Joti and I are part of the same WhatsApp group, created by Samanta Bullock, Nancy Connor and myself, some months ago, to network and discuss with people who believe that diversity should be more included and represented in fashion. When I launched the blog, Joti was one of the first to respond and here it is, her open-heart interview about her story, experience and message of hope to all people struggling with their body image.
Enjoy the read and be inspired!
WHO IS JOTI GATA-AURA?
My name is Joti Gata-Aura, I am 42 years old and I work in presenting in London. I am all about championing people with visible differences, so they can be better represented in the media.
I run a business called Positively Diverse and I also work as a secondary school teacher part time. Soon I will be moving full time to presenting, so that I can pursue my love of spreading body positivity .
WHAT IS VITILIGO, AND YOUR PERSONAL SKIN CONDITION FOR THOSE WHO DO NOT KNOW IT?
In 1999, just before I was due to fly back from a University year abroad in Spain, I noticed a tiny white spot on the back of my arm. While I didn’t think anything of it at first, the spot started to get bigger and panic set in. After three months, I went to the doctors and was diagnosed with vitiligo, which began to spread aggressively.
Vitiligo is a skin condition that affects 1-2% of the world’s population. Vitiligo is caused by the lack of a pigment called melanin in the skin. Melanin is produced by skin cells called melanocytes, and it gives your skin its colour. In vitiligo, there are not enough working melanocytes to produce enough melanin in your skin. This causes white patches to develop on your skin or hair.
If you are just about to go to the doctor, I wish you find a nice one as mine were quite brutal telling me “there was nothing they could do to cure it”!!!
HOW AND WHEN DID VITILIGO TURNED FROM BEING A WEAK POINT TO YOUR STRENGTH POINT?
I had always been a confident, outgoing person but at that point I caved in. I was in absolute depression and the more it started to spread, the more I felt like I couldn’t control it. I tried all the treatments I could think of, from herbal remedies to avoiding certain products. I covered up my white patches with theatrical makeup for years. I was partly ashamed but I also thought maybe if there’s a cure, it will go and then I won’t have to tell anyone about this.
I really thought it would be easier if I just covered up.
Vitiligo had spread from my arm to my eyes, legs and feet, and every time I found a new spot of white skin, it grew bigger. I was a girl who loved fashion and her sense of style but Vitiligo changed my approach to fashion as well.
At 21, I graduated from University, got a job in banking and got married, but as I hit new life milestones, one thing remained constant: the need to cover up, whether that was by wearing long-sleeved work tops in the height of summer or camouflaging my feet with makeup.
Vitiligo stripped away my confidence, my personality, my Indian cultural identity.
Covering up and going to appointments was so time consuming – whenever there was an event, like a wedding or a party, I knew I’d have to spend weeks looking for an outfit that looked nice with long sleeves…even in the middle of Summer!
I then started a “horrendous” but successful course of steroid injections that I had to stop when I became pregnant with my daughter.
I should have been grateful to be pregnant, but I wasn’t : I was like ‘Damn, this is coming in between my treatment, and I’m nearly fixed, I’m nearly brown again”.
After the birth of my daughter, my vitiligo spread again, and as I woke up exhausted for night feeds, I realised I no longer had the energy to spend on covering up my skin.
I had another mental, massive, barrier to overcome: the fact that I’d hidden it for so long.
The only people who’d seen my skin as it truly was, were my husband, mum, sister, in-laws and a few of my best friends.
The breakthrough moment for me was when I successfully took part in a BBC documentary in 2017 without long sleeved clothing. From there, I set up an online support group on Instagram (@positivelydiverse) and started dedicating my time to supporting others via social media.
SINCE YOU STARTED FEELING MORE CONFIDENT, WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST SUCCESS?
I would say…MANY!
I interview people, support people and have taken part in many successful campaigns that are striving for more representation and diversity in the media.
Only just a year ago, I walked into my secondary school where I teach, without any makeup. I was nervous, but I felt ready for it. When I went into school, there was no reaction from anybody, no double looks.
And I just thought ‘Why aren’t they looking?’
It was really bizarre.
I feel completely liberated now and no long worry about covering up. Make up is not a necessity, it is a choice now. My vitiligo is there, I’m not hiding it. I’m free after being trapped for so many years. it really is a great feeling. I have also completely changed my attitude towards the way I dress.
I love the work I am doing to raise Body Positivity at the girl’s school I teach. Since the start of last year I have delivered whole school assemblies tackling the issue about the pressure young people feel to look a certain way. Girls look at me with reassurance and it feels amazing to know, I can walk around school and offer support and empathy to those who are struggling, with their own body image. It feels overwhelming when I am told, by colleagues, that I am a role model for Body Positivity. I am often used to deliver talks to individual classes such as PHSE and RE lessons.
My life has changed significantly since 2017: I now actively write for magazines and take part in radio shows (BBC counties/BBC Asian network/ BBC Radio London). In 2019 I was the face of the Good House Keeping Body Positivity Campaign which was a wonderful project to take part in. This February, I even took part in the opening of London fashion week!
I am also fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Samanta Bullock: I have interviewed some wonderful role models across the globe, who are championing the same core ethos as myself.
For World Vitiligo Day this year, I was honoured to have the unique, inspirational journalist Lee Thomas on my IG live platform for a sensational and moving discussion.
My arms and fingers are all white now and my face is turning whiter quite quickly. I do sometimes think it would be nice to be one colour, it would make things easier, but I’m very pragmatic now and the vitiligo can do what it wants. It ruled my life for a long time, and I am determined to not let it ruin my life anymore.
VITILIGO AFFECTED YOUR STYLE FOR MANY YEARS: WHAT DO YOU LIKE WEARING NOW?
Vitiligo used to affect the way I dressed for 20 years! I hid my vitiligo from the world by wearing clothing that completly shielded my skin condition. I would search for hours, in shops, looking for long sleeved outfits and shoes that would cover my vitiligo.
This has now changed completely! I now wear clothing I would have never worn before, with bold patterns that I know are eye catching, for example.
I do not mind if people look at me now! I love to wear bright colours that show my vibrant and bubbly personality as I love to wear elegant fitted skirts and shirts when I am interviewing.
ANY FASHION BRANDS YOU PREFER WEARING?
I love to wear Zara collections, because of the feel of the clothing and how each piece suits my body shape.
WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY?
Here it is: I would love to see more diverse representation in society. I feel so happy that I am surrounded by so many other wonderful skin and body ambassadors who are working hard to spread the same message as I am. I hope this inspires anyone out there to know, they are not alone and to remember that hope does exist, and to hang on to it.
My page supports and discusses all topics that fall under the subject of representation.
I hope to keep growing and championing what I believe in. I am also working on becoming a full experienced presenter: the one who tackles issues with a slightly different angle and spin by being more diverse and inclusive, through my very personal approach, style and technique.
[And we wish you all the best!]
Learn more about Joti here: