We are often asked to love who we are; we are often encouraged to believe that we are unique and special. Having said that, how many vitiligo fighters can do that? Not many. But, that’s what Shankar Jalota has been doing for a while now – exhibiting the powerful message of self acceptance.
When one of our executives discovered Shankar’s Instagram handle a few months back, she assumed him to be her discovery. But, very much to her surprise, the ‘Vitiligo Man’ was already a social media phenomenon.
Shankar’s left eye had a circular (but exotic) white patch, which made him the center of everyone’s attraction. Meanwhile, Rebecca Violette’s Epic fashion brand was about to get launched. The brand representatives asked Shankar to join them as a fashion influencer to promote the brand on social media. By then, he was already captured by talented photographer, Brock Elbank for his vitiligo photo series. Since then, Shankar has been challenging the society’s perceptions of visual difference.
But, Shankar wasn’t always this much confident. He was about 15 when he first noticed a few tiny white dots under his eye, chest, and back. He wore makeup to cover them. Who can blame him? He didn’t want people to ask him questions like “Is it a birthmark? “What is that around your eye?, or “Is it contagious?”. The London based model recalls, “If you had asked me over one year ago, I would take any chance to get rid of it. For the last 7-8 years, I had always covered it up, unless I was around immediate family and very close friends,”.
In September 2017, Shankar stayed back at his girlfriend’s flat. The next morning, he realized that he forgot to bring his make up from home. He recalls, “I really did not want to go to work without wearing makeup. My confidence was so low at the time. I was still new at the work and I didn’t know anyone that well to be comfortable.” Shankar’s girlfriend spoke to him and pumped confidence back into him. He went to work without makeup. “Let’s just say that was the first day of the rest of my life I knew that I would never cover it again.”
Now, Shankar doesn’t want to change a single thing about his appearance and genuinely wants to inspire other vitiligo fighters to help them love their beauty. He shares, “I started my Instagram page @thevitiligoman, shot with close friends and now love showing off who I am proud to be. I do get messages every other week from those struggling with vitiligo, but I love inspiring others to love who they are and to share their beauty.”
Looking at the iconic Winnie Harlow has helped encourage Shankar. But, it was his journey that he had to come to terms with. When asked if vitiligo fighters are under-represented in popular culture, he replied, “You always care what others think about you, especially when you’re younger. Maybe it has something to do with social media and what is being aired on TV; this generation of vitiligo fighters will struggle too unless diversity is truly accepted and embraced.”
Through his Instagram account, Shankar is indeed sharing the visual message of self acceptance. No wonder, if people see vitiligo around his eye as beautiful and incredibly unique. “Just love who you are, you are beautiful with your uniqueness. You have the power to change the world and inspire everyone around you,” the ‘Vitiligo Man’ ended the Q&A session with this powerful message.