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    CHANGING FACES LAUNCHES FACE EQUALITY DAY

    Last month, Changing Faces launched Face Equality Day, a major milestone for the charity who recently celebrated their 25th anniversary. Launched to raise awareness and remind us to be respectful to people regardless of their appearance, it was a day that collectively brought people together from across the UK, to show support and unity for those with a disfigurement.

    Butterfly’s, created as the emblem for the day, were worn to symbolise Face Equality and later shared on social media with events taking place across the UK to make sure the message reached far and wide! Face Equality coincides with a report commission by the charity, entitled ‘Disfigurement in the UK’ which was published on the 26th May, now officially Face Equality Day.

    The report, based on a survey of more than 800 people, revealed some shocking findings that related to all areas of life, for example, four fifths of those with a disfigurement have avoided applying for a job because they believed their appearance would hinder them at the interview, whilst more than four fifths of people have experienced harassment from a stranger or unpleasantness relating to their appearance. The report was proof that things need to change.

    I remember completing the questionnaire at the beginning of the year. The in depth survey really got me thinking about my personal attitude to my skin and how I managed situations where people would question what had happened to my skin. Whilst I feel fortunate that I have overcome a number of challenges and now fully embrace who I am with Vitiligo, every time I submitted an answer to a question, I thought about others who were doing the exact same task, who weren’t so confident about being different and still felt discriminated against because of a condition they have. A painful reality…

    To coincide with Face Equality Day, I was asked to speak with the lovely Jenny Campbell, an award winning poet and short story writer, and who runs a very successful YouTube channel. We had a chat about Disfigurement and its representation in the media….click the link to find out what I think about the media and how it portrays people who are different…..

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    Lifestyle

    SKIN MATTERS 2017 – MINIMISE THE IMPACT OF YOUR SKIN CONDITION

    Last weekend, I attended the Skin Matters conference in London……the first of its kind.

    Bringing together leading industry professionals, that included Dermatologists, Clinical Psychologists and panel experts, the aim was to raise awareness and further inform those living with a skin condition. The carefully planned agenda caused for an interactive day that benefited an audience that were mostly living with various skin conditions such as Eczema, Psoriasis and Rosacea.

    I was fortunate to be asked by the founder of Skin Matters, Lotte Benson to take part in the ‘The Lived Experience’ which included myself (as someone with vitiligo), alongside three lovely ladies who live day to day with equally distressing skin conditions. I got to meet the girls before the session at the end of the day, so by the time it came for us to speak to the audience, we were full of excitement and couldn’t wait to share our insights with the audience. It was so positive and uplifting sharing the stage with 3 other courageous women who confidently spoke about their experiences and how they’ve come to self accept and live confidently in their skin. I definitely took something away from hearing them speak.

    Whenever i’m asked to speak, I always feel like I’m learning a little bit more about my own story as well as bettering my presentation and speaking skills, and whilst the whole experience can be pretty nerve racking (those nerves sometimes kicking in from the night before!), it’s always a great feeling walking off the stage knowing I got through, survived and hopefully inspired the audience in the process.

    The conference was well received and is definitely needed as a way to bring professionals and those with the conditions together, because after all…our skin most definitely matters.

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    Lifestyle

    Winnie Harlow Opens Up At The Glamour Beauty Festival

    Three Years. That’s all it’s taken for Winnie Harlow, thriving international model and public spokesperson to ‘shake’ up the fashion industry and prove there isn’t one type of beauty that is worthy of supermodel status.

    Im pretty certain you’d agree that three years doesn’t seem like that long ago, considering she has fronted international campaigns for Desigual and Diesel, made a cameo appearance in Beyoncé’s video for her single Lemonade, has given an influential Ted Talk entitled ‘My story is painted on my skin’ and has featured in adverts for major brands including Sprite and most recently, Converse.

    Last month Glamour Magazine hosted their annual Beauty festival where Winnie was invited to appear as a guest speaker. Quite naturally, it was a moment I wanted to witness, after all, this was a young woman that was publicly exposing Vitiligo (and who was beautiful at the same time) strongly urging the fashion industry to recognise there were many forms of beauty outside the standard types we had been exposed too. For so  many years, I had tried my hardest to disguise it, yet, along with her 1.9 million Instagram fans, I was instantly fascinated by her story, attitude and her ability to dispell any negative judgements directed towards how she looked.

    Held at the iconic Saatchi Gallery in London, I was thankful that the room where she would be speaking accommodated a small audience, after all the last thing I wanted, was to find myself at the back of the room stretching my neck to allow for a good view! With everyone seated and waiting in anticipation for her to arrive, she soon emerged from backstage to a rapture of applause supported by a small entourage (as you do!). She looked effortlessly chic in a Stella McCartney ensemble; a white long sleeve fitted shirt that subtly revealed the Vitiligo on her upper body and olive wide-leg trousers. She was, as expected, aesthetically stunning.

    Walking eloquently on stage, alongside British model, Erin O’Connor, she was quick to wave and greet the audience with her wide smile. In that single moment, I didn’t get a sense she had adopted the attitude of a diva like the media had portrayed, rather a young, 22 year old girl with confidence, sassiness and a strong head on her shoulders.

    Winnie has often been referred to as a ‘role’ model, something she has frequently challenged. Developing Vitiligo when she was just 2 years old, she has candidly shared details of what it was like growing up in Canada as a girl with Vitiligo. So when she talks about the taunts, the stares and the pressure to fit in when being different wasn’t the ‘in’ thing, most of us know exactly what she means. Whether you have Vitiligo or not, Winnie is most definitely someone to admire, even though she adamantly brushes away any talk of being a role model. “The term role model means someone being imitated and I don’t feel like someone that should be imitated” she commented when asked. “I pull inspiration from everyone and am grateful that people feel they can pull inspiration from me” she continued.

    Warm, honest and wise beyond her years, she spoke about being in the limelight and her hopes for the future. “I’d love to collaborate and work with beauty brands” before excitedly admitting she’d also love to be asked to walk the infamous Victoria’s Secret runway someday. Appearing on the front cover of Vogue or even Glamour magazine (to which a twinkle appeared in her eye!) was another thing she’d love to see happen in the future.

    When she isn’t boarding a plane for another photoshoot, or walking the catwalk like she recently did for Julian McDonald at London Fashion Week, Winnie likes to keep things casual in gym gear and sneakers.…which is somewhat hard to believe given her impeccable style choices. She spoke fondly about her family and friends and often calls upon her ‘bestie’ when she is away from home. She has formed a close friendship with model Jordan Dunn and their similarities in that they are both of Jamaican descent, nicely connects the two beauties.

    Rumours of who Winnie is (or isn’t) dating is often a hot topic in the British press and when asked about potential crushes, she giggled before commenting that she thinks guys are ‘cute’, but until she’s actually met a guy in the flesh, its simply just admiration from a distance. She admitted to coming over all shy when she does spot that guy that makes her blush, a refreshing response that made me realise that, glamour aside, she too, has moments of weakness when it comes to dating and finding love.

    A lot has been said about Winnie trying to ‘distance’ herself away from consistently talking about her skin and whilst, ultimately her skin is the reason why the beauty industry is able to feel more diversified, I’m starting understand that not everything has to be about her skin. Her story of how she evolved as a girl with Vitiligo has been reiterated so many times, that maybe now is the time to move away from her striking appearance and concentrate on her role within the fashion and beauty industry. To have her be known simply as Winnie Harlow.

    With the final question being ‘what is beauty?’ she paused before explaining that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it’s a question that can be left open’ and with that she was whisked away through the back door, to continue life as Winnie Harlow the woman that is proof change is coming…

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    Lifestyle

    International Womens Day: Be Bold For Change

    March is a significant month in the calendar for women across the globe, as it’s the month that celebrates and honors the achievements of women in multiple ways.

    When I think about what International Women’s Day means to me, I automatically think of empowerment, strength, unity and celebration. The movement can be traced back to March 8th 1908 when 15’000 women marched through the streets of New York, protesting for shorter hours, equal pay and voting rights. The following year, on February 28th, the first national women’s day (NWD) was announced making the last Sunday of every February the official day of celebration until 1913.

    Since then, the initiative has strengthened globally. As a firm placeholder in the calendar, it’s a day that brings recognition to our achievements across platforms such as social, politics, economics and culture. It’s also a day that celebrates reflection, advocacy and action and holds stance to our continued journey towards gender equality, which is something women are still striving for to this day.

    This years theme is; #BeBoldForChange which is a collective call for a better working world where there is equality. Events will be taking place globally, ranging from social gatherings, speaking events, corporate events, exhibitions, women’s networks and beyond, creating an opportunity for all women to get involved in one way or another.

    So with March 8th being the day when we celebrate all that it is to be a woman in today’s world, here are the women I’d like to give mention too who are defying the odds and have inspired me….

    Winnie Harlow

    Since appearing on ANTM in 2014, Winnie has carved out a high profile career in the fashion industry that has turned her into a globally recognised figure. In her role as model and activist, she has featured on Ted X Teen where she presented her speech ‘My story is painted on my body’ and also spoke at the 2015 women of the world summit about not letting people label her. She has walked numerous fashion runways, recently closing the show for Julian MacDonald at the 2017 London Fashion week. She is heavily photographed and often seen in the press being praised for her fashion awareness, confidence and for being the face changer of fashion that has inspired some many women and young girls to love and feel confident in the skin they’re in. She has accomplished so much in so little time; it’s easy to forget she is still only 22 years of age.

    Adwoa Aboah

    Whilst model Adwoa does not have Vitiligo what she does have is passion and boldness. In 2015 she launched Girls Talk (after a brief stint in rehab) a movement created through her passion for helping girls share their experiences and feelings in an environment where they feel safe and can trust. In 2016 she opened up her world and shared her own personal story, which highlighted her battle with depression, drugs and self-hate. In a brave video clip, you watch as Adwoa removes her clothes whilst speaking about her experiences, giving the powerful message that style isn’t about what you wear its about being comfortable in your own skin, something that us Vitiligo girls have battled with at some stage in life. In addition to modeling and numerous magazine features, Adwoa will continue to visit schools, in an attempt to inspire and empower the next generation of women.

    April Star

    Coincidently, 12-year-old April has a rather fitting surname, as she really is a little star in the making. She is currently one of the faces of the Gap campaign that promotes fearless beauty and has gained global praise, as finally there is movement towards recognising that beauty and confidence comes in many forms. April developed Vitiligo at the age of 6 and rather than retreat she pursued her dreams of modeling and focused on changing the perception of beauty.

    In a survey conducted by the Girlguiding Girls Attitudes Survey, where 1,500 girls were questioned, it was revealed that 40% of girls within the group didn’t feel pretty enough and 25% felt that they needed to be perfect. One in six feel ashamed or embarrassed with how they look. These results are not only shocking, but also worrying.

    As a little girl growing and developing in a world that is heavily image conscious, it’s refreshing to see she is confident in her own skin. She is an example of someone, I hope, other young girls can learn from.

    Diandra Forrest

    Diandra Forrest is incredibly striking. Beautiful in fact. When I goggled her name and her images appeared, I found myself mesmerized by her looks. For those who don’t know, Diandra is a model and actress from the USA, who also happens to be the first female model with albinism to sign to a major modeling agency. Like others who suffer with skin conditions, Diandra was subject to taunts, name-calling and ridicule in her younger years because she was in fact, different. Years later she moved to New York, where it was there she found people were stopping her because of her unique look. She was then spotted by photographer Shameer Khan who told her she should model and so her journey began.

    Aside from walking the catwalk, Diandra is passionate about spreading awareness around albinism and is involved in efforts to empower women. She has also partnered with Assisting Children in Need (AZN), a Tanzanian not for profit organization that aids and supports children in relation to education, medical care and independent living.

    Us Girls

    I should of course, mention us! The Vitiligo models, Bloggers, TV Personalities and all the other things we are doing and aspiring to do, as we learn not to let our skin define us. Visibility in the media continues to grow and create awareness, as our ability to open up has excelled, proving that we too, love our skin. We are embracing our skin and we are redefining the face of beauty.

    How will you be celebrating International Women’s Day?

    If you would like to get involved in events in your local area, check out the link below for more information: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/Events

     

     

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    Lifestyle

    A Return to Blogging, Exciting Projects and Broken Resolutions

    I vowed not to be a blogger that starts a post with ‘apologies for the silence over recent months’ and whilst it hasn’t been months since my last post (36 days to be precise!), I do feel as though I have neglected ‘Being Just Us’ of late and even worse, have written very little to satisfy my love for writing.

    So, where have I been?

    At the start of 2017 (I’m avoiding using the term resolution!), I vowed not to overload my social calendar, focused on putting a stop to squeezing in ‘appointments’ and decided I wasn’t going to involve myself in extra curricular activities such as volunteering and the occasional college course. At the end of last year life felt hectic and even though I thrive on being busy, I also recognised I needed time out. I wanted to allow more time for relaxation. Spend more evenings after work relaxing in my loungewear, reading, immersing myself in a good series and reverting forcing myself away from being a night owl that often affected my functioning abilities the following morning!

    So, I succeeded at watching a new series (easy choice with Being Mary Jane just entering its gripping 4th series!) and have been reading more, which has enabled me to pluck out new ideas for my blog, but my social life is still as busy as ever! I’ve been trying new restaurants in London satisfying my passion for food, keeping more closely connected with friends over glasses of wine and have also been fortunate enough to get involved in a few exciting projects…

    Changing Faces

    Leading charity, Changing Faces will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. An amazing milestone for an incredible charity that has supported and made a difference to tens of thousands of people coping with disfigurements everyday. I was very fortunate enough to be asked to take part in a special photoshoot to mark the occasion, photos of which will be used to make a ‘coffee table’ book showcasing a collection of inspiring images of those associated with the charity. I can’t wait to see the finished product later in the year!

    In association with the anniversary, the charity will be holding the UK’s first Face Equality Day on Friday 26th May 2017 alongside the release of a report called Disfigurement in the UK which will seek to highlight the issues and pressures that those with disfigurements face, day to day.

    To find out more about Changing Faces check out the link below;

    https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/

    The Vitiligo Society Quarterly Magazine

    The Vitiligo Society has always remained close to my heart, as it’s the only dedicated organisation local to me that has provided support, raised funds and organised events for those like myself living with Vitiligo. I recently contributed two interesting articles to the forthcoming issue of Dispatches, which will be released around March time. I also hopefully have some exciting news that I can share with regards to ongoing support at the Society. Hopefully I’ll be able to reveal more later this month!

    http://www.vitiligosociety.org.uk

    14 – 16 Science: Skin Colour and Vitiligo

    Changing Faces, recently revealed via Twitter, that they have created a collection of resources for schools, around a number of topics affecting teenagers, one being skin colour and Vitiligo. The resources, available on the website, aim to teach students about the role of melanocytes and melanin in skin colour alongside providing an overview of Vitiligo. I think this is a great stepping stone for schools as they assist with helping to raise awareness and an amazing initiative created by Changing Faces.

    Check out the resources out the resources on the charity website:

    https://www.changingfaces.org.uk/resources/education/secondary-school-resources

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    Lifestyle

    How To Overcome Fears Of Public Speaking

    I remember the first time I learnt about ‘Power Poses’. I was at a business networking group, London Women in Finance – Career Coaching Group, and the host had asked us what we would do to boost our confidence before a speech. Prior to learning about this new concept, introduced by Amy Cuddy, my answer would have been ‘have a coffee, stay calm, practice and pray’!

    So what exactly is the ‘Power Pose’ strategy that seems to have skipped past me without me realising?

    Well, some of it has a little to do with Wonder Woman and her ability to stand tall! Hands on hips, chest out and shoulders back. A pose that connotes power, confidence and increases your ability to deal with anxiety or stress….and the best thing of all, it takes just two minutes to do!

    So why am I telling you this?

    A few weeks back, I was standing in front of a small group of people, preparing to share my story.  I had agreed to give a speech entitled, How to overcome your inner critic, raise your visibility & get noticed at work and quite naturally, I was feeling a little nervous about addressing an audience. Seconds before speaking, I felt as though a Power Pose was what I needed!

    Although I’ve spoken publicly on a number of occasions, I’ve never managed to become a fan of public speaking, even though the reaction by others has always been positive. I’ve always felt as though its something I’ve wanted to master and so watching Ted Talks, an initiative set  up to spread ideas in the form of short presentations, has helped me understand and observe how to address a sizeable audience and the art of keeping an audience engaged.  Its a great source of information for anyone looking to improve their public speaking skills.

    The event, where I was speaking, was held at an intimate private venue in Angel & Islington and was an opportunity to share my past experiences with Vitiligo, whilst bringing some focus around being different in the workplace and the challenges with adjusting to a new working environment.

    An interesting Q&A session followed, which raised some insightful questions, mostly around how i’d gone from being an overwhelming shy woman to someone who was able to address an audience about something that was once very personal. The few months I had to build my speech and prepare, was an interesting experience as I was conscious about engaging my audience and giving them something that was ultimately thought provoking. I adopted tactics often used in public speaking and focused on being prepared and how to eliminate the potential arrival of nerves of the day….

    Plan and Practice

    The most obvious tip of them all! I was practising for weeks leading up to the day. I didn’t want to rely on a scripted piece of paper. I wanted to present my story naturally, after all, it’s one in which I should be comfortable telling! Feeling prepared makes you feel confident and helps with keeping nerves at a distance when its time to stand before your audience.

    Engage your audience

    Keep your listeners at the forefront of your speech. Include them. Engage them and evoke interest in your topic. Whilst you may ultimately be speaking about yourself, try and tie sections in with your audience to keep their attention. Open with a general scenario that they could find themselves in. Make it so you can potentially persuade them to do something they may not have done before. If you can bring them round to your way of thinking it can be incredibly empowering.

    Write key words on index cards and don’t be strict about sticking to it!

    Key words can act as simple prompts during the speech. Key words helped me avoid the temptation of reading from paper, line by line. After I had got past my first index card and felt like my speech was flowing, I stopped looking at the cards and was pretty much able to deliver without too many glances at the cards before me.

    Record your voice (great apps on the iPhone!) to judge your pace

    Nerves can often make you race through something, because all your thinking about is the ending, rather than living in the moment and addressing the audience in a calm manner. Im always conscious of my need to slow down to ensure I come across clearly. Whilst speaking slowly doesn’t come naturally to me, it’s incredibly important you speak at a good pace. It’s more engaging, allows you to be more expressive and makes you feel more relaxed throughout.

    Arrive at the venue early

    Im terrible with lateness and im often the one hanging my head in shame as I give my apologies for being 10 minutes late! But when it comes to attending a networking event or presenting, I make sure im at least 10 minutes early. There is nothing worse than rushing to  an event in panic mode, as it completely throws you off course. To feel relaxed you need to arrive relaxed. Also, if you use public transport, its a great way to go over your notes or have a last minute practice before you arrive at the venue.

    Treat yourself to something beforehand.

    I’d never turn down the chance to treat myself! Im not saying run out and buy yourself a new dress from Karen Millen or a piece of fine jewellery, but something small that you can enjoy beforehand. Mine is definitely a latte! Apart from being calming, it’s nice to look forward to something especially if you’re feeling nervous.

    The event organiser, Philippa Ibe, very generously gave me a testimonial on my deliverance:

    What I loved about Natalie’s talk is that it was fresh and real. She shared a unique yet relatable story covering themes such as body confidence and self worth. Her story is truly inspirational, moving and a real joy to see her grow into her own as a speaker. I look forward to seeing more of Natalie giving talks”.

     

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    Lifestyle

    Being The Mum Of A Vitiligo Girl..

    When the first signs of Vitiligo appeared when I was 2 years old, my parents didn’t over react, even though they had no idea what it was. As a mixed race child, with fair caramel coloured skin, there was little chance of the distinctive white patch, no bigger than a ten pence piece, appearing unnoticeable.

    Naturally, my parents had questions they wanted immediate answers too. Was it a discoloured birthmark? Was it irritating my skin? and most worryingly of all…..was it going to spread beyond my hand?

    My Mum quickly booked an appointment with our GP in hope that a prescription of antibiotics would remedy the problem! However, unbeknown to her, the problem was much more severe than that and would develop into a condition she had never even heard of.

    So how does it feel when you notice the first patch on your babies beautiful skin? Confused? Angry? Frustrated by the lack of information available on the condition?

    How does a mother respond?

    As the mother of me, here’s how mine responded….

    Finding the first patch….

    As a parent, noticing the first patch naturally sends you into a state of panic. Shock even especially as you have no clue what it is or why its developed. Back when I was a child, Vitiligo was a relatively unknown condition and so when she took me to our GP, he wasn’t able to confirm what it was. The advice she was given was simple; keep an eye which is the last thing any parent wants to hear. She wanted to walk out of the surgery with a diagnosis and a remedy that would clear it within a matter of weeks! Instead, she had to remain patient and watch to see if it was something that would develop or stabilise. She was incredibly frustrated by the lack information.

    The diagnosis

    I was officially diagnosed with Vitiligo 24 months later. Up until the point when I was diagnosed, I’d made a second visit to our GP who still wasn’t able to confirm it was that. The patch had slowly started to spread, covering my arms, legs and worst of all, my face. A referral to a Dermatologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital was when it was confirmed as Vitiligo and that it was incurable.

    Being the mother of a child who is ‘different’…

    One of the hardest things for any parent to face, is ridicule towards their child. It makes them feel helpless. My Mum found the stares and inquisitive questions difficult to accept initially, but gradually developed the understanding that people were curious. Occasionally she would turn a blind eye if she noticed people looking, but other times, depending on how intrusive people were being, she would explain what it was. My Mum recalls an incident on the bus when I was 3 years old. Sitting in my pushchair, with a lolly pop for entertainment, I had caught the attention of two women who were initially talking amongst themselves. They noticed my patchy legs and whispered to one another that my parents were irresponsible for leaving me to burn in a fire! Naturally, my Mum was infuriated by the assumption and made a point of telling them that wasn’t the case!

    My Mum got used to people looking. She refused to cover me up and allowed me to wear shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits on holiday. As far as she was concerned, I was an ordinary child with a skin condition. Simple.

    Support Groups

    There were very limited support groups available in the UK when I was a child, but my parents did attend events at the Vitiligo Society which helped her, not only understand the condition, but meet with other parents who had children with the same condition. Being part of a support network meant she felt supported and not so alone when it came to raising a child that was ‘different. The Vitiligo Society continues to run the annual Vitiligo Society Conference (normally every October) and also runs a parents group every Tuesday & Thursday from 10:30 to 14:30. For more information, please call; 0800 018 2631 or 020 7798 6051. Alternatively, you can email: general@vitiligosociety.org.uk

    The best piece of advice from a mother to another….

    Don’t treat your child like they are different. Natalie’s Mum says “I chose not to hide Natalie away by giving her the freedom to wear whatever she wanted. She wore shorts during the summer and swimsuits on beach holidays. I wanted to instill confidence into her from a young age and make her understand that being different doesn’t mean you are any less beautiful. As a parent you will naturally be protective and I knew I would have to be extra strong for her, so that she could deal with the potential challenges and judgement she may experience as an teenager and later, a young woman. I prepared myself for those times when she would come home and tell me that kids at school had said something spiteful about her skin. Being a ‘step ahead of the game’ makes dealing with those issues easier”.

    How did your parents react to your very first patch? Feel free to share…..

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