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

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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