A talented gymnast gave up the sport because she embarrassed by the patches that she developed as a kid.
But she’s overcome her insecurities and now encourages people to embrace to their uniqueness.
Dionne Lees, from Livingston in Scotland, first assumed the white patches on her face were tan lines caused by wearing sunglasses while bathing in the blistering heat.
“I was 12 years old when my first vitiligo spot developed,” Dionne told Daily Mail. “I was in Lloret de Mar, Spain, and I woke up with white patches on my eyes.”
But the now 21-year-old grew worried as more white patches appeared all over her body, and consulted a specialist.
“Within a couple of weeks it had progressed onto my legs, so I went to the doctor who told me I had vitiligo,” she says.
Vitiligo is a disease that causes the loss of skin colour in blotches, according to Mayo Clinic.
Dionne recalls being ridiculed by other kids for her appearance and says some parents would prevent their children from coming anywhere near her in case it was contagious.
“People used to mock me, asking if I’d worn sunglasses for many years or whether I was wearing fake tan.
“Being young and very insecure I would never wear anything revealing,” she says.
Soon after her diagnosis Dionne’s vitiligo spread to the rest of her body and her insecurity about her appearance grew.
“It’s developed mostly on my legs, down my shins and my chest in identical patterns – my hips look like there is a white belt going around it,” Dionne says.
The former gymnast, who was good enough to qualify for the Commonwealth Games, tried covering up her skin with makeup and used steroid cream daily but it didn’t help much. She soon developed low self-esteem and eventually decided to quit the one thing she really loved: gymnastics.
“I would try to find tights to hide my white patches, but ultimately I quit and missed out on something I loved and a lot of opportunities because I didn’t want to show my skin,” Dionne says.
When she first saw pictures of model Minnie Harlow, who also has vitiligo, Dionne slowly started accepting and even embracing her disease.
“Now I love my skin. I’ve stopped all treatment from the hospital, I don’t wear makeup to cover up, and online I promote body positivity by posing in bikinis and shorts,” she says.
She now proudly shares pictures of the spots on her body with her more than 9 000 Instagram followers in order to inspire and encourage healthy body image.
“Because of my own experiences and the approach that vitiligo was something I should hide, I developed more of a complex and felt it was something to be embarrassed about.
“I know if I have kids with vitiligo, I would like to help and teach them to love their spots,” she says.