I’m Nirjeet and I have vitiligo – a skin condition which leaves white patches on the face and body due to a lack of melanocytes.
I developed vitiligo when I was around eight or nine years old. It started with a small dot on my knee but started to grow as I got older. By my teenage years, patches had developed on my face around my eyes, making it much more obvious. That’s when I started getting asked questions, and receiving unwanted, and inaccurate, advice.
As well as being told that I couldn’t go out in the sun as it will increase the patches, and hearing concerns around the condition being genetic (this isn’t true), I also had people in my community suggesting I had vitiligo because I must have had fish and drank milk after (also not true). These accusations and assumptions stuck in the back of my mind and really bothered me. I felt judged and alone. Unfortunately, there is a stigma surrounding visible differences in the Asian community, and it was having a big impact on me.
Then lockdown happened and I began to connect with people on social media who have vitiligo. I felt inspired by them and realised that I needed to learn to love myself rather than absorbing society’s judgments. My friend pointed out that there weren’t any turban Sikhs with vitiligo in the public eye, and that I’d be a brilliant representative to fill that gap. At first, I was hesitant, but with his encouragement I decided to apply at Zebedee, the inclusive talent agency. I was accepted as a model and my journey began.
I’m very passionate about raising awareness about vitiligo and other visible differences, to reduce the stigma that we often experience. Being a model, and growing my social media presence, has given me an incredible platform to do this. Over the years, I’ve worked with HSBC, Teach First UK, Diabetes UK and Transport for Wales. I’ve also been interviewed on ITV News about my modelling and campaigning. Recently I became an ambassador for The Vitiligo Society. It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
My hope is that I can educate people about visible differences and remove the myths and judgments society holds. Tackling ignorance is key to ensuring we live in a more accepting and understanding world, and I’m proud to be part of that movement.
There are still times when my self-confidence takes a hit, or I feel anxious to put myself out there, but the visible difference community always inspires me to keep going. I know that I can talk to them about anything. Everything seems worse when you feel alone, so knowing I have a group of supportive people around me enables me to push on.
Being able to give this community a voice means so much to me. Every opportunity I’ve taken to speak out has made me grow in confidence. I’m making a positive difference, and that’s incredible.
I’ve been told by parents of children with vitiligo that their child looks up to me, and that seeing me has made them feel less alone. Creating that safe space for people to reach out is so important to me. One of my friend’s daughters has vitiligo and felt alone as she is different because of it. I encouraged her parents to get their daughter to join Zebedee and now she’s a children’s model for them. It’s heartening seeing others in the community succeeding and being proud of how they look.
Never doubt yourself. I never would have believed that I’d go on to achieve what I have, but there’s no harm in dreaming big – you never know where it might take you.