Aside from being a full-time executive assistant, Natalie Ambersley has been doing her bit to raise awareness of vitiligo. She has appeared on London Live, The Lorraine Show and was part of a BBC3 special – ‘What Not to Say to Someone with Vitiligo’. Her story has been featured in magazines like New!, Happiful, Phoenix, Fabulous magazine and Blackhair Magazine.
Apart from being a Director at The Vitiligo Society (the UK’s longest standing charity dedicated to supporting and raising awareness of vitiligo), she has also been running a blog called Being Just Us – an insightful platform that tackles the issues and challenges that many of us often face with the chronic skin condition.
Today, Natalie is doing everything in her capacity to make living with vitiligo least frightening, but when she needed community support; there was practically nothing out there. There were no vitiligo support groups, no social media. “When I was growing up, being different wasn’t embraced. A ‘flaw’ was something you kept hidden and was mostly seen as being negative. There were no models in magazines with skin conditions or even acne. It meant people like myself felt isolated – like I was the only ones living with the condition,” Natalie recalls.
Natalie had her first encounter with vitiligo when she was 2 years old. It all started as a small spot on the back of her hand. It remained as the only spot for quite some months before spreading across her body, affecting her arms, legs, and parts of her face. “I was naturally asked questions about why I had Vitiligo, and the occasional kid didn’t want to touch me in case they caught it, but to be honest, it was silly little comments like that, that didn’t have much effect. I pretty much got used to it, and my parents taught me not to take notice of anything negative,” Natalie shares some experiences from her vitiligo journey.
As a child, Natalie wasn’t made to feel different by her parents and everyone that lived in her community. The real difficulties began when she entered her teenage years. She pours her heart out, “It was the time when, like most teenagers, I wanted to fit in the most, but unfortunately my skin didn’t allow me to do that! Over time, it really heightened just how bad I thought my skin was. It made me incredibly shy, knocked my confidence and made me question how ‘pretty’ I was in comparison to my friends. I had a real passion for fashion, however, couldn’t fully express myself through the clothes I wore, because I wanted to remain covered up all the time. I hated swimming lessons because I refused to wear a swimsuit and found the summer months particularly difficult.”
Despite her own insecurities about vitiligo, Natalie had a great support network and a close set of friends who stood by her during difficult times. But, this does not change the fact that she still has to explain her vitiligo quite often. “When I was younger, I was often asked if I had been burned in a fire or if it was a birthmark that covered my entire body. These days I’m asked if I have henna on my hands. It’s quite interesting watching their expression when I explain it’s my skin! And of course, the usual ‘is it contagious’ question has often popped up.”
Every once in a while, we all think how different our lives would have been if we didn’t have vitiligo. But, Natalie approaches it differently: “Having a story is a wonderful thing. Vitiligo has made me so much stronger and more understanding of how different we all are in this world and that we all have our unique qualities. I never imagined there would be a day when I would feel at peace with who I am, so to be living my best life as a woman with vitiligo is refreshing.”
We often see people praying on vulnerabilities of newly diagnosed vitiligo fighters. Natalie finds that quite upsetting too:” What is frustrating for most of us, is seeing posts from so-called ‘doctors’ claiming they can cure vitiligo. We don’t want unethical doctors claiming they can cure our skin with unreliable creams that aren’t guaranteed to work so we can feel better about ourselves. That’s not what it’s about. As a community we have learned to accept our uniqueness, so to be approached by those with ‘magic medicines’ that could potentially cure us, really frustrates many of us.”
Natalie accepts the fact that it took her years to get used to living with vitiligo. So, what inspired her to be what she is today – a confident, non-complaining, beautiful woman? She answers,” I feel mostly inspired by the genuine stories you now find in magazines and on blogs. I love that they are stories I can often connect with.”
“Are you undergoing any treatment?” was our the next question. Natalie replied, “Treatment can often be disappointing if you don’t get the results you’d like, and I don’t think it’s worth putting yourself through it, emotionally. It’s only been over the past 5 years that I’ve finally accepted my skin, so the last thing I want to hear is someone offering to help wipe away my entire past with the condition. Right now, it’s about embracing who we are and allowing vitiligo to be a normal form of beauty, just as normal as it is to be black, white or Asian in this world.”
“Is there anything you’d like to share with fellow vitiligans?” was our last question in line. Natalie indeed had an empowering quote to share – “Confidence is not will they like me, Confidence is I’ll be fine if they don’t.”
We agree with Natalie that Social Media has definitely created a way for us to celebrate vitiligo which is incredibly positive. It has allowed us to have conversations we might not have had before. We are glad that we had access to this great tool, which only helped us connect with Natalie. We are honored to have her featured among all Vitiligo Crusaders.