BY NICOLAS FERNANDES
An accountant who developed Vitiligo after falling off her bike as a child is now pursuing a modelling career thanks to Winnie Harlow.
Amber La Jefe, 22, of Memphis, Tennessee, USA, began losing pigment in her legs, arms and face, shortly after the biking accident at six-years-old.
The continued loss of colour from her skin, left her upset for not looking like everyone else and feared her modeling dreams would never become a reality.
As it spread further, she started to find it easier to accept that vitiligo was as part of her identity.
The rise of famous vitiligo model Winnie Harlow in 2014, helped Amber realise that the pigment disorder would not hold her back from modeling.
For more than a decade, the accountancy graduate would cover her skin but found the confidence to leave the house without makeup covering her vitiligo last year and is determined to follow her dreams.
She said: “One day when I was six years old, I was learning to ride a bike without training wheels and I fell and scraped both of my knees.
“After the scabs healed, there were small circular scars on each knee with no pigment.
“When I was around eight or nine, it started to spread to other parts of my legs and face.
“In elementary school, everyone is so influenced by the people around them. I didn’t want anyone looking at me differently.
“It started to spread a lot when I was ten years old, but I was able to hide a lot of it with my makeup and the clothes I wore.
“You’re very influenced by people around you as a kid and I didn’t want anyone looking at me differently.
“I always thought of modeling but didn’t think that it was possible for someone in my situation. Winnie Harlow finally gave me hope that it was something I could do.
“Recently I haven’t been wearing my makeup as much. I am becoming much more comfortable with myself.”
The aspiring model thinks her personality is one of the main reasons why her classmates, friends and past boyfriends have been so accepting of her skin disorder.
For most of her life, she has been very outgoing which she believes made it a lot easier for people to see past her Vitiligo.
Amber said: “I definitely think my personality has caused people to see past it.
“Once you like a person for who they are, it’s hard to judge them because of the way they look.”
She is grateful that her Vitiligo has made her a better person.
Amber says it is the reason she makes an effort to get to know people for who they are on the inside and is able to get along with anyone regardless of their ethnic background.
She said: “It has definitely opened my eyes to look deep into people and accept them for who they truly are.
“It has set me apart from the normal looking person and made me more genuine.”
While she has learned to accept her differences, Amber still feels self-conscious and worries about her attractiveness from time to time.
Amber added: “There are certain days that I worry about how I look or feel the need to put makeup on before I leave the house.
“Sometimes I just stop and think, why would someone choose me when they can have someone who looks normal?”
Amber loves to educate people on Vitiligo and hopes it can eventually be talked about in the mainstream media to reduce the judgement and stares that so many patients endure.
She said: “Once you’ve seen something so many times, it’s no longer different. I think talking about it in movies, TV and commercials could really help the Vitiligo community.”
Dr. Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, says that nobody knows what causes the loss of skin pigment.
Dr. Anjali said: “Many think that it’s a disease where the body destroys its own melanocytes with antibodies. When this happens, the skin can’t make melanin properly and leaves the person with Vitiligo.”
The condition affects one percent of the population with Michael Jackson believed to have contended with the disorder too
She said: “Although Vitiligo can develop at any age, around half the people who are affected will get it before they are 20 years old.
“Vitiligo can definitely have a psychological impact on a person, leaving them embarrassed or depressed by the look of their skin and also by people asking questions.
“There is no cure, but some treatments can slow it down – although not always. Those with the condition should be sure to use sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, as areas of Vitiligo will burn easily in the sun.
“Other treatments include topical corticosteroids and phototherapy. Some people also use special long-lasting skin camouflage make-up to disguise their condition.”
To follow Amber’s journey, visit https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUTxiFBx1rYuyXCBXBJl5Kg or https://www.instagram.com/amberlajefe/.