It took me an hour and a half every day to apply my makeup when I was a contestant on season 20 of The Bachelor in 2015.
This might seem excessive to most people. But at the time, I felt it was absolutely necessary—because I didn’t want anyone to see my vitiligo.
'I was 19 years old and a budding model when I was diagnosed.'
One day, I spotted a small white patch growing under my left eye and assumed it was sun damage. But it turned out to be vitiligo, an inflammatory condition that destroys pigment-producing cells in your skin. It was the first of many patches that would spread across my face and chin.
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Vitiligo is “harmless” in that it doesn’t do any serious damage to your body. But it totally destroyed my self-esteem. I felt like I had to give up modeling.
No one outright told me that I couldn’t model with my skin. But I didn’t feel like I measured up to the other women on set.
So I switched gears. I became interested in how what I ate affected my skin, and trained to become a holistic nutritionist.
And I wore makeup to cover my skin almost all the time.
'Then in 2015, I was cast on Ben Higgins' season of The Bachelor.'
I'd always wanted to work in television, and thought some time in front of the camera could help me let go of some of the insecurities that made TV work challenging for me. Plus, it seemed fun (and maybe I'd meet someone!).
But I didn’t tell anyone on the show about my condition—not a single cast member or producer knew.
I was terrified that in HD, my foundation wouldn't totally cover everything right. Or that if I cried, my makeup would come right off my face. Was I ready to talk about my vitiligo yet? I wasn’t sure.
I spent seven days filming before being cut in the first episode of the season. And I spent an hour and a half every day filling in my white patches with a heavy concealer, covering that over with foundation, and then blending everything so that it looked like normal skin.
'I was tired of feeling like I had to hide.'
Watching the show once it aired, I realized that I didn't want to feel like I always had to hide something about myself anymore. I wanted to feel confident and beautiful.
I had also just turned 30, which felt like a big milestone.
I decided that to let go of my insecurity, I had to be vulnerable about it. So a few weeks after The Bachelor wrapped, I posted my very first makeup-free picture on my Instagram account.
That one post went viral. Suddenly, I was talking to People and Teen Vogue and even Dr. Phil about my story. I was featured in a Discovery documentary and on the Hallmark Channel. It was crazy.
I thought vitiligo would prevent me from ever being in front of a camera. But the one thing I was so insecure about ended up being the very thing that launched my career in media.
'My vitiligo doesn't define me anymore.'
Of course, it took more than a selfie for me to change the way I felt about my skin. One thing that helped: Writing down all the negative thoughts I had about my skin on a piece of paper—next to all the things I wanted to believe about myself: that I am beautiful, that I deserve love, that I am enough.
Now, whenever I feel self-loathing, I remind myself to let go of those thoughts and focus on the belief that I really am enough.
When I look in the mirror now, I see me. I don’t just see the vitiligo. I’m not afraid to go outside without makeup on. I hope someday to model again. I wear makeup now because I like playing with it—not because I want to hide anything.
I have still have days here and there where I’m worried about the white patches spreading, but I know now that my vitiligo doesn’t define me. It’s just a small part of who I am.
Jessie Van Amburg is the senior associate editor at WomensHealthMag.com, where she handles beauty, food, and lifestyle coverage. She lives for '90s TV, breakfast food, cats, and British history.