Oscar Heredia is a 24 years old Entrepreneur from Atlanta, Georgia who has trained as a Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. He has done several photo shoots for clothing companies and product lines. Oscar has been part of many commercials, print ads, and runway shows as a model. He has also tamed his lifelong fear of getting in front of people and dancing his heart out. Working towards his dreams of becoming a professional dancer, Oscar has instructed at several schools, universities, and events about the joy and passion of Latin dance. If you notice, none of these achievements were hindered by Oscar’s vitiligo.
Oscar’s companionship with vitiligo began at the age of 14, in his freshmen year. He recalls, “It started off as a small white spot on my left knuckle. I wouldn’t pay too much mind to it until a month past by and it was still there. But this time, more white patches appeared on my hand. I still thought that it was a very cool and unique look. I didn’t mind if it was permanent either as it was a very distinctive feature.”
It wasn’t until someone pointed it out with disgust in his voice that Oscar started feeling self-conscious about it. As time passed by, it started to spread even more and surely it rose to everyone’s attention in the school. Something that Oscar thought was once cool was changed due to another’s perspective. “I used the internet to seek understanding of what was going on with my body. I typed in “white patches on hand” and pictures of Michael Jackson appeared and the term vitiligo as well. I looked into vitiligo and refused to believe I had such a thing, until one day my mother took me to the doctor’s office and that’s where I found out I had vitiligo. I just remember my head dropping in silence. I almost got emotional, but I did my best to compose myself in front of my mother and sister.”
There were times where Oscar didn’t want to go to class because he knew someone would talk bad about his vitiligo. “The bullying was not physical, but verbal. It definitely took a psychological toll on me because I felt like I was losing my identity as a person. I handled it by fighting back with hurtful words and acting like it didn’t bother me but it truly destroyed me inside. I did not have many coping strategies at the time considering I was the only one at my school who had vitiligo and there weren’t platforms nor communities that supported people with vitiligo. I kept everything inside and did my best to lose myself in sports and music.”
From then on, it was a struggle to adapt to a new image. Oscar pours his heart out, “I would look into the mirror and ask “Who are you?” I would often ask God “Why me?” Out of all the people in the world, I just happened to be that 1%. People would often mistake my vitiligo for a sunburn, fire accident, or if I unintentionally or intentionally bleached myself. I was confused about my purpose in life and a bit bitter because I had something I had no control over. But as time passed I started to feel less and less insecure about vitiligo.”
Oscar says it took him 5-6 years to get used to living and thriving with vitiligo: “I one day realized that someone’s opinion does not have to become my reality. It just clicked one day! As time progressed, I didn’t let my insecurities get the best of me and I just started being myself again. I started to feel comfortable again in my own skin. After it all, great opportunities were flying out of the sky, such as modeling, martial arts, Latin dancing, and valuable people. All were, and still, are a true blessing.”
The art of dancing, martial arts, and music has liberated Oscar from hard times. His family, close friends, mentors and God really encouraged him to get through difficult times. A few books that have helped him on his path were The Magic of Thinking Big, Think and Grow Rich, The Alchemist, GRIT and The Bible. “I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that you ultimately have the power to decide if that reason is either good or bad. I love my vitiligo I might not have always felt that but as of today, I do. I honestly don’t know who I would be without it. It’s what makes me and I love it.”
People often ask Oscar how his life would be without his vitiligo. He explains his response, “I usually tell them that life wouldn’t make sense for me without it. It took me losing my pigmentation to gain a better understanding of who I truly am and what I find most passionate about. It has created awareness for me to accept people for who they are regardless of what flaw they think they have.”
When we asked Oscar to leave us with a message for fellow vitiligo fighters, he had something truly enlightening to share: “Don’t let society confuse you into thinking you have a flaw just because you look different from among the rest. You were born to differ, it is what makes you the one and only. A person becomes a product of his or her own thoughts. So, if you are insecure about something it will show, and people will shun you for it. But if you are confident, then people will want to interact with you and be around you – “Law of Attraction”. Don’t worry about what stays and what goes because the right will always find its way. Be yourself, love yourself and trust the process that comes with it.”
We hope more and more young vitiligans draw inspiration from Oscar Heredia’s vitiligo journey. Team Unite For Vitiligo is honored to have him featured among all vitiligo crusaders.