Ilford woman with vitiligo takes part in 'empowering' photoshoot to show 'we can all be beautiful'
PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 08:53 22 May 2019
An Ilford woman who suffers from the skin condition vitiligo has taken part in an 'empowering' photoshoot to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.
Natalie Ambersley, 36, was invited by the founder of Love Disfigure to be photographed with other women who look different through scarring, burns or skin conditions.
Founded by burns survivor Sylvia Mac, Love Disfigure is a social media support network for people with conditions that affect their appearance. Sylvia recognised a need to raise awareness and support to those living with hidden and visible differences on their body or face, such as Natalie.
Natalie said she didn't realise she was any different as a child and remembers having a happy childhood.
"But when I reached my teenager years I got more self conscious," she told the Recorder. "I found it quite difficult. I was lacking confidence from about the age of 13. The white patches were covering about 60 per cent of my skin, so doing things like swimming was really hard and summer was always difficult. I kept it all covered, I was embarrassed by it."
Natalie said the biggest challenge of living with vitiligo is dealing with the public.
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"You automatically assume people are judging you," she said. "People stare at me all the time - it's a huge burden and difficult to manage."
When Natalie turned 30, she decided to start a 12-month course of treatment.
"It was a bit miracle and my skin colour started to come back," she said. "I started to feel more comfortable, go on beach holidays and allowed myself to do things I've never done.
"I used to get annoyed if people stared at me. Now I completely embrace it and I'm happy for people to ask questions."
The Love Disfigure photo shoot was a collaboration with Manon Ouimet.
"Love Disfigure is fighting for brands to use people who look different," Natalie said. "There's a lot more awareness, and more social media platforms for people to share their stories. As a teenager, I thought I was the only one. But when you go on social media, you realise there are thousands. It's really empowering.
"I think it's important I give vitiligo a voice and coming together with women that have scars is more important because it makes the message stronger - it gives the message more weight and says we can all be beautiful."
If Natalie could give her younger self a message, she would tell her: "Don't focus too much on what people think. Self-love begins with you - it's not about what other people think."