Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the skin to lose its color or pigment. This makes the skin turn white or appear lighter than one's natural skin tone. Areas of the skin that lose their pigment are called macules if they're small, or patches if they’re large. Additionally, if a person has vitiligo on the part of their body that has hair, it can change its colour to white or silver. This condition occurs when the body's immune system destroys melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin which gives the skin its colour.
India is considered to have the highest prevalence of vitiligo at 8.8% preceding Mexico and Japan. And yet our perception about the condition is still uninformed. Sometimes vitiligo can increase a risk of autoimmune diseases in the people it affects, but so far, the most damaging effects of vitiligo on the people that have the condition is psychosocial. Studies have shown that people with vitiligo are ostracized, mocked, have dietary and social restrictions imposed on them and are treated so crudely that it sometimes drive them to suicide ideation.
Most of the damage vitiligo does comes from outside. Young women suffer even more who are forced to meet the societal beauty standards which are not inclusive of skin conditions. Lack of representation and awareness causes intolerance among people and influences their behaviour towards the people with vitiligo. It wasn't until Winnie Harlow's arrival to the fashion industry that vitiligo was represented on a global scale. Things have started getting better since then.
Inclusivity and normalization are the only ways to expand those beauty standards that dictate our lives. Representation is key. There are thousands of Indian artists, dancers, content creators and people from other professions that are doing their part in raising awareness about vitiligo. But the fashion industry is probably the most critical element of this fight because that's the world we derive our perceptions of beauty from. Luckily there are people who are changing the industry from within.
We have curated a list of Indian models who are erasing the stigma against the skin condition and making way for a kinder, more embracing world for the next generation.
Jasroop is a British-Indian model who tread a difficult path growing up, often finding herself traumatized with incessant harassment and bullying. "I went through a lot of stages in life where I felt what even is the point of it anymore. I went through a hard time in school; children would stare at me, make fun of me. Whenever we’d visit the temple in our area, the older women would start whispering to each other."
Despite the hate, Jasroop overcame her insecurities and found love and confidence in herself during the pandemic and dove into modelling. In just 2 years, she has worked with Vogue, Burberry, Allure, Primark and other high-end fashion brands. She was also featured in the first ever music video filmed in Royal Albert Hall in Satinder Sartaaj's heart-warming song about inner beauty. She continues to redefine beauty through purpose on her social media.
Follow her here.
Prarthana developed vitiligo when she was 11. She recalls her painful childhood when bullies called her 'orange face' and 'the mask' throwing water on her to check if her makeup would wear off, "As a kid, you don't know how to wear makeup, especially when in school you are the only one allowed to wear it. I had to take numerous letters signed by my parents. I was bullied in school because of wearing makeup. I got tormented, my self-confidence was affected by that and I was pushed to a corner that was very difficult for me to come out of."
Prarthana wore make-up since she was 11 till 19. But in 2016, she was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst and had to get that operated on in an emergency laparoscopy. The care she received in the two days she couldn't wear makeup restored her confidence and brought about an internal change. Thereafter, she stopped all the skin treatments and decided to share her story on Instagram and Youtube. In November 2016, she modeled for Elle Magazine, followed by Grazia in 2017. In 2018, she started working with Blunt model agency. She has had a successful professional life in modelling and digital marketing since then. Prarthana continues to collaborate with brands and raise awareness about vitiligo.
Follow her here.
Ranjani was also diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 11. She had her struggles with the condition and accepting her skin often questioning, "why me?" But eventually in college, she finally “made peace with her imperfections" and modelled for a visual communications assignment; a decision that changed her life.
Ranjani now works with brands promoting inclusivity like Colours and Mirrors and even models for Another Life Collective, a thrift store consignment she started with her friends, Kavya and Mitra. Ranjani is also a visual artist who works with Blender and often uses her own body and skin to create art.
Follow her here.
Shantanu is a graduate in Textile Design from NIFT Gandhinagar, Gujarat, currently freelancing as an artist and trying his hands with modelling, photography, designing and dancing. His experience in growing up with vitiligo was quite different from the previous models we came across. Shantanu was suggested numerous treatments and he tried them as well, but when nothing worked out, he accepted it as it was.
"My mother also has the white spots, so it was not something strange or unusual to me. I think this familiarity to vitiligo helped me embrace it without much struggle. Having seen my mother living almost a normal life, I never thought that vitiligo is going to affect the quality of my life ever and I was not wrong thinking that way.” he shares in an interview.
Shantanu decided to experiment with the camera on his social media profiles. His modelling journey started when the local seller of a reputed clothing brand offered him a modelling assignment. When he posted his picture of collaboration with the brand, he started getting noticed by other brands and photographers and the world of fashion opened up for him. His favourite collaboration still happens to be a photo series called 'Portraits of Men’ by Arka Patra.
When the woke wave took over, it hit the fashion industry as well, and brands started seeking Shantanu just for his skin. Although he started modelling for representation when the industry wasn't as inclusive, the pseudo-activism of current times made him averse to his condition being used as a marketing strategy. Now Shantanu only works with brands that embody who he is.
Follow him here.