in your own skin, something that us Vitiligo girls have battled with at some stage in life. In addition to modeling and numerous magazine features, Adwoa will continue to visit schools, in an attempt to inspire and empower the next generation of women.

    April Star

    Coincidently, 12-year-old April has a rather fitting surname, as she really is a little star in the making. She is currently one of the faces of the Gap campaign that promotes fearless beauty and has gained global praise, as finally there is movement towards recognising that beauty and confidence comes in many forms. April developed Vitiligo at the age of 6 and rather than retreat she pursued her dreams of modeling and focused on changing the perception of beauty.

    In a survey conducted by the Girlguiding Girls Attitudes Survey, where 1,500 girls were questioned, it was revealed that 40% of girls within the group didn’t feel pretty enough and 25% felt that they needed to be perfect. One in six feel ashamed or embarrassed with how they look. These results are not only shocking, but also worrying.

    As a little girl growing and developing in a world that is heavily image conscious, it’s refreshing to see she is confident in her own skin. She is an example of someone, I hope, other young girls can learn from.

    Diandra Forrest

    Diandra Forrest is incredibly striking. Beautiful in fact. When I goggled her name and her images appeared, I found myself mesmerized by her looks. For those who don’t know, Diandra is a model and actress from the USA, who also happens to be the first female model with albinism to sign to a major modeling agency. Like others who suffer with skin conditions, Diandra was subject to taunts, name-calling and ridicule in her younger years because she was in fact, different. Years later she moved to New York, where it was there she found people were stopping her because of her unique look. She was then spotted by photographer Shameer Khan who told her she should model and so her journey began.

    Aside from walking the catwalk, Diandra is passionate about spreading awareness around albinism and is involved in efforts to empower women. She has also partnered with Assisting Children in Need (AZN), a Tanzanian not for profit organization that aids and supports children in relation to education, medical care and independent living.

    Us Girls

    I should of course, mention us! The Vitiligo models, Bloggers, TV Personalities and all the other things we are doing and aspiring to do, as we learn not to let our skin define us. Visibility in the media continues to grow and create awareness, as our ability to open up has excelled, proving that we too, love our skin. We are embracing our skin and we are redefining the face of beauty.

    How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

    If you would like to get involved in events in your local area, check out the link below for more information: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Events

     

     

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    Personal Experience

    Dating and the Vitiligo Girl

    Who doesn’t love being in love! Whether its getting ready for a date night, a film and a takeaway on a Saturday night or just being in each others presence knowing that you appreciate your time together…..love is a beautiful thing! 

    Whilst I love being in a relationship, I remember the days when dating part wasn’t much fun! The part where you meet the guy on a night out with friends, exchange numbers and spend a few days texting was all fine, it was the part when ‘do you want to meet up’? became the obvious next step and I would start to feel uncomfortable with the prospect of meeting up, one to one.

    In my early 20’s, I placed so much emphasis on my Vitiligo, that it made it difficult to enjoy the social element of dating. I was obsessed with the idea that my skin would come as a shock and so feeling naturally comfortable and relaxed whilst on a date, was sometimes very difficult.

    Days before we were due to meet, the usual questions and scenarios would play on my mind.  I would try and work out how I thought my date would react to my skin condition and tried to see my skin through his eyes, which was obviously impossible! I questioned whether it would put him off and if it would create a sense of awkwardness, which was the last thing I wanted someone to feel.

    It took a few years before I was able to feel comfortable and less conscious about my skin. I realised that my skin wasn’t actually as noticeable as I thought it was and that people were interested in me as a person, as opposed to what my skin looked like. I started to feel more relaxed within myself and started to block out any negative thoughts or questions. Accepting myself and realising the most important thing was to be myself, eliminated nerves and gave dating a completely new perspective. These days, the only thing I worry about now, like all women, is what I’ll wear. Anything else I deal with later…..

    So, with my negative attitude towards dating very much behind me, here are my tips on how to enjoy and make dating memorable for you…..

    Don’t hide behind your clothes

    Planning your outfit can be one of the hardest dating decisions to make! I’m sure every girl would agree! However, for us girls with Vitiligo, the look we decide to go for can sometimes revolve around our skin because of our desire to disguise it.

    My ‘go-to’ outfit was generally always the same – skinny jeans, a top with long sleeves and a fitted blazer and whilst the tailored look is very much my style, I knew my wardrobe choice was based around me wanting to remain covered, as opposed to me having the freedom to wear what I wanted. In my mind, I wanted to ‘sell’ who I was a person, without my Vitiligo being the center of attention.

    My desire to stay covered meant I avoided choosing something I felt good in. Covering up became my way of ignoring its existence, even if it was short term and I knew eventually it would come up in conversation. I didn’t want to be judged or disappoint my date so I remained covered until I was comfortable talking about it.

    Now, with very little insecurities about my skin and who I am, dating is a lot more interesting! I wear what I feel good in as opposed to feeling the need to covering up, after all if anyone I date doesn’t like me for who I am, he just isn’t the right guy for me!

    Don’t spend time worrying about what your date might think

    Whether you have a skin condition or any other type of physical insecurity for that matter, chances are you may find yourself worrying about what your date might think. For me, I worried about what he was going to think about my skin and whether it was something that would put him off.

    They were unnecessary and irrational concerns because ultimately you can’t really predict how the other person will respond. Don’t think about questions that don’t really need answers because it causes a needless reason to panic and feel nervous. Think about the now, like which outfit makes you feel amazing (for me its normally a skin brightening colour such as yellow!) or which bar serves great cocktails! Your personality is what counts. Allow your date to see how amazing you are without worrying about what he might think of your skin.

    Here are my tips on what ‘not to do’

    If you want to explain what Vitiligo is, do so.

     If, whilst on a date, you want to explain what Vitiligo is, feel free to do so. If you feel like it’s something you want to get out in the open, then confidently bring it up when the time feels right for you. Opening the dialogue shows that you’re comfortable talking about it and are relaxed about answering questions. You may find it’s a ‘weight off your shoulders’ and will help you to relax once you’ve explained what it is.

    There is no right time to mention

    I always thought there was a right time to have a conversation about Vitiligo. The first few dates felt too soon, but then there was the risk that if I left it too long, he would be wondering or second guessing what was really wrong with my skin….but then I wanted to feel comfortable so maybe date four wasn’t quite right either….

    Looking back, I gave it too much thought. There isn’t a ‘right’ time when you should explain what Vitiligo is and how it affects you. You may find it comes up naturally during conversation because you feel comfortable around that person, or because your date openly asks you out of curiosity. He may even say nothing at all, because it isn’t something he feels needs an explanation. Allow it to be something that comes up naturally rather than making it feel forced.

    Dating is supposed to be memorable and enjoyable! And regardless of how your skin looks, some dates are going to be amazing and some disastrous! Dating is potentially the very foundation to a lasting relationship and you want it to be memorable. Try not to give your skin too much thought and only see it as an opportunity to let your personality shine through. Remember: You are who you are and Vitiligo is not part of your personality….

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    Personal Experience

    A Return to Blogging, Exciting Projects and Broken Resolutions

    I vowed not to be a blogger that starts a post with ‘apologies for the silence over recent months’ and whilst it hasn’t been months since my last post (36 days to be precise!), I do feel as though I have neglected ‘Being Just Us’ of late and even worse, have written very little to satisfy my love for writing.

    So, where have I been?

    At the start of 2017 (I’m avoiding using the term resolution!), I vowed not to overload my social calendar, focused on putting a stop to squeezing in ‘appointments’ and decided I wasn’t going to involve myself in extra curricular activities such as volunteering and the occasional college course. At the end of last year life felt hectic and even though I thrive on being busy, I also recognised I needed time out. I wanted to allow more time for relaxation. Spend more evenings after work relaxing in my loungewear, reading, immersing myself in a good series and reverting forcing myself away from being a night owl that often affected my functioning abilities the following morning!

    So, I succeeded at watching a new series (easy choice with Being Mary Jane just entering its gripping 4th series!) and have been reading more, which has enabled me to pluck out new ideas for my blog, but my social life is still as busy as ever! I’ve been trying new restaurants in London satisfying my passion for food, keeping more closely connected with friends over glasses of wine and have also been fortunate enough to get involved in a few exciting projects…

    Changing Faces

    Leading charity, Changing Faces will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. An amazing milestone for an incredible charity that has supported and made a difference to tens of thousands of people coping with disfigurements everyday. I was very fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a special photoshoot to mark the occasion, photos of which will be used to make a ‘coffee table’ book showcasing a collection of inspiring images of those associated with the charity. I can’t wait to see the finished product later in the year!

    In association with the anniversary, the charity will be holding the UK’s first Face Equality Day on Friday 26th May 2017 alongside the release of a report called Disfigurement in the UK which will seek to highlight the issues and pressures that those with disfigurements face, day to day.

    To find out more about Changing Faces check out the link below;

    https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/

    The Vitiligo Society Quarterly Magazine

    The Vitiligo Society has always remained close to my heart, as it’s the only dedicated organisation local to me that has provided support, raised funds and organised events for those like myself living with Vitiligo. I recently contributed two interesting articles to the forthcoming issue of Dispatches, which will be released around March time. I also hopefully have some exciting news that I can share with regards to ongoing support at the Society. Hopefully I’ll be able to reveal more later this month!

    http://www.vitiligosociety.org.uk

    14 – 16 Science: Skin Colour and Vitiligo

    Changing Faces, recently revealed via Twitter, that they have created a collection of resources for schools, around a number of topics affecting teenagers, one being skin colour and Vitiligo. The resources, available on the website, aim to teach students about the role of melanocytes and melanin in skin colour alongside providing an overview of Vitiligo. I think this is a great stepping stone for schools as they assist with helping to raise awareness and an amazing initiative created by Changing Faces.

    Check out the resources out the resources on the charity website:

    https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/resources/education/secondary-school-resources

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