Every Body celebrates inclusivity and the representation of human beings in every shape and form.
Body positivity can come in many forms, from embracing all shapes and sizes to simply growing out that gray hair if you’re feeling it. Ultimately, it comes down to loving the skin you’re in — a sentiment one young woman took very literally, and after hiding behind her vitiligo for years, she turned it into an expressive and inspiring form of self-love.
Ash Soto was just 12 years old when she first noticed a small spot had appeared on her neck. At first, she didn’t think anything of it, but when another one appeared soon after, her mom took her to a dermatologist. She was immediately diagnosed with vitiligo.
Vitiligo is a condition that causes patches of skin to lose their color. Model Winnie Harlow has recently shed a lot of light on the condition, not attempting to cover her pigmentation changes through her career. For Soto, it only took about a year after her initial diagnosis for spots to appear on each part of her body, but she’d spend many years after trying to conceal the condition — makeup for her face, long sleeves, and pants for the rest.
Ironically, it was Soto’s biggest attempt at a cover-up that led to her reveal it all. “The big turning point was when I made my mom let me get a spray tan one summer because I was tired of feeling not good enough,” Soto, now 21, tells us. “I felt so happy, but I knew I was trying to be someone I wasn’t. I remember going to the beach and I hadn’t realized that the tan would come off. Once I came out the water and saw the tan dripping and my vitiligo starting to surface again, I think in that moment I realized I couldn’t change the way I was and I had to learn to live with it.”
Eventually, after a lot of internal reflection and talking it through with her family, Soto decided to share her truth on Instagram. Her account had mostly been selfies of her makeup, including not only her immaculate liner and enviable brows, but a flawless, even complexion.
“It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done,” Soto says, recalling her family’s fear of online bullying. “I knew I wanted to make a change. If people saw me being confident and happy in my own skin having vitiligo, then they could too. I would take all the hate in the world as long as I got my message across.”
So, in May 2016, she posted the photo that would change everything. In it, she’s sitting on a bed wearing a cropped top and underwear, her vitiligo-covered torso and legs no longer hidden. “They say your body is a canvas, I’m just painted differently,” she wrote in the caption. “Finally at a point in my life where I can say I love the skin I’m in. It’s a learning experience each day but I’m getting there.”
Soto’s account was flooded with responses, and though she had prepared for the worst, nothing could have prepared her for the opposite. “Every comment made me burst into tears, ’til this day, reading such positivity and kindness,” she admits. Though she intended to reassure others that they weren’t alone, she didn’t anticipate the sheer volume of people sharing their own personal stories of dealing with vitiligo doing the same for her.
As Soto grew more comfortable with her body, she started to see it as a canvas, and her love of art found its most personal outlet yet. She started tracing the patterns caused by the vitiligo spotting, and dubbed the series of pics the #MarkerChronicles. Eventually, she branched out to painting abstracts and even an iconic van Gogh scene on her body.
Soto says that her main pursuit will continue to be art, but she won’t limit herself to just that: A YouTube channel and, she hopes, a book about her story are in the works, as she ultimately keeps pushing to connect with more people to spread body positivity — vitiligo or not.
In her very first vitiligo post, Soto urged her followers — and herself — to “accept yourself and everything else will fall into place.” It’s safe to say that it certainly has.
What do you think of Ash’s body art and message? Let us know @BritandCo!
(Photo via Ash Soto)