Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder affecting approximately three million Americans. The cells that produce skin pigmentation are called melanocytes, but for those suffering with vitiligo, the body destroys those cells causing white patches to appear all over the skin. The severity and number of white patches affect everyone differently. Although, the cause is still unknown, doctors believe it may be a genetic disorder. There is currently no permanent cure for vitiligo. Those afflicted will choose to cover-up the patches with makeup, apply immuno-modulators topical gels that can revert some of the colour back, or transplant melanocytes on the affected areas to darken the patches lightly.She dismissed it, thinking it was a sun spot. Within a couple of months, however, another spot appeared with many following. After a visit to a dermatologist, it was confirmed she had vitiligo.
After being asked if she showered in with bleach, Soto began wearing long sleeve shirts and pants to cover her spots. She didn’t care it was blistering hot in Florida. “It made me want to start hiding away from people and left me covering my skin, as I didn’t want people to make fun of me,” Soto recalls.
She wasn’t quite ready at the beginning to display her vitiligo “because I was afraid to put myself out there.”
“They say your body is a canvas, I’m just painted differently,” she wrote as her caption.
Her Instagram followers wrote positive, uplifting messages to the girl who was bullied for her condition at school. Her base of followers also grew.
Consequently, Soto puts a lot of thought into every photo she uploads. “It’s not just about posting—I try to say a little story or something I’ve been through in each post,” she says.
She uses a marker to trace the vitiligo patches on her body, using her body as the canvas to her art to create some pretty cool looking maps. “Sometimes I think my vitiligo is painted on like a map from another dimension,” she admits. She made creations on her body like The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh and a woodland creature, among others.
“I never realized how beautiful my vitiligo was until I traced it with a black marker, it really helps to bring out the different colours of my skin. I was always trying to find a way to look at my skin in a positive light, I couldn’t do that before starting this,” Soto says. “Now what others would perceive as an imperfection I have made into something more beautiful and made it more accepted than before.”
Soto says the experience has been “so eye-opening and exciting for me that people were actually doing this…To this day, I still can’t believe I have the following I have just for putting myself out there and trying to inspire other girls to feel comfortable.”
It was not until she came to realize that vitiligo was something she was going to have forever and it became a question about living her life to the fullest regardless of her condition.
And the acceptance from her social media followers have given this budding artist more confidence in herself. “I walk with my head up high, and I don’t care if anybody stares at me—it’s OK,” she says proudly.
In hindsight, Soto says she wishes she could go back and talk to her younger self. “I would tell myself that it will only get better as time goes on—that everything’s going to be OK,” she reveals.