We Talk To People Living With Carotenosis, Albinism and Vitiligo About Self-Acceptance

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Discrimination runs deep in our society, believe it or not, it does. Individuals go through some sort of prejudice from gender, to sexuality, to colour and skin type. The aftermath of the aforementioned segregation usually leaves almost an irreversible scar on the life of the victim, and are they able to handle it?  I reached out to the different individuals affected by one skin condition or the other and we discussed their journey to self-acceptance.

“I felt like poo poo in my skin”–– those were the words of Obianuju, a 20 year-old fashion designer with carotenosis (a skin condition that results in orange discolouration on the outer skin layer). For Obianuju, people around her ignorantly labelled the her condition as “albinism” and would throw comments like, “Why is your skin this way?, why are you red?”. Those words pierced her hard and led to seven years of insecurity concerning her skin tone. At just age 11, the struggle for self- acceptance began for her.

Courtesy of Obianuju.

                            

“I started battling with self acceptance around the age 11, that was when my adolescence life started . I felt left out, I felt i couldn’t do things like the rest of my peers because i believed I was so odd (chuckle) and then people started tormenting me with things like Albinism/Afin (Afin is a Yoruba term used to categorize Albinos) and hearing those words were  just so…..i don’t know, it had a way of degrading your self esteem.

Every day I had to battle with self-esteem, every single day of my life I couldn’t mingle, I couldn’t put myself out there I couldn’t do the things I love, like do it in a way I wanted. It got to a point where I tried as much as possible to join some activities in school just to put myself out there and not feel like a shadow. I  felt strait when it came to making friends, talking to people or being confident about the kind of things I do.

The struggle for self-acceptance lasted until I was about eighteen years old. When I turned 18 I realized that I had to accept who I was, I mean I couldn’t reverse my skin colour. I actually tried to change my complexion by using different kinds of products, I remembered vividly calling a lot of people on how I can bleach my skin (laughs)  I felt odd, I felt like poo poo in my skin. But as time swirled away I had to accept it, 90 per cent of the people I met asked questions concerning my skin “why is your skin this way? why are you red? .These sort of inquiry puts you off but the remaining 10 percent were people who were like “wow I like your skin colour, oh my God, you are so different I like it” so these little positive comments I got served as a shield and strength to my self-acceptance.

I had to stick with my skin tone and work with it, I was told over time the orange discolouration would wear out but it would still remain a bit visible.  I started feeling loved (it took a lot of time and effort, I started feeling beautiful, dressing nicely, interacting with people and feeling “hella” confident when doing the things I love the most not to forget I was “picture shy” cause of my skin tone, I felt ugly in pictures, I started taking pictures. Today I don’t think I have any issues with my skin anymore it took about seven years to gain self-acceptance and I’m glad that I did!”.

Courtesy of Gideon White

Gideon White  (20) a fashion model tells me from his home in Oshodi (one of the mainland axis in Lagos State) when I asked him if he has come to face any sort of biased situation as a model with Albinism from fashion brands. 

“I haven’t faced any predilection directly but my manager tells me about the sh*t he has to face because of me… Those kinds of side talks and gestures about me not being able to walk on the runway, that I may trip and fall off the podium… But that only stood as a motivation for us and when I did it I killed it….”.

One thing Gideon made very clear concerning self-acceptance is valuing one’s self. “You need to value yourself first before others can think of valuing you, self-love matters”. Gideon grew up in Lagos and started modelling two years ago (2018), he recounted what made his childhood special were his family and friends. 

They’ve been my drive force, encouragement and counsellor, and definitely my  school I used  to perform and win so much in extracurricular activities. This ‘wins” meant something to me, people were always depending on me and I killed it!”. That must have been why he struts down the runway during fashion weeks with an authentic confidence–he believes people are depending on him to deliver the best. While family and friends contributed positively to his childhood, he still had to groom his self esteem to a very mature level , from his point of view if you don’t build up your self esteem to a certain stage, you would always be the victim in the order of things. 

Gideon wants to be a force.

“I want to be remembered for as  an aspiring figure, as that guy that adds meaning to the life of others”

He is very proactive and all about raising awareness, June 13 was National Awareness Albino Day and Gideon who belongs to an Albino association was at a gathering to raise awareness.  African countries like Burundi and Tanzania are among countries that individuals with Albinism today face some gross human treatment, mediocre myths such as believing that a man with HIV can be cured with sleeping with an “Albino”.

“I feel remorse and pity. They deserve empathy not sympathy” Gideon tells me. He could relate to some myth associated with individuals like him, he shared one with me:

“The Yorubas like saying “Afin o n je iyo”  (Albinos don’t eat salt) and it’s wrong, albinos can eat as much salt as they like with moderation… The sun is simply our worst enemy and that’s all”

“Most times it’s annoying to hear people say such things, that’s a reason why the National Awareness Albino Day is important, it another day to educate people on Albinism because they are a lot of false myths”. 

             Gideon White in Tokyo James at the 2018 Lagos Fashion Week        

Gideon misses hitting the runway, the pandemic has cut life in the fashion sphere short. The pandemic has taught him lot of lessons but above all:

“It has taught me that I need to better my craft and achieve my goals because things are evolving.

With having walked the total of six runway shows, tons of editorial photoshoots showcasing for some of the big names in the fashion industry since his debut, Gideon White believe he has set out stepping stones for individuals like him after all: “I am like *UP NEPA* in any room I walk into”.

          Courtesy of Isaiah Darius   

“It started as a little white dots on my knees and other part of my body, I never knew what it was back then until we went to the hospital and i got diagnosed with it, I wasn’t shocked with the whole situation until the stigmatization started and got called different crazy names”

Isaiah Darius – Model

21-year-old freelance model and basketball player Isaiah Darius takes me through how Vitiligo became part of his life. The exact cause of vitiligo is very much unknown but is however believed to be due to genetic susceptibility caused by an environmental factor. Darius has lived with the condition since towards his transition into middle school.

“Black and yellow, orange boy, Spiderman, Batman”. These are some of the names I got called when I was in highschool.

“Spiderman and Batman were as a result of having patches around my eyes shaped like the superheroes icon around my eyes, very big”. He added.  “I have accepted myself to an extent where words can’t get to me, I don’t see myself as someone living with vitiligo I see myself more as the average Nigerian boy who has a dream and lots of stories to tell but at the same time we are humans with emotions and it’s still a constant fight for me as a person”. 

 Courtesy of Isaiah Darius

Generally, when we hear Vitiligo, Canadian model Winnie Harlow comes to mind. Some people with Vitiligo see her as a role model or hope to draw inspiration from. Darius shares his take on her saying:

She’s a powerful influence, she’s charming and it would be nice to meet her in person, I don’t consider her as an inspiration though, my inspiration comes from my environment I see the good, the bad and ugly and I learn from it all.”

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