A mother-of-four who has suffered from vitiligo for over a decade – a condition which is eventually going to turn her dark skin completely white – has done a nude photo shoot to show the world that “beauty is beyond skin”.
37-year-old Iomikoe Johnson from Lake Charles, Louisiana is a model, business owner, and grandmother-of-two first discovered a tiny spot of white skin under her arm 12-years ago. At first, she thought she had cancer but when the patches spread to her eyes and genital area, Johnson was petrified that she would be bullied for being ‘two different colors’ after spending her childhood being taunted for having dark skin.
The then 25-year-old contemplated suicide as strangers would stare at her in the streets with some even refusing to shake her hand. She initially spent up to an hour a day on her makeup to cover up and would only wear long sleeved clothes; it was only when her fiancé Phillip told her that he loved her no matter what that she decided to ditch the makeup bag.
Iomikoe Johnson, 37, from Lake Charles, Louisiana has celebrated the decision to embrace her vitiligo with a photo shoot
The model, business owner, and mother-of-four was bullied for her skin color as a child; now, with the support of her family, she has found the confidence to stop covering herself up with makeup and long sleeved tops
“I got vitiligo when I was twenty-five-years-old and I’ll never forget it, I was devastated, I felt like my world had been shattered. My first spot was under my arm where no one could see. When I was a kid, I used to get bullied for having dark skin and now I’m two different colors, so I feared I would have to relive that experience all over again,” Iomikoe said.
“It was painful and devastating I even thought of taking my own life many times, but I had kids which kept me going. People used to look at my hands and not want to touch me and they didn’t want to shake my hand. People stared and said very mean, disrespectful things to me and children were afraid of me.”
It was Johnson’s fiancé Phillip who helped the mother-of-four Iomike feel beautiful again after vitiligo had left her feeling suicidal.
“I didn’t know what this was, I thought it was cancer at first. I was scared and very emotionally depressed I didn’t know what was going on with my body, my parents were also concerned but told me no matter what they will always love me and they told me not to worry.”
What is vitiligo?
Vitiligo occurs when the cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines the color of skin, die or stop functioning. This causes slow enlargement of white patches of irregular shapes to appear on the skin over time.
Vitiligo affects all races but may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. The exact cause of the condition remains unknown, although many experts believe that it is an autoimmune condition in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys certain cells.
There is no cure but there are treatments whose goal is to include ointments and skin grafts, thus stopping or slowing the progression of pigment loss.
Iomikoe has four children and two grandchildren and says that despite initially being petrified of her vitiligo, she loves being different and now feels like she wouldn’t be able to exist without it. It was her family who encouraged her to embrace it and she’s now a model who wants the world to see her body as walking human art.
“Well it would take me forty-five minutes to an hour to put makeup on to cover spots and it was becoming very tiring,” she explained how she used to feel about her condition.
“My fiancé told me that I didn’t need to do it anymore because he loves me no matter if I wore makeup or not. One day I woke up and I saw this picture on my Facebook of Winnie Harlow, the vitiligo model and I was like oh my god she’s so beautiful. She has the same skin disease as me and she embraced her beauty so I thought why shouldn’t I do the same.”
“I woke up one day and I didn’t put on any makeup and since that day I haven’t worn makeup I was tired of people defining what they think is beautiful and it was my job to show them that beauty is beyond skin.”
After initially resenting it, Iomike has embraced vitiligo and is now a model
“I love the skin I’m in, I’m so proud to be who I am,” she says
She wants to show the world that ‘beauty is beyond skin’
“My mom cried when I decided not to wear makeup anymore, she said she was so proud of me, my dad and my sisters all told me that I was so beautiful,” the 37-year-old revealed.
“My children love me no matter what, they all cheer me on they are all proud of me they love me despite of my skin they love me because of who I am and what I represent and they are my biggest cheerleaders, they encouraged me to be myself and embrace my beauty. I want the world to see my art. I’m walking art, human art.”
There is no known cure for vitiligo, only treatements that can slow its progression
It is estimated around one percent of the world’s population – around 50 million people – have vitiligo.
Iomikoe has non-stop segmental vitiligo which has turned into universal vitiligo which will eventually see her body turn completely white. Nowadays, she is not bothered and wants others to embrace who they are as well.
“I absolutely love myself, I love the skin I’m in, I’m so proud to be who I am I feel like vitiligo is my suit of armor and I think I am absolutely freaking gorgeous,” the model added.
The mother-of-four and grandmother-of-two now sees vitiligo as her suit of armor
Iomikoe as a teenager, before she started experiencing symptoms of vitiligo at the age of 25
“I’m spotted with a purpose, it was who god created me to be, I feel like it is my job to show the world what I define as beautiful, I am a vitiligo goddess and I am proud to be uniquely different and created in god’s own image.
“I want people to know that you are not defined by your skin, you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you.
“I just want them to embrace being different and uniquely made because god made us in his own image, don’t be ashamed to be who you are, you have a purpose.”
The model says she nowadays feels ‘absolutely freaking gorgeous’
At first, Iomikoe thought she had cancer before the white patches spread to her eyes and genital area
The model feels she is ‘spotted with a purpose’ and wants other people to feel equally comfortable with themselves
“I want people to be empowered by my story and for them to remove the mask of feeling judged. I want them to know that I’m cheering them on and that they are freaking beautiful creatures and ‘spotted with a purpose’. Vitiligo can appear at any time in your life and all races can get it, vitiligo is not prejudiced anyone can get it at any time at any age,” the Louisianian concluded.