Beauty Despite the Disease

Editor

One thing’s for sure, women have it a lot harder than men when it comes to body image. Societal constructs of beauty have also made it harder over the years for women to embrace their bodies, skin, and speak out about skin conditions. These bold beauties are showing that a skin condition does not define you, but can make for defining moments of inspiration in our lives, and in the lives of others.Here we highlight several lovely ladies, and ways you too can create your own defining moment.

1. Standing up to standards: Winnie Harlow

At the young age of 4, Chantelle Winnie was diagnosed with vitiligo. The unpredictable disease causes skin to lose color in large blotches across the body by killing or stopping the function of melanin cells. Growing up, Chantelle was called names like ‘cow’ or ‘zebra’. She was even asked if she was biracial and, “wasn’t mixed properly in the belly.” But this only fueled her aspirations of being a voice for others suffering from bullying or low-self esteem. In an industry riddled with standards of beauty, battling rejections from modeling agencies, Chantelle kept her spirits high. Before she was 18, a journalist had shared her story, she became a sensation on social media and got noticed by Tyra Banks, host of America’s Next Top Model. After inviting her to be on the show, Tyra helped Chantelle reach her dreams of becoming a supermodel, not just for fashion, but for beauty - from the inside out.

2. Remodeling Insecurities: Kelly Vannier

Fighting back against insecurity and stigma is Kelly Vannier, who opened up about her defining moment in a recent HealthCentral  Live Bold, Live Now multimedia story. While supporting her family and father after he suffered from a traumatic brain aneurysm, Kelly was diagnosed with chronic idiopathic urticarial (CIU), which caused hives to appear on the body, neck, or face. A bubbly, outgoing beauty, Kelly at times shut herself away from family and friends. She not only feared people were looking only at her hives, but often judged herself. After six months, Kelly realized she was the one stopping herself from enjoying life, and although she couldn't control her hives, she could control her feelings and outlook.  A professional recruiter, mother, and wife, Kelly says managing CIU is “still a learning process.” She still has tough days - but everyone does. And no matter what, she says, “there’s always something positive to look at in your life.”

_“The only you can do is own who you are. If other people are bashing me, or someone else for other reasons is because they have their own insecurity. So don’t let their wasted energy ruin your day.” _

3. Embracing Flaws: Giorgia Lanuzza

This 24 year-old Italian model made quite a statement this past summer after posting pictures of herself in her swimsuit - despite 97 percent of her body being covered by psoriasis. Giorgia says that her psoriasis appeared at age 13, after losing her father to a motorcycle accident and feeling, “like the world had ended.” The red, dry, flaky or scaly patches are often triggered by a trauma, and can be exacerbated by stress. She spent her teen years comparing herself to others, wearing long sleeves at parties while friends wore fun tops. But after cutting a trip to Thailand short because of her reactions to the sun, Giorgia realized she wasn’t going to let the marks dictate her life. Now well into her 20’s, she’s living more positively, and making the condition work for her. She says that she’s proud of her psoriasis, and thinks of the marks as reminders of her dad -- who would be proud of her for her attitude.

_“We might have conditions that make us look different from other women but we are still beautiful." - The Sun UK Interview, 2015 _

4. Sticking up for others: Alisha Bridges

Alisha Bridges used to be one of many who stayed quiet about her skin. Developing psoriasis at 7 years old, she often told people that she had eczema because it was familiar and she didn't have to explain. Alisha often wondered, “why me?” But as she got older she realized men and women deal with body issues, but don’t openly talk about them. She found her voice and courage after writing a ‘suicide letter,’ to herself. With it, she let go of fears of what other people thought so that she “could truly live.” Since then, this bold bombshell has done advocacy work with the National Psoriasis Foundation, conferences, and has created her own site. Never thinking her life would turn out this way, Alisha describes outreach work as liberating. She says in connecting with different types of people, she’s living for a purpose greater than herself - “something that will last a lifetime in the hearts of others.”

_“I really feel like accepting myself has increased my compassion and empathy for others, especially those who are the minority in this generation, no matter what it is.” _

5. Paving Your Own Path: Jane Wurwand

Growing up, Jane was one of four girls under the age of 14 raised by a single mother. One of the greatest lessons Jane’s mother taught her was practicality, learning “how to DO something in life that could put food on the table. It was Jane’s chronic eczema that would later help her find her calling. Jane had to avoid beauty products with fragrances, artificial colors, lanolin or alcohols -- all common ingredients in cosmetics. Frustrated from endlessly trying products that never improved the condition of her dry skin, she founded the International Dermal Institute. Jane also went on to develop her own skin care line, Dermalogica, which creates professional-grade gentle skin care products that can be recommended to clients with problem skin to use at home. She’s also become an activist for women’s rights and social equality.

_"Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Stop. Focus on, and share your joys. Don't shrink yourself through negativity. Expand." - @Dermalogicajane Twitter _

While writing this, one of the biggest hurdles I noticed women face is being compared to or comparing ourselves to other women. The truth is, what makes women beautiful is that we are all different. These different talents, strengths, and backgrounds shape us to be strong, bold and loving. But from these stories and many others across the world, it’s plain to see loving yourself begins with not caring what others think, and staying true to yourself. Loving all the things that make you unique, even a skin condition, allows your character and personality to shine through - providing a true sense of confidence and purpose.

And ladies, there’s nothing more beautiful, than confidence.