Jasmine Abena Colgan says her pain is healed through the lens of her camera.
“My art is my skin," Colgan said. "And my skin is an integral part of my whole artistic practices.”
She calls herself the "Woman of Colors" and says her spotted journey started a decade ago.
“I looked down and I saw this depigmented – it looked like a lima bean almost – and I just brushed it off. Didn’t really think about it. A couple months go by, and I start getting depigmentation on my hands.”
Colgan was diagnosed with vitiligo. It’s a skin condition that causes the loss of color in a person’s skin. It affects an estimated 1% of the world’s population, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
“One millimeter every six months is normally what my skin was depigmenting in,” Colgan said.
For her, it’s hereditary, but that’s not always the case. In her research, she says she’s heard of people developing vitiligo after trauma, a bad bug bite, or a rash. Sometimes it can be a marker of an autoimmune disease, like arthritis, type 1 diabetes, or lupus. It’s not contagious. The main harm, for some, is concern about appearance or ethnic identity.
“Skin color is something that really identifies a person in this world,” Colgan said.
She came up with the title "Woman of Colors" because she wanted to be more inclusive of her own identity.
“Vitiligo essentially is what I hope will be a way for us as humans to redefine skin color,” Colgan said.
Now, she is using art through a nonprofit she started called Tough Skin to promote beauty, self-love, and empowerment. She's a photographer and she photographed Sabrina Harris who is a sister in the vitiligo community.
“She is so body positive and she just makes you feel awesome about yourself,” Harris said.
Harris was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was eight. She says it’s been so helpful to find a community of people with shared experiences.
“I felt really fearful that it would be all-consuming and that it would be something that could potentially be harmful and I would never be able to stop it," Harris said. "But as I grew into it, I definitely like it now.”
Both Colgan and Harris say they still come across people who say hurtful things, but they look at it as an opportunity to teach and bring more awareness to vitiligo.
“I’ve heard jokes like people would call me Michael Jackson, and I’ve been called a cow before," Colgan said. "One of my gymnasts, she called me a cow and I was like ‘all right, that’s it, go run laps.’ You know, it’s one of those things where I can’t allow somebody to have that power over my emotions over something I can’t control.”
Instead of focusing on finding a cure for the skin condition, Colgan says it’s time for vitiligans to own their spots and feel proud of what makes them unique.
“We’re chosen to be spotted warriors and it’s time for change and we’re going to help initiate that flame and you better hold that torch with us,” Colgan said.