By Josh Saunders
A man bullied for his rare skin condition vitiligo has defied his tormentors and become a magazine model.
Curtis McDaniel, from Bordentown in New Jersey, USA, was 11-years-old when white speckles appeared on his skin caused by vitiligo – an autoimmune disorder that stops cells from producing pigment and affects 1% of the world’s population.
His face and body developed large white patches and bullies labelled him ‘zebra’ and ‘Michael Jackson’, while kids would run away from him crying.
But at 17-years-old, the teen stopped seeing his condition as a ‘curse’ and a couple of years later was scouted as a model after uploading a selfie online.
Now he’s a part-time model and soon he will feature on MTV’s True Life show, which he hopes to use as a platform to educate others about vitiligo.
Curtis, 22, who is studying to be an urban planner, said: “I was the only person in my family to have vitiligo and took it pretty hard at school, I was bullied a lot by people for skin.
“They would call me burnt lips, Michael Jackson, zebra, giraffe and people thought I was contagious – I had a lot.
“Girls would ask if I was burned and would say ‘Ew’ whenever they saw me.
“I was a spectacle everywhere I went, I once had kids running out of a store crying when they saw me and was called a ‘monster’.
“Before I used to think my skin was a curse, but now I realise my skin is a gift, it’s allowing me to influence people.
“Once I had this new outlook on my skin, I stopped getting so angry and started to smile more.
“After that my modelling expanded from there, I’ve been in a few magazines and am featuring on MTV True Life later this year.
“Before, I hated having my picture taken and would hide from the camera, so to me I never would have believed I could model, to me it was a complete no-go.
“Modelling was something that just fell into my lap one day, but it’s given me a platform and when I saw the impact it could have I changed my mind about it completely.
“Now I use my exposure and platform from modelling to help and inspire others.”
Curtis suffered a deep depression for five years, while he struggled to understand why he had been affected by the condition.
He said: “It took over my wrists, arms, then went under my nose, around my lips and my left eyelid too.
“Whenever I saw a new white spot while looking in the mirror it would make me angry, once it started to affect my face I punched a mirror in anger.
“I was in a bad place and suffered from a deep depression..”
But after returning to Christianity his mindset changed, he says it helped him to realise he should see his skin in a positive light and shouldn’t feel ostracised because of it.
With the support of family and friends he became more confident and started to love his skin.
Curtis said: “It’s all a process, confidence isn’t something you just get, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and change your mindset.
“Skin is so materialistic, you have to love who you are and to find something you love about yourself on the inside, that’s important.”
Now Curtis models while studying and hopes by proudly showing his skin he’s inspiring others with vitiligo to not hide away.
Since embracing his condition he’s found people are more attracted to him for both his appearance and his personality.
Curtis said: “It’s pretty cool, people like the pattern of my skin and also the confidence I have too, I never could have imagined this would be my life now.
“Whenever I model or speak I don’t want people to see my skin but my heart, I want them to see my heart through my skin.
“A lot of people have told me that when they first saw me they liked my skin but what was most attractive was reading about me as a person, that’s what makes them fall in love with me.”