Iomikoe Johnson was 25 when she noticed a small spot of white skin under her arm. She worried it might be skin cancer, but then she noticed patches of white popping up elsewhere on her body. Johnson has vitiligo, a condition that may eventually turn her skin completely white. Though the condition once had her on the verge of suicide, the mother and grandmother ultimately decided to embrace her new reality. She is now a model who finds purpose and joy in her skin. “I want the world to see my art,” she says. “I’m walking art, human art.”
Vitiligo is caused by a malfunction of the cells that produce melanin and, in some cases, is an autoimmune condition. There is no cure, but there are a few treatment options that may or may not work, including steroid cream and UV light therapy. The condition affects around one percent of the global population and can afflict both men and women of every ethnicity. Some famous people with vitiligo include NBA star Rasheed Abdul Wallace, model Winnie Harlow, and prince of pop Michael Jackson.
Winnie Harlow was a huge inspiration for Johnson’s decision to embrace her own beauty. When she saw a picture of Harlow on Facebook one day, she saw something beautiful. Seeing someone else with her condition embrace her own unique beauty inspired Johnson to do the same. She started by no longer wearing the makeup she was using to try to cover up her white patches and not always resorting to clothing that covered all of her skin. “I was tired of people defining what [other people] think is beautiful and it was my job to show them that beauty is beyond skin.”
Johnson’s family, including her mother, her children, her grandchildren, and her fiancee, all happily embraced her decision to embrace her own beauty. She is also hoping to inspire those outside of the ones closest to her. In saying, “I am a vitiligo goddess and I am proud to be uniquely different,” she is hoping others will feel empowered to “remove the mask of feeling judged” and celebrate their own unique beauty. As “human art,” Johnson is a walking awareness campaign. She is teaching people about vitiligo, but perhaps more importantly, she is teaching people about beauty and self-love and embracing what makes each of us unique. We see your art, Iomikoe, and it is breathtaking. Thank you for sharing it.