January 2019

At the age of four, I was diagnosed with vitiligo; a visually striking skin condition where white patches develop on the skin due to a loss of pigment. It first started as a small patch on the back of my hand, no bigger than a five pence piece, slowly developing until it covered my arms, legs, face and hands.  

Natalie as a little girl

Being so young, my body image at the time was unaffected, after all I had no clue what vitiligo was and was oblivious to the fact I was different to everyone else. I lived within a close knit community and apart from the odd remark at school; I was largely accepted by everyone. My parents refused to hide me away and would dress me in summer dresses and shorts, showing everyone that I had nothing to hide. I recall the many visits I made to Great Ormond Street hospital as a child. I didn’t truly understand what I was going for, but have fond memories of the waiting area where there were stacks of toys for all the sick children to play with. The reality of my visits, however, was that my parents wanted to be the first to know of a cure and any treatments that would potentially restore my natural skin colour.  I was prescribed with steroid creams, lotions and tablets and was told limited exposure to sunlight may help. Nothing worked. If anything my vitiligo got worse as the years went on.

Like many, who suffer with a condition that alters the appearance, the difficulties often occur during the teenage years. At a time when you want to blend in the most, my skin stopped me from doing just that. Unlike my friends, I couldn’t wear shorts, t-shirts or skirts during the summer and instead convinced myself that I could only ever wear clothes that covered me from head to toe. I avoided swimming lessons at school and became anxious when I had to change for PE. My friends would tell me ‘I looked fine’, and to them, I probably did, but waking up every day and seeing a less than ordinary skin tone, was no fun at all.

Things changed significantly in 2014. I was having UVB light treatment that was miraculously making me re-pigment, and slowly I was gaining a newfound confidence that helped me visualise my future self without the burden of feeling as though I had something to be embarrassed about. It was also around that time, I was asked to appear on a daytime news programme to talk about my journey as someone with a skin condition. During the interview I spoke candidly about the challenges you often face when you have skin condition such as vitiligo, and the different aspects of life it can often affect. Speaking on TV became a significant turning point as it enabled me to say ‘I have vitiligo and it’s actually okay’. It’s okay to be different, its okay to feel beautiful and most importantly, its okay to accept yourself.

Natalie on holiday

Four years on, and how I feel about myself has completely changed. I’m a lot more relaxed about how people respond to my skin and accept that people are going to stare. The difference now, is that I know longer assume people are thinking negatively and consider that they might be silently complimenting me on something I’m wearing or how I’ve styled my hair!

I honestly consider myself a beautiful person because I finally understand it’s not just about aesthetics. I’ve learnt that beauty isn’t about what is on the outside – its about what comes from within, the characteristics that are worth appreciating and the presence you create around others. I’ve also made a commitment to myself that I don’t want to have regrets. Regret that I didn’t experience some of the worlds amazing beaches because I was too scared to wear a swimsuit, or not feel as though I can enjoy summer fashion trends because I was too concerned about covering up. I’ll never know why vitiligo chose me, but what I do know is that I’m more than just my skin.  For years I felt like a walking advert for vitiligo but now I know, I’m simply just Natalie with or without my unique skin…

Natalie Ambersley

Vitiligo