“I got vitiligo at the age of 25, and boy did it change my life. Let’s start from the beginning, I grew up in a very small town in Ville Platte, Louisiana raised in a two-parent household. I used to get into fights because people would make fun of our religion. We were Apostolic, and they believed a woman shouldn’t wear anything pertaining to a man, like pants and shorts. So, people teased me because of it. My parents weren’t wealthy. They were hard-working Americans just like everyone else. We made do with what we had.
As a kid I was teased, not only for my clothes but also because I was skinny and dark-skinned. They believed having dark skin wasn’t beautiful. Boys would throw crickets on me and call me names like ‘dirty black roach.’ We eventually moved away from that city to another small town and things were a little better there.
I was new so I got a fresh start. I was older and grew into myself. I matured and got a job so I could have better clothes. Hopefully, this way people would have one less thing to make fun of me for. My parents’ religious views had changed, so they let us wear pants and shorts. Things were looking up for me. I met a boy, he and I exchanged numbers, and we became great friends. We would talk on the phone and clown around for hours. Our friendship eventually turned into a relationship. He had swept me off my feet. I liked how he made me feel beautiful. He and I continued to date until one day I didn’t hear from him anymore. It was as if he disappeared off the face of the earth. I was heartbroken.
At the age of 17, I had my first child. My dad was so mad at me, he punched a hole in the wall near my head. He and my mom were disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself. But there was nothing I could do to change things. Abortion was not an option. My dad said, ‘You created a life and you’re gonna be responsible for it.’ On February 28th, my first son was born. He was the cutest little person I’d ever seen. It was love at first sight. In an instant, my life had changed. It was no longer about me. He was the most important person in my life.
One day, I was checking my emails and the boy who just stopped talking to me sent me a message via email. He explained the reason he went missing. He told me he enrolled in the army and his family relocated to Arkansas. He said once he left the military, he was coming to get me so we could be together because I was about to turn 18. I explained to him I had a son. He was sad, but he told me he loved me and if he loved me, he would love my son, too.
We started talking on the phone again. He sent me money to take care of my son so I could focus on school. He was a great guy. Everything he said he’d do, he did. He eventually moved to where I was. He told me he wanted to marry me. In hindsight, I never should’ve rushed into anything. I should’ve taken my time. I was too young. But I had a son, and he loved me, so I went through with it.
At the age of 18, July 19th, I was married less than 6 months after my son was born. My life had completely changed. At first, our marriage was amazing. In less than a couple of months after we got married, I found out I was pregnant with our first daughter.
I was 19, with two children and a husband who worked offshore on an oil rig. He was gone two weeks out of every month. When he was home, we got along, well…at first. Then one day, he came back and he was upset. I was talking to him and he didn’t respond to me. I was tired, trying to balance 2 kids while going to college and I asked him to help me with the kids. He said, ‘No.’ That was not his job, it was mine. I yelled at him and he got in my face and slapped me. I left running down the street crying, and I called my dad to tell him that he hit me. My dad came and spoke to him about him never putting his hands on me again. I think because I got my dad involved it caused a rift between us. He never hit me again, but he verbally abused me.
His job moved so we moved to another city. This time, we were closer to his hometown. That was a big mistake because he started hanging out with his old friends and was staying out late. He started cheating. My family moved closer to me and I kept a lot of the things that went on to myself until I couldn’t anymore. The sh*t was about to hit the fan. One day, I checked the mail and saw a letter from Arkansas child-support enforcement. Some woman wanted child support from him. I asked him what this was about, and he ended up telling me he had a son. We had been married for about 8 years. His son was the same age as our 6-year-old daughter. For 6 years he hid a baby from me. I was horrified. I was so mad. How could he do this to me? How could he betray our marriage? It put a real rift in our marriage. I didn’t trust him for a long time. But I forgave him, and we worked on our marriage.
But things did not get better between us. One day, I came from work and I couldn’t stand to look at him, so I picked a fight. We went back and forth arguing for hours. Finally, I went to the bathroom to take a bath and once I got in the tub, he came in behind me. He grabbed me by my neck, pulled me out of the tub, and started to choke me. If it wasn’t for my daughter I probably wouldn’t be here today. When he let me go, I called the police. He was arrested and spent 30 days in jail. While he was in there, he wrote me letters begging me to take him back, and like a fool, once again, I took him back.
But I made rules this time. I put my foot down; I was not going to tolerate any more cheating, lying, or abuse anymore. We went to counseling and for a while things were good. Little did I know, a storm was brewing that was going to turn my life upside down. One morning, as I was showering for work, I went to shave my underarms and noticed this white spot under my arm. I tried to scrub it off, but it wouldn’t come off. It was about the size of a pea. I made an appointment to go to my family doctor. His diagnosis for it was an allergic reaction to razors, so I started using Nair. But every time I checked the spot, it was bigger and bigger.
Then, an actual storm came called Hurricane Rita. We lost everything we had worked so hard for. We ended up evacuating to Little Rock, Arkansas, to his parent’s home. I was so busy with my family and worried about the damages that had happened to our home, I forgot about the spots. We decided to relocate and stay in Arkansas where his family lived. I thought maybe it’d be good for us, but it would instead be where he and I ended our marriage.
One day, I noticed another spot, this time on my face under my right eye. I showed one of my friends and she told me I needed to go to a dermatologist, someone that specializes in skin. So, I made an appointment with the best dermatologist in Arkansas. It was about a month before I got to see the doctor. During that time, I got some more spots and I began to panic.
When I finally got to my appointment, I was so nervous I was visibly shaking. The doctor noticed I was nervous, and he told me I was going to be OK! He told me I had vitiligo. ‘Is it cancer? Is it contagious? How did I get it?’ I asked. He laughed and said it was not what I thought it was. I asked him if there was a cure. He told me there wasn’t. He said there were creams he could prescribe but he couldn’t promise me they would work. I began to cry. I asked him to show me pictures of people with the same skin condition and he pulled out his laptop. I thought the people in the pictures were monsters. And I was going to be a monster, too.
I was terrified to tell my children and my husband. There was nothing I could do. There was NO CURE! What was I going to look like? Were my children going to be afraid of me? Would my family be ashamed of how I looked? So many things ran through my mind. I was afraid. I was angry. How could God do this to me? I have been through so much in my life, why did he choose me? I didn’t deserve this. I thought I was cursed.
The ride home was about 30 to 45 minutes and I cried the whole way home. My marriage was ending. How was I going to walk away from my marriage when I was going to look like this? Nobody was going to want me. I got home and my husband asked what the doctor said. I just started crying. I sat down, I called my mom and told her and my father what the doctor said. My mom asked if there were any side effects, I told her no it wouldn’t harm me at all, but it would only change the way I looked. She said there was nothing I could do and no matter what, she and my dad would love me, and they were going to pray it didn’t spread anymore.
I decided I was going to cover it with makeup. I was missing home, so I planned a trip for us to go and visit my family. While I was there, one of my friends who was a makeup artist told me there was a makeup I could use that would give me great long-lasting coverage. She showed me how to put it on with my other makeup and no one would even know I had the spots on my face. And that’s what I used for a while.
When I got back home, I filed for divorce and my husband wasn’t happy. He made my life hell. He tried to kill me again. Thank God for my daughter, who saved my life once again. The divorce took a toll on me and my mental state. He was telling me no one would want me because of the way I looked. I had four kids–who was going to want a woman with that many kids? He was in my head and it was working.
I tried to commit suicide. But, thank God He wasn’t ready for me yet, because I had a purpose. I moved back home with my family because I had no one in Arkansas. My mom had been begging me to come home but I felt if I left, I would be giving up. But it was best. I had to start all over again. My mom and dad gave me their home and they moved in another home. I got a new job, I bought a new car, and life was great again.
My vitiligo was constantly spreading to the point where I couldn’t hide some of my spots. I wore long sleeve shirts and pants all year round. It was very overwhelming to try to hide such a big secret. Once it got to my hands, there was nothing I could do about it. People would stare at my hands and think I was burned. I would let them think that.
One day, I went to my mom’s house to visit her, and when I got there one of my sister’s best friends was at her home. He had come to bring my niece, his goddaughter, some new shoes, and my mom introduced us to each other. You know, it’s crazy, I could’ve met him so many times when I visited, but I always missed him. I guess God was saving this moment because we were supposed to meet at this time. I thought to myself, ‘Wow he’s a great guy.’ He and I exchanged numbers, but he never called.
One day, I was outside washing my car and he happened to pass by and noticed it was me. He made a U-turn and came back and talked to me. We ended up planning our first date. It was one of the best dates I’d ever had. He was so nice to me, and I know he noticed my vitiligo on my legs and feet and hands, but he never mentioned it. We just bonded. For the first time in a long time, I felt like things were looking up for me. He and I continued dating, and he treated me like a queen. But he didn’t know I had those spots on my face. I never brought it up because he never brought it up.
One day, he came to the house out of the blue. He normally called before he came in case I was out doing something with the kids. And when I was home, I didn’t wear makeup unless he was there. He knocked on the door and I ran to the door and forgot I didn’t have makeup on. He looked at me with a shocked face and I’m like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Oh, you have it on your face.’ I touched my face and I ran towards the bathroom. The way he looked at me was like he was kind of weirded out, but he was just shocked because he didn’t know. He grabbed me and said, ‘Wait, where are you going?’ I said, ‘To put on my makeup.’ He said, ‘No, don’t do that.’ I was so scared; I didn’t know what to do. He said, ‘You’re beautiful. Have you been wearing makeup this whole time?’ I said, ‘Yes, I don’t like it on my face, and I didn’t think you would want to be with me if you knew I looked like this.’ He said, ‘What? I love you for you. You’re an amazing woman.’ He said, ‘You’re so beautiful. I don’t know why you’re hiding this. You’re unique. I like it.’
My soul was so happy. I smiled and he said, ‘Let’s go to the store.’ I still said, ‘Let me put on my makeup because I don’t want people staring at me and giving me weird looks.’ He said, ‘Who cares? You’re beautiful. Let them stare.’ And he wouldn’t let me put on my makeup and we went right to the store. I was so scared. He knew I was nervous about it, so he grabbed my hand and he told me it was going to be OK. He said, ‘You’re beautiful and if they can’t see that then that’s on them.’ I was a nervous wreck in the store. I was sweating and literally my heart was beating out of my chest, but I got through it and a few people even came up to me and told me I was beautiful. When we got in the car, he said, ‘You see? It wasn’t so bad after all.’ I could finally be free.
One day we were lying in bed and I came across the model Winnie Harlow on Facebook. He told me, ‘You could be a model, too. You have a very exotic look and a very beautiful face. Maybe you could inspire other people who look like you to love themselves.’ I wasn’t where he wanted me to be, but it inspiring to see someone who looked like me accept themselves.
I continued to wear my makeup but it was getting hard because Louisiana is so hot. One day I decided I wasn’t going to wear it anymore. I went out by myself without makeup on. I even went to work one day without my makeup. People were rude. One man said, ‘Holy shit, you scared me.’ Another person called me Batman’s sister. Someone even asked, ‘Why are you walking around with paint on your face? Were you going duck hunting?’ I got stares. People didn’t even want to take money out of my hand sometimes. I cried. But I was tired, and I wanted to be free.
I used to write myself affirmations on my mirror. I was looking at myself in the mirror through my eyes and not through God’s eyes. But, one day I saw myself in God’s eyes. I remember I made a Facebook post letting my Facebook friends know I had vitiligo. The response I got was good, I even found a Facebook group with people who had the same skin condition as me. So, I started posting pictures of myself and people noticed. A guy even invited me to be in a fashion show. I talked it over with my boyfriend and he said I should do it and so I did.
The first night I walked, a photographer was waiting for me outside of the dressing room. He handed me a card and said he wanted to work with me. I said, ‘Me?’ He said, ‘Yeah. I don’t think you know how beautiful you are. Let me show you.’ I was shocked.
I created an Instagram account and I made creative posts with my pictures and more people noticed. A company contacted me and asked if they could do a piece on me. I had to write up a story and it went viral. It was so big, a TV company contacted me also to be a part of a TV show! And I told my story on live TV. I’ve had so many people reach out to me and share their stories with me. I had become a phenomenon!
I remember asking God once, ‘What is my purpose?’ I remember never getting an answer and watching my life unfold the way it has been. I once thought of vitiligo as a curse, and now it is the best thing that ever happened to me. I was not only living a real-life dream, but I was also helping people overcome their fears and accepting themselves for the way God created them. I was completely happy in my life for the first time.
I figured out my purpose. My purpose is to inspire and empower, and I was doing it. My life has changed for the better and I was happy. All the things that happened in my past brought me to this moment, I thank God for everything that I went through because here I am living out my dreams, and I’m able to do it by being myself. I’m proud of me.
I want women to know you don’t have to be anyone else. You don’t have to look like everyone else. Why fit in when you can stand out? Love yourself and respect yourself. I know you were created the way you are for a purpose. Never let someone treat you less than the way you deserve to be treated. You deserve to be treated like the queen you are. Never give up on your dreams, accomplishments, or goals. Set the world on fire. Be free and be you. And know you are perfectly painted with a purpose.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Iomikoe Johnson from Lake Charles, LA. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her business on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more inspiring stories about those with skin conditions here:
‘I noticed a line emerge under my nail. It quickly passed to each finger. I was the ugly girl turning white.’: Woman with vitiligo shows ‘true beauty’ after 32 years of hiding, ‘I no longer live in the shadows’
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