Photographer Elisabeth Van Aalderen was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was 25. To find self-acceptance, she helped 19 other women see the beauty in their own skin.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 31, 2020. It has since been updated.
Vitiligo, while completely harmless on a biological or physiological level, can be completely crippling to a person's self-esteem. Especially for young people, it can be difficult to gain a sense of confidence if who you are is in complete contradiction to what "normal" looks like according to society. So when you're bombarded with commercials about maintaining an even skin tone, models who look like they've been airbrushed when they've just gotten out of bed, and products to fix, repair and correct your skin, it's no wonder that having a condition like vitiligo can be traumatic.
But what do we do about it? Photographer Elisabeth Van Aalderen may just have the answer. About eight years ago, when she was just 25, she began noticing white spots and patches across her skin. She revealed in an interview, "I started to get tiny white spots on my left hand. After a few weeks, the small spots turned into one bigger spot. That’s when it all started. Today, 60 percent of my skin is covered in vitiligo." Instead of automatically embracing her new skin, she tried everything she could to reverse it. "When I was diagnosed, I started skin therapy," Aalderen explained. "Creams, lightening therapy, a gluten-free diet, a vegetarian diet, no sun, a lot of sun, yoga. You name it, I tried it all. Nothing worked. Eventually, I stopped these treatments because I didn’t want my life to be like that. I couldn't change the fact that I have vitiligo, so I started to embrace it."
As someone who previously worked in fashion as a stylist and art director, she knew just how unfair the industry was to people who didn't tick all the typical boxes. Therefore, she began her journey of self-acceptance. To change the status quo and question beauty standards, part of her journey involved photographing other women who also have vitiligo. The photographer said, "It’s my biggest and most difficult journey of self-acceptance." Her moving photography project has since empowered several women with vitiligo, inspiring them to love themselves and their skin just as she now does.