I can’t quite believe that this is the tenth instalment in my How Do I Look? series. I have been talking about rosacea on my blog and social media for 6+ years and feel so passionately about skin positivity and diversity in the appearances we are shown in the media and what is considered ‘attractive’. So I wanted to use my platform, privilege, and reach to educate people and amplify the voices of others. So far I’ve spoken to people with acne, psoriasis, scars, eczema, hair loss, and birthmarks – all posts are linked at the very bottom of this post – and today I have a new story for you.
I’m so pleased to share my interview with Shankar Jalota, better known online as The Vitiligo Man. He was amazingly open with me, covering make up, mental health, and the media representation of vitiligo. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Tell me a little bit about your vitiligo…
I first got Vitiligo when I was 15 years old and I noticed it as a tiny white patch on my chest and a white speck under my left eye. I thought nothing of it for a while and honestly thought I wasn’t washing myself properly. I noticed it never went away, but still thought – like most things going on as a 15 year old – that it was just a part of growing up.
It wasn’t until my gran came to visit that she told me to go to the doctors as soon as possible. When I went to the doctors they didn’t say what it was, they just gave me different creams and told me to apply it to my white patches hoping it would go away. I believed it was as simple as that to get rid of it. How wrong I was! A month later the creams had had no effect and my vitiligo had now got bigger, new white patches were appearing and I felt very stressed. Being at secondary school, people did start to notice and ask me a lot of questions, I felt horrible. I didn’t even understand what I had, let alone know anyone else that had it!
Incredible photo above by Brock Elbank.
I went back to the doctors and tried different types of treatments including light therapy. I went to Germany to try homeopathic therapy, my dad even went to India and got some tablets to try too but I had no luck. The only other solution the doctors suggested was using Cover Mark make up.
At the time make up was what I needed to build my confidence back up. I used it to cover up the Vitiligo around my left eye mostly and it became my daily routine for six or seven years! Two years ago while I was on my university placement year, I was staying at my girlfriend’s house and I was following my normal daily routine: I reached in my bag to get my makeup and it wasn’t there. It is crazy to think now that this was the day my life changed. I didn’t want to go into work – I felt deflated, what would everyone think? What if people stare? After words of encouragement from my girlfriend and fighting my own mental health battle, I decided to go to work and face the world as myself. Yes I got asked questions, yes people stared. But I don’t blame them: I had worn make up and for me to now not wear any… of course people would be curious! I stopped wearing make up altogether and started my Instagram account – @thevitiligoman – and now I try and inspire people with Vitiligo who went through or are going through the same journey as me. I wanted to be the person I wish that I had when I was 15 years old.
What are the common misconceptions, comments, or questions about vitiligo? What do you wish people knew about vitiligo?
I wish younger people were educated about skin conditions in general, especially at school. It’s important to not be treated horribly when you’re younger as it can really affect your later life. Common misconceptions are: people thinking you can catch it; people asking why don’t I try this that and the other; or people feeling sorry for me. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me as sympathy battles with my own mental state when I think there is nothing wrong with me.
When did you decide to start talking publicly about your vitiligo? What sparked this decision?
As mentioned above, it was by pure accident. Forgetting to bring my make up bag to my girlfriend’s house led to me never wanting to wear make up again. If that hadn’t have happened, who knows I could still be wearing make up now to cover it up!
Since you started The Vitiligo Man account you’ve done so many cool things – what are your highlights or the things you’re proudest of?
So many things! I love helping people and answering people’s DMs on Instagram (although there can be a fair few that come in weekly so it can take me a while to get through them). It just reminds me why I do what I do and that your words really can change someone’s life for the better. Other highlights would be: my first photoshoot with my friend Jay Fisher as that was the first time I came out my shell in front of the camera; I modelled for Topman; I was in Vice after Brock Elbank took a startling shot of me; I worked with Changing Faces which led to pieces in The Metro and The Telegraph. Not forgetting being on the front cover of Conker magazine! That’s a lot of highlights, but the point I want to make here is me just being myself with my vitiligo changed my life for the better!
How does your skin make you feel on a day to day basis?
I love the skin I am in now and it makes me feel good, but I do go to lengths to protect it with SPF 50 sunscreen as its important that it doesn’t burn. Also a 0% alcohol moisturising cream is a must!
I know that in the past you used make up to cover your vitiligo, how did you learn how to apply it? How did using make up make you feel? How do you feel about the use of make up now?
I was pretty bad! Every day my make up would look different, I tried my best to apply it using my fingers, but it was over year until I used the powder to make it less shiny as I had no idea how it all worked. I did get advice at the beginning, but I guess being a 16 year old boy at the time I felt a bit silly so I didn’t really pay attention.
I also didn’t like putting the make up on as it took so long, I’d have to wake up early as I knew it took me at least half hour to put on and for it to settle. If the make up was kept out and it was cold it would never go on my face properly, but if it was too hot it would be too wet… But ultimately at the time it did give me the confidence I needed to get out the house.
I would never use make up now, even if someone paid me (and I have been asked several times by different brands!). However I’m not saying it’s a bad thing for other people. If you have just been diagnosed with vitiligo it may be just what you need to be able to cope and over time it might help you to build your confidence.
Photo above by Brock Elbank.
What are your thoughts on the media visibility of vitiligo?
I think it could be better! But it is good to see small waves being made. This was one of the reasons I signed up to be an ambassador for Changing Faces because they too want to change this movement. A highlight for me was seeing a young boy called Kaiden do a Primark campaign at just 12 years old. I was so proud to see him full of confidence in how he looks and comforted in knowing that younger kids now had someone to look up to. Also kids who don’t have a visible difference can at least look and understand that it’s okay to look different.
How did you become a model? Have you noticed a change in the way brands approach campaigns with regards to diversity?
It just sort of happened through my Instagram, I focused on being a role model and other things just seem to come from it. The first show I did was through Rebecca Violette’s diversity fashion show where myself and others with differences and disabilities walked down a catwalk showcasing her amazing clothing. Other things then took off from there.
I would say it is getting better, I used to be a part of agency called Zebedee Management and I saw a lot of brands considering using diverse models. I would say change is happening, but slowly and not consistently. Take the Kaiden Primark campaign for example: it was great that they did it, but there needs to be more of that kind of thing happening consistently to really bring a clear message.
The skin positivity movement seems to be dominated by women – why do you think there are fewer men talking about their appearances publicly? Do you think there are differences in the conversations depending on gender?
I have noticed this a lot and spoken to many people about it. I really want to do something about that myself and certainly have some things coming up to tackle the male body positivity movement side.
I think guys finder it harder to talk about these things… I know I did! Plus there can be a link between that and male mental health. It is hard to come out as a guy and talk about these things – even when I started to form a more positive movement I didn’t know what direction to go in. Although over time I have sensed more change needs to happen, especially from brands that advertise a non-diverse range of body positive models.
How do you deal with bad days?
Ah they happen from time to time! I go for walks, gym, run, Netflix, food, talk to friends, listen to music, read a book… or none of the above and be spontaneous and book something to look forward to. That’s a good tip: always have something to look forward to like a holiday, an evening with friends, or seeing family.
You talk really openly about mental health (and male mental health in particular) which is wonderful. In the past few years there have been more conversations around the link between skin and mental health, what are your thoughts?
Absolutely there is a link! It’s a human right to feel happy in the skin you are in, but your mental mindset can change a lot of that if what you see and how you feel goes against your own right to be happy.
I think back to my early days with vitiligo and it really did affect my mental health, I hated it. I didn’t want to go out, go swimming, or meet new people. I mean why would I? I hated the skin I was in. But I think I hated it because there was no one I could look up to, no one to tell me it was okay, and guide me through really learning how to love myself. I focus more on other guys now. I know that when I wore make up it was hard to accept doing that as it was ‘unmanly’ but now I see things a different way. I hope to continue to tackle this movement and push male mental health – more campaigns coming soon!
Have any positives come out of your vitiligo?
Oh my god yes!! My life literally changed. It might sound crazy but I wasn’t always as confident as I am now. I would say even that I wasn’t fully confident until I stopped wearing make up and grew to love the skin I was in, and further to that it made me believe in myself so much more.
In my early days at uni (when I was still wearing make up) I was a 2:2 graded student, but doing my placement year 2017/18 and forgetting my make-up essentially gave me a new mindset and a new boost of confidence. I was able to accept my vitiligo for what it was. I would say the change played a huge part in me achieving a First Class honours in my 4th and final year at university. This also led to me winning multiple awards that I would never would have won otherwise: Manchester Met Uni Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 , National YE Student Of The Year 2019, and Shortlisted for the IOEE Enterprise Award 2019 which was hosted at the House of Lords. So in short, absolutely yes – so many positives! And I want others to experience that too!
And finally, what are your top tips for living with vitiligo?
- Don’t let your vitiligo define your insecurities, let it define your confidence;
- Protect your skin: use sun cream daily as it can burn quickly;
- Feel it, nurture it, love it;
- Embrace who are you in your own time. No one is saying you have to like or dislike your vitiligo but rather then be adamant you don’t like it I challenge you to first research it, understand it, and hopefully learn to see it is actually a beautiful thing;
- Don’t worry about covering it up with make up (if you don’t want to). There’s no right or wrong way to deal with it: just remember you are in control with how you look and have that right – just like anyone else – to choose what decisions you make.
Want more Shankar in your life?
- Follow him on Instagram HERE (and check out his video series ‘Vitiligo Man Speaks’ all saved to his Instagram highlights);
- Recent interview with BBC Radio London ‘Vitiligo In The BAME Community‘;
- Interview with Manchester Evening News.
Read the other posts in the How Do I Look? series here:
- MICHELLE talking about her scars;
- SOFIA talking about her acne;
- NATALIE talking about vitiligo;
- SUSIE on her Telogen Effluvium (hair loss);
- AMY on her port wine stain birthmark;
- GEMMA on psoriasis;
- AMARA on eczema;
- GRACE on her scars;
- and JUDY on her sensitive skin.
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