Ash Soto was only 12 years old when she was diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare skin condition that causes patches of skin to lose pigmentation. Dealing with the changes to her appearance and the social stigma associated with vitiligo was tough for a teenage girl, but she ultimately managed to accept her condition and make the best of it. Today, Ash even incorporates the unique patterns on her skin to create beautiful body art that inspire and empower people to embrace that we are all different and that’s what makes us special.
It all started with a small spot Ash saw on her neck one day. It looked like a sun spot, so she didn’t pay much attention to it, until another one appeared a few months later. She went to see a doctor about it with her mother, and was diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare and incurable skin condition. Soto was just 12 at the time, and couldn’t yet understand how much this diagnosis would affect her life.
“I didn’t know how to react because I had no knowledge on what vitiligo was or what would happen to me,” Ash Soto recalls. “I remember my mom sitting there crying and I just sat there confused and scared. I didn’t know how much my life would change from that moment on.”
As the vitiligo continued to spread on her body, Ash turned from an outdoor young girl who loved going to the beach and cheerleading into an introvert plagued by anxiety and depression. She couldn’t even look at people anymore, and would only leave the house wearing long-sleeved shirts and jeans.
I accidentally deleted this picture while going through my feed, I’m actually so upset right now that I can’t recover it, but this was #markerchronicles part 2 🖊 remember it doesn’t matter what color you are, we’re all the same on the inside, we’re all equal. Don’t let your skin tone define you, it’s who you are on the inside that matters ✊🏻✊🏽✊🏿 Black, white, or whatever skin tone you may have we are ALL BEAUTIFUL 🌎
“I excluded myself from everything and everyone. I tried to be happy and smile, but over time I was filled with so much self-hatred for myself that I stopped doing the things I loved,” Soto told a plus. “It was so bad, I couldn’t even look at people in the eye anymore and I just wanted to be inside all the time. I developed anxiety and depression. I remember looking at girls in magazines or on social media and I would be so jealous because they had perfect skin and I didn’t.”
But with support from her family, and the help of social media and the body positivity movement, Ash was able to accept that she was beautiful just the way she was, and that she didn’t have to meet society’s standards to feel good about herself. She started going out wearing short sleeve t-shirts and shorts, and forced all the negative thoughts out of her mind.
I get stretch marks just like everyone else regardless of if I have a skin condition or not. I go through all the same struggles you all go through that’s why I preach self love so much. I don’t care if I have to repeat myself in every caption to love who you are regardless if you have tiger stripes, #vitiligo, or whatever the case may be. I’ll sound like a broken record each time because at least someone reminded you to appreciate and love yourself unconditionally always 🎨🌎❤
“I remember I would write down on a paper everyday repeating to myself that I am beautiful, I am strong and I am enough,” the 21-year-old said. “I told myself I didn’t have to meet society’s standards to be beautiful and unique.”
Instagram played a huge role in her struggle to accept and embrace her appearance. At first, she just set up an account to share makeup tricks, and would hide her condition in the photos and videos she posted, but at one point she built up the courage to reveal herself completely to her followers.
It was a tough decision, especially knowing “how cruel people can be, especially behind the safety of a keyboard”, but Ash felt that she was strong enough mentally to handle any kind of reactions. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with people showing their support and sharing their own experiences with vitiligo. It inspired her to promote self-love and acceptance, but also to use her skin condition in artistic ways.
A few months ago, Soto started an artistic project called The Marker Chronicles, through which she tries to show that “we are all art”. She uses a marker and paint to outline or cover her vitiligo spots, turning her body into a beautiful canvas.
“This project has been a way to show that what others might perceive as your flaws are actually what makes you beautiful and sets you apart from the rest,” Ash says. “Each of us get one life to live and the things that make us different from one another are those that us special. The only person that has to accept you and love you is you. The standards of beauty in our society are unattainable to most of us. These standards should not be your goal, but instead the acceptance of the things that make you imperfect should be your main focus.”