By Josh Saunders
A girl with vitiligo covering nearly all her body is rejecting treatment because she loves her white spots and wants others to embrace their differences too.
Emma Watson was four-years-old when she was diagnosed with the condition that affects 1% of the world’s population, after a white mark on her shoulder was initially confused for eczema.
Her pigment-free patches rapidly developed to cover 70% of her body over the years, exacerbated by stress from the sudden death of her brother Garrett in 2013
Fearing she would be bullied as she got older, mum Nicole, 45, from Eugene in Oregon, USA, started her daughter on light treatment sessions to slow the growth of her vitiligo.
But after 24 sessions, the little girl decided enough was enough and she would no longer hide because she loved her spots and didn’t want them to ‘go away’.
Despite strangers regularly confusing it for sunburn, poison oak and more, Emma, 11, relishes talking about her skin and likes how unique it is.
She even chooses clothing that will show it off in public and cannot wait for more unique patterns to appear on her skin, after a heart shape was left on an area not affected by her condition.
Emma, who will be starting sixth grade, said: “I really like the appearance of my vitiligo I’ve always felt like it was pretty and unique.
“Vitiligo is on most of my body, feet, legs and it’s around every joint, recently there have been a few spots on my hands that I’m looking forward to developing more.
“They range from circles to splatters and spots, then there’s one area that looks like a heart because the vitiligo has formed a pattern around my naturally skin colour, I really love that one.
“Some people have asked if it’s sunburn, poison oak and other things but I proudly tell them it’s vitiligo.
“I don’t think of it as different it’s just me, it’s my regular skin, it’s unique and that’s why I like it.
“In summer, my white patches are more obvious, so I wear strappy tops or shirts with crossings to show it off, because I think it looks really pretty.”
Mum Nicole researched vitiligo after her daughter’s diagnosis in 2010 and worried that as the condition progressed she would be treated differently.
Nicole, a medical assistant, said: “When I looked into vitiligo I was terrified for my child, I didn’t want her to struggle growing up as I know kids can be mean.
“I cried fearing my baby girl would be disfigured for the rest of her life after reading that the pigmentation would never return.
“I tried to find a cure buying creams online and starting light treatment, but there’s no proof any of it works and I realised there was very little I could do.”
To Nicole’s surprise, her daughter at the age of eight told her she wanted to stop the treatment that was hoped to slow-down growth and pigment loss.
She added: “Emma changed the way I looked at vitiligo, I went from seeing it as being different to being something you should be proud of.
“She told me ‘Mommy, I like my spots’ and ‘I don’t want them to go away’, I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say.
“Before I wanted to try to ‘fix’ the vitiligo for her but realising how she felt changed my attitude completely.
“I was surprised that a child so young could show so much confidence and pride in her difference.”
Emma’s patches developed rapidly at the age of six following the death of her brother, Garrett, aged 20.
Nicole says the trauma of losing her sibling, who was 14-years-older and she saw like a ‘father figure’, brought on her vitiligo all the more.
It continued to develop, leading to now where more than 70% of her body is devoid of pigment.
Nicole said: “Emma’s vitiligo took over her entire body, I never imagined the small spots would grow into large white patches covering her entire body, where colour will not return.
“Stress triggered her vitiligo to steal the pigment pretty much overnight, it was amazing how quickly it developed.
“Now it’s at the point where she only has half the skin colour left on parts of her face, front of her neck and a few other areas”
Despite initially struggling to come to terms with her eyelash turning white over a year ago, Emma learned to embrace her condition and now regularly receives compliments.
Nicole believes her daughter changed her way of thinking and has helped to shape her interactions with strangers who often approaching them with blunt questions.
She said: “As a parent I have always told my daughter how beautiful and special she is, I have tried to empower whenever I could but also warned her that people could be mean to her.
“But I learned from Emma that we need to be positive and educate others about vitiligo instead of getting angry or upset about people staring.
“She tells them she loves her spots and is proud of them, I soon realised that my daughter’s strength and confidence would not be held back.
“People always end up saying ‘Wow, you’re amazing’, ‘gorgeous’ or ‘beautiful’ after she’s finished explaining to them.”
She continues to raise awareness of her ‘unique difference’ by informing others her age, many of whom would later become her friends, as well as sharing a video speaking about her condition.
Nicole added: “She loves her skin and has been known to say I want to wear this shirt because it will show off my spots, and will style herself around her vitiligo.
“Emma wants to tell the world that your differences can be a positive thing if you feel confident about them.
“She is an amazing kid, she turned my fear into pride, my tears into smiles and now my baby girl is a driving force in the fight to educate and stop people being bullied for their differences.
“It brings me to tears, thinking how proud of her I am.