Women With Unique Skin Share How They Learned To Love Their Purpose-Built Beauty

There is truly beauty in divergence.

Human Interest

Picture-perfect skin has become the new normal in the social media era. You can literally edit images to be whatever you want it to be with apps like Facetune, Airbrush, Retouch and so many more. With a swift cinch you can snatch your waist and with a simple swipe you can erase your acne. Why are we like this? Why do we desire perfection so passionately. And I say "we" because I am guilty of using Facetune to edit parts of my body and face. What's also mind-blowing is how body positivity is more prevalent than skin positivity. In this age of envy, society has become enthralled with living the picture perfect-life with picture-perfect skin and a picture-perfect body. It's not realistic and it creates illogical standards.

Our bodies and our skin were created to be unique; there is truly beauty in divergence.

Above all, beauty is being comfortable in your own skin and even OG Edgar Allen Poe once said, "There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion." Truth is, people relate to you and love you more when you keep it all the way one hunnid. And if we are being real, we are way too self-critical.

Here, three bold and beautiful women share their stories on learning to believe in their purpose-built beauty and share advice for women struggling to accept themselves.

*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Berlange Presilus

Courtesy of Berlange Presilus

"I am fashion (role) model, teacher, entrepreneur, warrior and advocate. I was born with a rare condition called Klippel Trenaunay syndrome, KTS in short. KTS is a rare congenital vascular disorder in which the limb may be affected by port-wine-stain (red-purple birthmark involving blood vessels). 1 out of 100,000 people are affected by this condition. Growing up, something was noticeably different about me as an infant; my right leg was longer, bigger than my left leg, it was deformed; and I crawled [and] walked differently than a normal child. By the age of twelve, I began to suffer the most with Skin ulcers, migraines and blood clots.

"I have battled with depression along with a great measure of anxiety. I struggled with rejections, pain, self-insecurities and suicidal thoughts. I have fought with life and the feeling of not being good enough to do and be anything worthy. I wanted to belong…

"I have constantly battled with my emotions, doubts and questioned my abilities and aspirations. Most times I was just confused about my existence; aimless, helpless and bothered. I lived a worried life! I spent years seeing all kinds of doctors but I was not able to get any help. The doctors had thrown their hands up in defeat because they never encountered such a mysterious condition in all their years of experience. In the end, I was assured by one doctor that I would die by the age of 19 due to being chronically ill.

"For years, I lived vicariously through those that were brave enough to speak their truth, reveal their pain, air out their wounds and did it with such passion and pride. I, too, wanted to be that brave. However, I was never that brave. After two surgeries and countless hospitalizations, I developed another long-term condition called Lymphedema. Even then, I had to make a decision to either pity myself or embrace and be proud of every inch of affected region of my body.

"I chose to stop living with fears of being judged and being talked down to. I became determined to own my truth boldly, live life with a grateful heart and full dedication to inspire the masses. Growing up, I had no role model, no one to relate to. For that reason I grew up confused, lonely, hopeless and unfitting. Nevertheless, I never gave up. Somewhere in between my misery, I found strength and my purpose. I would like to call that period of time my 'AHA period'. I recognized my power, the power that lied deep inside of me. Now that I recognize my strength and power, I am being everything I needed when I was growing up. I represent possibilities!

"My mission is to show the world that despite being born with one of the rarest syndromes, beauty is an introspective perception and one's attitude towards themselves and others. Beauty is not about outward appearances, but rather, the make up of one's character.

"Your perception of beauty will be varied through time, but always remember that beauty is an attitude...a mindset. Beauty goes beyond skin because it comes from within. Beauty is simply happiness...BEAUTY IS YOU! Your story only means that you were created with a gift. Although you may have spent years confusing your gift as a curse, I hope you can look in the mirror and face the strong woman you are.

"Your story isn't yours alone. It is through every pain, hurt, rejection and disappointment you will become who you were meant to be: A force! YOU are your own magic! There is only one you in this world, one out there who looks like you and no one can do anything like you…that is your magic. Whether you know it or not, everything you need is already inside you."

Ashley Featherson

Courtesy of Ashley Featherson

"Living with psoriasis has been a challenging yet rewarding journey. Growing up, it was difficult because I wasn't 'normal' or looked like everyone else. I didn't like the stares or being asked so many questions or even [being] picked on at times. Over time, however, I had to really deal with it and stop allowing it to control my life. I would cover myself in makeup and wear clothes to cover every inch of my body, even during the summer.

"After several people, both loved ones and strangers, kept complimenting my beauty and encouraging me to step away from makeup, I finally did. It was the best thing I could've done. I still like to get dolled up here and there, but I don't wear it as a mask to hide what I once saw as flaws.

"Since this newfound confidence and self-love, I've become a part of a community that understands the highs and lows that comes with unique skin; I no longer call it a disorder or issue.

"I've also pursued modeling and enjoyed amazing opportunities with that. I started doing things out of my comfort zone to help boost my confidence. My advice to others is you have to love yourself and embrace all of you! How others treat you is a reflection of how you love and treat yourself. Take a leap into enjoying activities that you may not necessarily do. Spend more time reflecting on why you feel the way you do about something and really dig deep to heal from it. Live life to the fullest and stop worrying about the opinions of others.

"Now instead of feeling ashamed or annoyed when asked questions, I use it as a moment to teach or even help someone that's dealing with anything that keeps them down. It's such an amazing feeling when parents, children, and peers thank me for being an inspiration. I've finally learned the beauty in being different."

Iomikoe Woods 

Courtesy of Iomikoe Woods

"I got vitiligo at the age of 25 years old. I noticed a tiny white spot under my arm while shaving and I immediately contacted my family doctor. He told me it could have appeared because I was allergic to razors, so he told me to stop using them. I did. But then a couple of months later, a tiny white spot appeared under my left eye. I panicked like, Why was another one popping up? I ended up moving and relocating to Arkansas because of a hurricane where I lived in Louisiana. It started to spread even more after we moved, so I told my ex-husband and he suggested I contact a dermatologist because my skin was only being affected. It took about a month to get my appointment and there were so many things running through my mind.

"I thought I had skin cancer. I didn't know what it could be. Was I being cursed for something I did? Why is my skin turning white? The dermatologist knew immediately what it was when he saw me; he told me I had vitiligo. I asked him if there was a cure or any medication that could treat this or if I had cancer. After saying 'no', he laughed, but I didn't think it was funny at all. The doctor told me of a few treatments that could or couldn't work and if I did want to use these treatments, they might cause skin cancer or even severely damage my skin. He showed me pictures of other people with vitiligo and my heart dropped to my feet. I was so devastated, I cried all the way home. I'll never forget that moment.

"I was so depressed, I covered my skin condition for over 12 years with makeup. I spent thousands of dollars on makeup to keep my secret hidden. I didn't want anyone knowing I had it.

"Then, it spread so much I couldn't hide it anymore. I tried long sleeved clothes, sweaters, gloves, whatever I could use to hide it. One sweet day, God sent me an incredible man who loved me no matter what. I even hid it from him when we first started dating and one day I got busted without my makeup and he said, 'Oh my God, have you been hiding this from me? Why didn't you tell me?' I told him I thought he would think I was a monster. He replied by saying, 'You are so freaking beautiful. I love you. I only see true beauty in you. My God, woman you're stunning. So what you're different. You should wanna be, you stand out from everyone.'

"One day we were laying in bed and I came across a photo on Facebook of a model who looked like me. Her name was Winnie Harlow and she was a beauty. He said, 'You see. I told you vitiligo is beautiful. She's a model. You can model too, honey.' I thought he was only saying that 'cause he loved me but he reassured me he was saying this because he wanted me to believe that for myself.

"When I looked in the mirror, I saw with my eyes and I didn't see myself through God's eyes.

"I used to write affirmations on my mirror and I believed it. When I did, my life changed. I've been on television, I've done magazine articles and appeared on blogs around the world. Through modeling, I've changed so many people's lives by just being myself. It was hard to be free from people's judgment and just be the woman God called me to be. I made it to my peace when I stop letting them stop hindering my destiny and followed the path and purpose God had for giving me vitiligo.

"I want women to know that you are beautiful no matter if you're different. Embrace what people call 'imperfections' because what are imperfections? It may be imperfect for them but it is perfect for you! I say embrace your difference because it makes you uniquely you, so follow your purpose. Yes, it's hard living in a society where social media controls people and a society that tells you what you should look like. Follow your own path, the path to your own purpose. Walk in your truth and be youthful. Own who you are, own your beauty and your difference. It's what makes you stand out from the rest."

Featured image via @spottietoohottie_/IG

Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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