I remember having a colleague, more than 10 years ago, with, what I now know as, Vitiligo. I honestly never thought of it as something to be bothered about, and she never seemed to suffer from it. She never seemed to hide it or ever mentioned it as other ladies could talk about their extra-kilos or other physical “disappointments”. To me, to us, it was normal and for sure, something not needed to be fixed. But meeting Natalie, and learning about her story opened a whole new world to me. Make sure you read it to the end and take note of her advice!
Who is Natalie Ambersley?
Natalie is a writer, blogger and advocate for the skin condition, vitiligo which she developed when she was 3 years old. Currently in her thirties, Natalie lives in London and works in the Telecoms industry, as an Executive Assistant.
How and when did Vitiligo turn from being a weak point, to your strength point?
I’ve lived with vitiligo all my life and I’ve definitely felt like I have experienced real highs and real lows at different stages, throughout my life! I spent most of my teens and twenties in a difficult place trying to battle against the negative thoughts I had towards my skin, and didn’t think it was at all possible for me, to ever love my skin. I felt trapped in a bad place body wise.
However, things started to change after I made an appearance on London Live, a news channel based in the UK. They had invited me onto the show, to talk about my experiences with vitiligo alongside someone who had another type of skin condition, called Psoriasis. I was incredibly nervous about appearing and sharing my story, but after a conversation with those closest to me, they encouraged me to take a chance and go live!
During the 7-minute interview I was asked a number of questions around what it was like, living with vitiligo. This encouraged me to open up and share my experiences with the skin condition (besides I had very little choice – the show was being recorded live!). It was one of the most nerve-wracking yet liberating 7 minutes of my life!
The reaction after the show was so positive that it became the moment when I was able to say, “I have vitiligo and I’m okay with it’. Admitting it to myself, became a huge weight off my shoulders and made me realise that I had to start living for myself rather than other people. From that moment on, I started to work on my mindset…thinking about how I was going to change it from negative to positive and reverse: how I felt about my body. I knew it was going to be something that would happen slowly over time, but I was determined to focus on becoming positive. I’d lived in the shadow of vitiligo for so long. I had missed out on so much….beach holidays, wearing summer clothes during the hotter months, swimming…that I wanted things to change so that I could start living the life I wanted.
Since you started feeling more confident, what have been your greatest success?
Some incredible opportunities have come my way since my appearance on London Live, which I’m truly grateful for. My biggest success is learning to love my body, which I didn’t think was possible. I didn’t think my mind was strong enough to change from negative to positive after all that I’d been through.
Little did I know I was about to make a 360 degree turn and become the most confident I’ve ever been! As part of that change, I have learned to block out any internal negative thoughts, can better deal with the stares and comments from others and am much more open about explaining what vitiligo is. The fact I can do this confidently, has really improved my self-esteem. I have joined a wider community on Instagram which has inspired me to love my skin and most importantly, I have become an ambassador for the condition, which has seen me share my story across a number of media platforms and magazines. Most notably, I have featured in brand campaigns with Dove and Vita Liberata which for me has been life changing, as I never thought this was something I would get the opportunity to do.
Last year I was photographed by the incredible Elisabeth Van Aalderen, for her photography project ‘shades of pale’, which captures women with vitiligo in the most beautiful way and has received global recognition.
I am so proud of the work I’ve done on myself and as an ambassador, and really hope it continues as I’m passionate about staying positive and helping others feel content with their bodies too. I am also a Trustee at The Vitiligo Society, which means I’m working even closer, with the condition and get to help steer change, within the vitiligo community.
There are many women that do not feel comfortable in their own skin: what brands or treatments would you suggest to make them feel more confident?
For me, hearing this really saddens me, as I remember being a woman that wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. I would start by saying, above everything else, sunscreen is key because our skin easily burns and is sensitive to the sun. There are so many brands I love, but my current favourite is SunSense who are leaders in sun care. Its important we use sunscreens with a high factor (ideally factor 50), and use all year round, as the suns rays are always present even when the sun isn’t shining.
In terms of makeup brands, for those who choose to cover their patches, I’m a big and long-term fan of Bare Minerals, which has a great range of makeup products that allow you to achieve a very natural look, whilst subtly disguising your patches. Their liquid foundations also contain SPF, which is an additional benefit for added protection.
For those who have extensive vitiligo and prefer to cover up, I would recommend using fake tan. Again, this is a very personal choice. My favourite brands are St Tropez (specifically the bronzing water gel) as it creates a lasting and very natural colour. I also like Vita Liberata who have a product called Body Blur which is a high definition makeup product for the skin.
I’d like to add, the best thing that can make you feel confident is your mind. I think products are great for those who aren’t comfortable showing their skin, but I’m an advocate for using these products because you want to, rather than feeling as though you have to, because you fear social acceptance. Alongside investing in these products, it’s important that you work on having a positive mindset and loving your skin; that way these products become a lovely luxury as opposed to a necessity. The only product that is vital from the ones I’ve shared is the sunscreen. That you can’t go without!
What is your message to the beauty industry?
My message to the beauty industry is……be diverse. I was raised in an era when people like myself weren’t represented, and there was a very narrow view of what beauty was. Everyone that was ‘deemed’ beautiful were of a particular weight and skintone and didn’t come with marks or scars. We now know, this isn’t reality and that the world is in fact, made up of so many types of beautiful women. As a society we are keen and supportive of seeing diversity, therefore it is a great opportunity for you to support, diversify and create campaigns that represent all women. Now is the time for change and you can be part of that and help show future generations that we all have a right to be represented.
I have so many wonderful plans that I feel excited just thinking about them! I have previously taken courses in counselling and coaching and would love to expand in this area as I have a real passion for helping others overcome body confidence issues. It really uplifts me when women reach out and say that I’ve inspired them to feel more confident in their skin. It’s one of the best things I could hear! I’d also love to write a children’s book as I think books are a great way to show children that they too are represented, especially from a young age. I would like to maintain my role as an ambassador of vitiligo, speaking out, sharing my story and being a firm part of the incredible community that I feel lucky to be part of.
Thank you Natalie and keep up the great job!