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Man with vitiligo reveals how he overcame bullies to become a model

Man who was cruelly called ‘zebra face’ and ‘cow’ after being diagnosed with vitiligo as a toddler reveals how he overcame his bullies to become a model and motivational speaker

  • James McLeod, 40, from Peekskill, New York, was 18 months old when his mother noticed a white spot on his face that gradually grew 
  • A doctor diagnosed him with vitiligo, a condition that causes white patches to appear on the skin due to a lack of pigment called melanin 
  • McLeod struggled with children bullying him and excluding him at school growing up, but he decided he wouldn’t let his vitiligo shape his confidence 
  • He now dedicates his life to supporting and inspiring others to overcome their insecurities and fears as a motivational speaker, influencer, trainer, and model 
  • McLeod has also written two children’s books that promote messages of confidence, acceptance, and positivity

A man who has the skin condition vitiligo has opened up about how he overcame bullies who called him cruel names to become a model and motivational speaker. 

James McLeod, 40, from Peekskill, New York, was 18 months old when his mother noticed a white spot on his skin that gradually grew, leaving one side of his face almost completely white. 

A doctor diagnosed him with vitiligo, a condition that causes white patches to appear on the skin due to a lack of pigment called melanin. It can affect any area of the skin, but it commonly occurs on the face, neck, hands, and in skin creases. 

‘As a child, I was called so many names, skunk face, zebra face, cow,’ he said. ‘I am still asked if I was in a fire, if someone threw bleach on my face. Just the question, “What happened to your face?” hurt — as if there is something wrong with me.’

James McLeod, 40, from Peekskill, New York, was a toddler when he was diagnosed with vitiligo, a condition that causes white patches to appear on the skin

McLeod said he was a ‘beautiful black baby’ and his ‘skin was all one color’ until his mother noticed a white spot developed on his face when he was 18 months old 

James McLeod said he was a ‘beautiful black baby’ and his ‘skin was all one color’ until the white spot developed on his face when he was a toddler.  

‘Doctors believe there may be a genetic component to vitiligo in some cases. My sister has a small patch of white on her leg,’ he explained. 

McLeod struggled with children bullying him and excluding him at school, but he decided one day that he wouldn’t let his vitiligo shape his confidence.  

‘I came home one day and decided I didn’t want to cry anymore. I didn’t want to be scared of people anymore,’ he recalled.

‘I forced myself to look in the mirror and confront the “monster.” And as I did, I began to realize how beautiful I was.’

McLeod said the experience taught him at a young age ‘that self-confidence is key.’  

‘My confidence radiates out, and people are more accepting of me the more confident I am,’ he explained. ‘Without vitiligo everything in my life would be different.’

McLeod was determined not to let the bullies define him, he has now dedicated his life to supporting and inspiring others to overcome their insecurities and fears.

McLeod said the experience taught him at a young age ‘that self-confidence is key

McLeod was determined not to let the bullies define him, he has now dedicated his life to supporting and inspiring others to overcome their insecurities and fears

He now shares his story as a motivational speaker, influencer, personal trainer, DJ, and author

He follows the mantra to smile and let your happiness shine — a mindset that has served him well. He has written two children’s books, The Boy Behind the Face and My Daily Superpowers, which promote messages of confidence, acceptance, and positivity.

As a model, he has been featured in the fashion magazine CR Fashion Book, Bodybuilding.com, and campaigns for Soul Cycle, He was also a presenter at World Vitiligo Day 2020.

McLeod is teaching acceptance and leading by example. He now shares his story as a motivational speaker, social influencer, personal trainer, DJ, and author.  

He speaks at schools, youth programs, and churches while also continuing to inspire others on social media.

As a model, he has worked with a number of fashion magazines and brands, including Rick Owens (pictured) 

McLeod speaks at schools, youth programs, and churches while also continuing to inspire others on social media

McLeod, who is known as @thatvitiligoguy on Instagram, helps people overcome their insecurities with his videos

‘Vitiligo has helped me impact others in a positive way, and given me an opportunity to be of service,’ he said. ‘I realized in the last several years that my greatest challenge was my greatest blessing.

‘I have a visual difference that people notice. As I have grown to embrace my difference and the beauty of my skin, I realized I could help others who are dealing with their own insecurities, whatever they may be.

‘I know what it is like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to be afraid of what other people think of you, to be ostracized and bullied,’ he added. 

‘I am blessed to have found a strength within myself that allows me to love myself, and it is my responsibility to share that message with others.’

‘Vitiligo has helped me impact others in a positive way, and given me an opportunity to be of service,’ he said

McLeod has also written two children’s books that promote messages of confidence, acceptance, and positivity

WHAT IS VITILIGO?

Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease that is caused by a lack of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.

The body’s immune system attacks the pigment cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders.

This causes painless white patches on exposed areas such as the face and fingers, but they can also appear on the wrists, around the eyes, groin, armpits, and inside the mouth.

The disease affects around one in 200 people, and about 50 percent develop their first symptoms before the age of 20, though it’s not clear why.

However, stressful events, such as childbirth, hormone changes, or even cuts to the skin, may trigger it — there is also a genetic link.

There is no cure, but some treatments can reverse pigment loss if used early enough.

McLeod noted that the most special thing about him has nothing to do with his physical appearance.  

‘My mind is what is most unique about me, my way of thinking, that has led me to this place of happiness and success and joy for life,’ he said. 

‘I am very honored to live my life. Whenever someone reads one of my books, or attends one of my presentations, or watches a video, and tells me that I have impacted their life for the better, that is the best compliment I could ever receive.

McLeod, who is known as @thatvitiligoguy on Instagram, helps people overcome their insecurities with his videos, and he has a message for people who are struggling to love themselves. 

‘You are not your body. You are not your skin. You are not your appearance,’ he said. ‘You are a spirit and a heart and a mind. Love what is on the inside, and what happens on the outside will change in amazing ways.’

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