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A man with a grey beard and vitiligo on his neck, smiles on London's Southbank.

Kirpal’s story: “What makes you different, makes you beautiful”

Kirpal, who has vitiligo, feels passionately about embracing what makes us unique and raising awareness of visible differences.

I was 10 years old when I first noticed my skin condition, vitiligo. I had no idea what it was. At first, I thought it was the one of many grazes I got when I was playing football at school in the playground, so I just carried on being a 10-year-old.

The battles began in the years to come. I found it hard to cope with the mental and emotional effects of having a condition that made me look different. I started to become an introvert, not going out as I was worried what people would do, say and, worst of all, when they would stare. I was skipping social gatherings and parties, wearing gloves in summer and sunglasses indoors – anything that would make me feel comfortable.

I really hated my skin, had zero confidence and often wished I could be “normal”. The toughest moment of my life to date was losing my father in 2012. After he passed away, my vitiligo became very aggressive and took over 40 to 50% of my face and body.

I am 38 years old now and I have been through what can only be described as a rollercoaster journey – from not knowing what vitiligo was, to trying every medicine I could find and now embracing and accepting that I look different.

Receiving empathy and kindness from his colleagues helped Kirpal develop confidence.

I began to do some volunteering for a non-profit charity I came across, The Vitiligo Society. This included modelling in a photoshoot to launch their new website. I’d had no experience at all – but was surprised to find I felt so comfortable around cameras with my new-found confidence. Since then, I was astounded to be offered an external modelling contract.

I work full-time at Sky, an organisation that has a huge emphasis on celebrating diversity and inclusion. Their ethos, and being surrounded by the most amazing colleagues, has really helped me.

It wasn’t until I attended an annual sports day event at work that I had to really confront my anxiety around vitiligo. Most of my peers would be comfortably dressed in shorts and t-shirts, as we were in the middle of a big heatwave in the summer. I, on the other hand, felt that familiar panic of having to expose my skin and wanting to cover up.

At this point, despite never having proactively spoken out about my skin condition before, I decided to send an email round to my colleagues to let them know how I felt. I was taken aback by just how supportive their responses were.

I really want to help others wherever I can and raise awareness of my condition and what life can be like with a visible difference.

For the first time, I had spoken up about my anxiety and was pleasantly surprised to receive kindness, empathy and support from my peers. I actually felt fine about wearing the same clothes as everyone else. Unexpectedly, this was the start of a new, empowering journey for me.

Summer is fast approaching, and for people with a visible difference, wearing less clothing can be difficult. Firstly, it’s absolutely fine to feel nervous. My advice would be: don’t let anyone pressure you to expose your skin during the hot weather. Sometimes, different areas, crowds or surroundings can have an effect on your confidence. Doing what makes you feel comfortable and happy is important.

It doesn’t matter who you are or who you’re with, people will stop and stare. This includes adults and children. Normally, it’s just curiosity, particularly with children. If you feel up to it, take a moment to explain what it is. Most of the time it’ll make you feel more comfortable. Although there’s more awareness of vitiligo nowadays, you’ll still get the odd comment, unfortunately. I like to remind myself that no one is perfect and everyone has imperfections. We’re all imperfectly perfect in our own way.

Lastly, if you’re feeling ready to show off your beautiful skin, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, especially if you have vitiligo. As beautiful as our vitiligo is, it can burn easily in the sun.

I’ve mentioned that there’s more awareness of vitiligo nowadays, but there could be more. I want to help others wherever I can and raise awareness of my condition and what life can be like with a visible difference. There could be so much more representation of people with marks, scars and other conditions in society and culture. It would help raise awareness and make it easier for people to embrace differences as simply part of the world we live in.

Charities like Changing Faces are working tirelessly to support people with a visible difference, and I’d like to thank them for giving me a platform to share my story. If anything, I hope my story helps give you some confidence or inspiration to help overcome the challenges you might be facing. What is most important to take away is that it does not matter what colour your skin is, how your skin looks or even feels – always remember that what makes you different, makes you beautiful.

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