finding beauty in difference: model bashir aziz opens up about living with vitiligo
Growing up with vitiligo isn’t easy. Here, British salesman-turned-model and diversity activist Bashir Aziz meditates on the challenges of being different and how he learned to love his spots.
This article was originally published by i-D UK.
Growing up with vitiligo, a long-term skin condition characterized by a loss of pigment in patches of skin, British salesman-turned-model and diversity activist Bashir Aziz has always felt like he was different. Over time he learned to embrace his unique looks, recently starring in photographer Brock Elbank's new portrait series, #Vitiligo. Following on from his photographic studies of men with beards, which culminated two years ago in the seminal Beard exhibition at Somerset House, and people with freckles, for his latest portrait series Brock is dedicated to showcasing the unique beauty of people with vitiligo. The perfect subject for Brock's unwavering lens, a champion of diversity and firm believer that beauty belongs in the eye of the beholder, here Bashir shares his story.
"Growing up with vitiligo has been challenging. As a child, I was so self-conscious when I was doing normal things, simply because people would stare at me. I used to wear a lot of caps, there was no way you could miss my hair walking down the street. I'd even wear a t-shirt to go swimming. It certainly damaged my confidence level from a young age.
The hardest part was dealing with anyone who seemed a bit close-minded, like not knowing the difference between a burn or a birthmark for example. The only way I overcame that was by learning to accept myself. As the years have gone by, I've just naturally learned to love my spots and patterns. I realized I'm actually blessed. Of course people stare. But you'll never know if it's "What's that?!' or "I'm in love!" — which I can now smile about, either way.
Taking part in Brock Elbank's photographic series, #Vitiligo, was so uplifting. It's a series of portraits that document the unique beauty of those with vitiligo and was a wonderful experience. The people he's already photographed are incredible and the fact Brock wanted to include me made me so happy. It's literally opened up another world for me. I don't really see myself as a model. I'm just so happy I've been able to help show how amazing every individual is.
It's so important to challenge what is considered beautiful and normal. It's all relative. Since when was it society's place to say what's acceptable as beauty anyway? Embrace whatever you have and don't give a shit what other people think. Love yourself and if others do too, then even better. Diversity should be celebrated; the same old stuff we're used to gets boring. See what's out there and you'll be amazed what you find.
People are always looking for new things, new faces, and new fashion. They're more interested in diversity, more open-minded and accepting to the fact that everyone is unique in their own way. I think it's amazing.
Some people are more obviously different — having different hair or marks on their body — but everyone is unique. It doesn't have to be something as visible as vitiligo, just embrace whatever you have. Beauty is having a mix of qualities that make you unique on the outside and inside.
The fact that society nowadays is more understanding has given me a boost to love myself more, to be confident, and to showcase what's naturally beautiful out there in the world, among others. There's nothing to fear. If anything, the world becomes bigger and brighter once you just accept shit and do you.
Let any abuse or hate simply be a fire you use to keep shining!"
Text Bashir Aziz
Photography Brock Elbank