What It's Like To Have Vitiligo

Photo by Bee WalkerFrom Woman of Color by LaTonya Yvette, published by Abrams Books c 2019

The "V" word is scary, but it doesn't define who you are

The following is an excerpt from Woman of Color by LaTonya Yvette, published by Abrams Books, 2019.

It is 8:15 a.m., and I hop out of my Lyft and walk through the iced-over snow and mud to enter the set for a photo shoot. There is always a woman greeting me. "Are you LaTonya?!" she asks. I answer yes. I arrive with my fro halfway twisted out and my face bare. At twenty-eight, my skin color is uneven and there is a patch of hormonal acne that I birthed along with Oak in the summer of 2014. "Clean face." When production sends out the call sheet for a shoot, this is what they often request. They check the color of my nails and the style of my hair, but the face part gets me the most.

This is a routine I've executed many times over the past two years, as my blog and overall brand have grown, often creating an illusion of a glamorous life. The makeup artist comments on my cheekbones, and she adds shine to my eyelids and tint to my lips. And for a few hours, I forget about the girl with vitiligo. This is a far cry from the evenings I spent as a kid sobbing over the white patches that plagued my joints and my face. Vitiligo was not only something that altered the way I looked, but altered the way that I defined beauty.

Vitiligo is a medical condition that causes skin to turn white with the loss of melanocyte cells, which produce melanin. It is considered an autoimmune disorder (which can pair itself with another disorder soon after diagnosis or later in life), and it can arrive without reason. Some doctors and researchers believe that it is genetic; some believe it can be brought on by emotional distress. Vitiligo can be focal and localized, or it may affect several different areas on the body. The average age vitiligo appears in someone is twenty-five. Twenty-five.

For me, it appeared in 1996. I was a seven-year-old, fifty-pound black girl turning white without warning or cause. It all started when the corners of my mouth started to ache when I smiled. Initially, there were whispers, then adults would comment abrasively. Kids were dumb. Adults were assholes. Once I was in the checkout line at a Family Dollar store when a woman approached me and asked, "Awww, were you burned?" "No," I answered, half expecting the conversation to end there, but knowing that it never could. "Well, what is that?" That! Why did I need to explain something I hardly understood?

One beautiful summer day, before the white started to move under my eyes, I sat in the backseat of my mother's car, refusing to step a foot out of it. The process was indescribably painful in varying degrees. "It just really hurts in the sun!" I cried, as our car drove into the sun's path. I felt the heat of the sun. I felt the sting of the vitiligo.

The ache around my mouth turned to ash, and the ash crawled its way to the sides of my mouth, forming a beard. It wasn't stark, but it was obvious to me and those near to me. Over the course of a few weeks, the ash started to peel away, exposing a white complexion, like a slab of meat coming off the bone. Soon after, the process began on my joints. Patches started to cover my knees, elbows, ankles, and eventually my knuckles. The faded speckles on my shin and foot proved that maybe the vitiligo wasn't as biased as I once had hoped. Sometimes, when I closed my eyes real tight, I imagined myself as a paper doll, full of color, with someone taking an eraser and diligently going to work on my body. First, they rubbed out my face, then they started on my knees and slowly moved to my ankles. At seven, I was being erased.

I was bullied, but I was a fighter. I'm not sure which came first. Two feet on the ground. Hip out. Fist tight. Cover the face. Wrap the hair around the right. Left hook. One September, when we lived in Long Island with my cousin, my uncle gave me a piece of fighting advice right before school began, anticipating the acclimation we were about to be presented with: "If they're big, hit them in the gut. The bigger they are, the harder they fall," he said, creating a stance and pointing to key spots on his body.

I'm not sure if he was right, but my mind held on to that technique. My older brothers had spent years fighting, too. Maybe it was seeing how they needed to defend themselves that made throwing up my hands in pure animalistic survival mode a bit easier. Once, at recess, I had a full-blown panic attack, knowing the bully in my class just wanted to fight me. "She's not going to let you ignore her. Before she comes to you, you should already have dirt in your hand to throw at her face so you can get the first hit," my friend said, in an attempt to protect my gangly body. The dirt worked. There was the set of twins in the lunchroom one morning at cafeteria breakfast, the girl in the playground, the boy that I was crushing on (and someone I called a friend), who sent a torn piece of paper with the drawing of a cow around class. "This is LaTonya. Hahaha," he wrote. And more.

My vitiligo was alive and visible but had become such a part of me that I subconsciously did things to hide it. If a stranger walked behind me, I'd naturally pose myself with crossed arms, so I wouldn't show the chunks of white on my elbows. When I needed to hold a pen, or have my hands and knuckles be the center of attention, I'd avoid it by simply interlocking my fingers and turning my hands inside out. Or I'd pretend my hands were cold (even in the heat of summer) and tuck the right one between my thighs, and my left hand under my left thigh. You would never see me willingly walk in front of anyone. I was too afraid they'd whisper about the white patches.

I alternated between jeans and capris in the sweltering summer heat, and I either rolled up the sleeves of long-sleeved shirts or gravitated to three-quarter-length sleeves. I disliked every kid from ages four to eleven who was in the strange stage of life between not knowing better and knowing better, but would still loudly comment about my skin to their parents anyway.

Photo by Bee Walker/ From Woman of Color by LaTonya Yvette, published by Abrams Books c 2019

In 2006, my family moved back to New York to settle here for good. There is something about New York that allows you to be simultaneously invisible and visible. As a teenager returning to a big city when vitiligo was such a large part of my physical features, there was a part of me that needed that invisibility. But, equally, there was a part of me that craved to be visible in a healthier form. To be seen simply as a New York teenager, not a New York teenager with vitiligo.

But I couldn't take on this city the way I needed to with my vitiligo being this thing that created a story for me. I had to do something.

We were with my grandmother in her Classon Avenue apartment when I finally opened up to my mother about my fear of living in Brooklyn with my vitiligo. Soon after, my mother took me downtown to Fulton Street, where a cluster of mom-and-pop stores blended with jewelry store after jewelry store run by men layered in gold necklaces and rings, hustling deals in front and passing out flyers. We dodged the guys with CDs on the street, and I heard Christian music blasting from the man at the fold-out table a block or so away from McDonald's. There was Conway (my grandmother's favorite), Cookie's, and Jimmy Jazz, too. My mom and I made our way into Macy's, passing through the bags, cornering around the cloud of perfume, and eventually stopping at the makeup counter. "This is what Angela uses," my mom said with confidence. Angela was one of my mom's best friends, who had vitiligo and lupus. I remember her as Southern, frail, beautiful, incredibly warm, supportive, and frequently ill. She passed away a few years later. It wasn't just the vitiligo I feared; it was knowing that the vitiligo often led to lupus—sickness—an early mortality.

"You need two different shades. One for your knees and another for your face," the lady at the counter said. "Show her so she can do it herself," my mom requested. "Just blend," the lady chimed in as I applied it from my laugh lines to my cheekbones. I also needed a setting powder, so we bought it. And I needed brushes, so we bought those, too. I knew how to apply makeup already. Most mornings I'd perch myself on the toilet and watch as my mother readied herself for work. And so, my own routine of eye shadow, eyeliner, and Dermablend was something I did with ease. With the makeup, I assimilated to life as a young woman in Brooklyn quickly and naturally.

Soon after Macy's, I started to straighten my hair; I rode the B52 bus from Bushwick through Bed-Stuy, and heard my grandmother playfully say, like she always had whenever we found ourselves standing in her kitchen together, "Brooklyn girls. Best in the world!"

That afternoon at Macy's was something my mother and I both needed and loved. It was an intersection of my beauty and my pain, and the parts of it that she carried as my mother. The first few years after the vitiligo appeared, my mother had me experiment with diets the doctors said might help. Organic jams, soy milk, and alternative cereals—spelled out on a paper hung on the fridge. They also suggested that she change my environment; stress and trauma from our home had likely brought it on.

The same doctors said that the vitiligo was likely not going to progress, but would stay the same or get better with care and a stress-free environment. They warned against the sun, so I became accustomed to wearing oversize sun hats and lathering with sunblock. In 2008, after a year or so in Brooklyn, I stopped using the layers of Dermablend and went straight to MAC, because my vitiligo had started to clear on its own. My MAC shimmer foundation blended best with the orange undertone of my skin. I used it as a spot treatment, only lightly covering the faded notes of vitiligo that remained on my face. And in the summer of 2010, I stopped covering my elbows and ankles with seasonally inappropriate clothes.

Occasionally, when I'm stressed for long periods of time, I get a glimpse of that seven-year-old girl in the form of a random white patch. She is standing right there looking at me. Having vitiligo as a kid created a version of beauty that is complicated and joyful. There is rarely a week that goes by that I don't remember the six-, seven-, or eight-year-old version of myself that is in pain. To be reminded of that level of trauma, while still being so incredibly thankful that the vitiligo has subsided, is to also be made aware of my own joy. My sensitivity to the physical "otherness" of strangers is something I can't erase. I don't want to.

Woman of Color is available for purchase here.

Screenshot via YouTube

And I need to see the rest ASAP

As excited as we already are for Olivia Wilde's directorial debut, Booksmart, to hit theaters next week, we just got even more desperate to see it. Why? Well, the first six minutes of the film were just released, and every minute is incredible.

The film opens on Molly (Beanie Feldstein) meditating and listening to a motivational tape telling her she's better than everyone else, and to "fuck those losers." Her room is decorated with pictures of Michelle Obama and RBG, so we know her head is in the right place. We learn she's the class president when she arrives at school with her best friend, Amy (Kaitlyn Dever).

It's there that we get a glimpse of the social hierarchy in which Molly and Amy exist—but somewhere down near the bottom, way below the popular kids, the theater nerds, the stoners, and even the annoying class clown.

The film officially hits theaters on May 23, but Annapurna Pictures is holding advanced screenings across the country today, May 17—we're actually holding two of them! So, if you're in L.A. or New York, check them out.

But also, you can watch the first six minutes of the film, below, and prepare yourself to watch the whole movie in a week.

BOOKSMART | Uncut First 6 Minutes

Photo by Rich Polk/ Getty

Her hypocrisy would be mind-blowing if it weren't so predictable

It's been just over two years since Tomi Lahren appeared on ABC's The View to assert that, despite her ultra-conservative bona fides, she holds one position more normally associated with the left wing: She's pro-choice. In that talk show appearance, Lahren made clear then that her pro-choice views were consonant with her self-identification as a "constitutionalist," further explaining:

I am someone that's for limited government. So I can't sit here and be a hypocrite and say I'm for limited government but I think the government should decide what women should do with their bodies." I can sit here and say that as a Republican, and I can say, "You know what? I'm for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well."

Back then, we noted the hypocrisy inherent to that position, since Lahren was an ardent supporter of President Trump—who made no secret of his desire to appoint anti-abortion judges to the Supreme Court and other judicial benches—and Vice-President Pence, whose anti-abortion views are even more ardent.

Since Lahren's appearance on The View, she has appeared in the anti-abortion film Roe v. WadeRoe v. Wade, which co-starred fellow execrable conservative troll, Milo Yiannopoulos, and, um, Joey Lawrence. Though the film has not yet been released, it is alleged to contain "several graphic scenes depicting aborted fetuses," and also the acting styles of Jamie Kennedy, so we're not sure for whom it will really be appropriate.

But while Lahren's role in that film would be enough to make anyone question just how committed she is to her alleged pro-choice stance, the recent news about de facto abortion bans in Alabama and Georgia has incited Lahren to speak out about her views once again.

On Twitter, Lahren opened herself up to "attack[s] by [her] fellow conservatives" and spoke out against the Alabama abortion ban as being "too restrictive." And, indeed, her "fellow conservatives" did quickly attack Lahren for not actually caring about human life, and for having too liberal a position on whether or not a woman should be forced to continue a pregnancy that resulted from rape. But then also, as Lahren must have known would happen, other people supported her for... not having one irredeemably monstrous position amongst her arsenal of irredeemably monstrous positions.

But, let's be clear: Tomi Lahren is not—no matter what she tweets—pro-choice, and neither is any supporter of the Republican Party. There is no doubt that there are Republicans who are in favor of safe access to abortion—particularly when it comes to themselves and their family members having said access. But by supporting the Republican Party, they are showing how little it actually matters to them, and showing what it is that they really prioritize over women's safety and freedom: namely, access to guns, bigoted immigration policies, the continued disenfranchisement of voters across the country. I could go on, but there's no need.

Lahren's tweet doesn't reveal in any way that she's an advocate for women's rights, all it reveals is her hypocrisy and that of anyone (Meghan McCain, hi), who would love to have a world created specifically for their needs, and who is willing to sacrifice the rights of the less privileged in order to secure their own. It is despicable and dangerous and incredibly predictable. But, at least, it might give Lahren something to talk about on the red carpet with her fellow anti-abortion movie costars, if that film ever gets more than a straight-to-video release.

If you want to find out how to help women have access to abortion, please visit here for information about donating and volunteering.

Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty also appear

Lil Nas X went all out with the visuals for his hit "Old Town Road," tapping all of his newfound collaborators and friends, like Billy Ray Cyrus, Diplo, Vince Staples, and Rico Nasty, to star. The movie travels from 1889 Wild Wild West to the modern-day city outskirts, so saddle up and come along for the ride.

As the visuals start, Nas and Cyrus gallop away with a bag of loot, obviously having pulled off a heist. The trio of men on horseback that were in pursuit of them come to a halt, unable to catch up, and Chris Rock—the leader of the group—states, "When you see a Black man on a horse going that fast, you just gotta let him fly." Just as Nas and Cyrus think they're able to relax in stranger's home, it turns out the homeowner isn't so friendly. Nas jumps into a hole to escape, only to end up hundreds of years in the future on the other side.

Forget trying to figure out the logistics of time travel, and just embrace the hilarity of Nas' horse also having wound up there, and in peak racing condition. He impresses the locals not only in the race (with Vince Staples losing money in a bet against him) but with his sweet square dancing skills. Once he and Cyrus (yes, he time traveled too) trade out their old-timey duds for some fresh, rhinestone-adorned outfits, they enter a room playing bingo with Rico Nasty in it. Diplo is playing the washboard, I feel like I'm losing my mind, and this is probably the best music video I've watched this year.

Watch the movie for "Old Town Road" again and again, below.

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (Official Movie) ft. Billy Ray Cyrus

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Screenshot via YouTube

They really "don't care" about how this was edited, do they?

Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber used the name of their song as inspiration for the "I Don't Care" music video, and have presented what is essentially a long blooper reel of the pair messing around with a green screen.

The visuals show how dedicated the two are to proving just how much they don't care, because I'm pretty sure they did the editing on this video as well. They dance around in costumes, as an ice cream cone, a panda, a teddy bear, and more. I have a clear vision of Bieber and Sheeran raiding a costume shop just an hour before setting up a tripod and going to town on this one. They also juxtapose their faces on top of a ballerina, a skydiver, and a corn inside the husk.

Blink, and you'll miss the funniest moment of all in the video: Ed Sheeran gets married to a cardboard cutout of a young Bieber with swoopy hair.

Watch the visuals for "I Don't Care" below.

Ed Sheeran & Justin Bieber - I Don't Care [Official Video]

Photo by Jena Cumbo

Her new LP, 'Take Me to the Disco,' is her most personal work yet

Meg Myers isn't afraid to admit she's still figuring out who she wants to be. Originally from Tennessee, Myers moved to Los Angeles at the age of 19 to dedicate her life to her music career. In 2012, she released her first EP, Daughter in the Choir, which set the groundwork for the releases of Sorry (2015) and Take Me to the Disco (2018). Well-known for her poetic lyrics, crude vocals, and cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill," the honest singer-songwriter makes a point to tell me that self-acceptance is a process. After listening to her deeply personal LP, Take Me to the Disco, I know she's not wrong.

In the middle of producing her new forthcoming music, the star opens up to NYLON: "I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art. Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free." It's clear that it is this fearlessness to self-reflect that not only makes her body of work so authentic but also what motivates her to continue to grow.

Below, we speak with Myers about her new music, self-love, and her ever-evolving relationship with creativity.

The Great Eros Pants, Chae New York top, Schutz shoes, and Via Saviene rings. Photos by Jena Cumbo

How did moving to Los Angeles influence the artist you are today?
I feel more safe here. I've been tapping more into my truth and expressing myself on a deeper level here. Growing up, my family was very chaotic, and I never knew what was about to happen. I have four brothers and a sister, and we grew up basically as best friends, making fun out of the chaos and always creating some type of art from it. I've always been able to channel [more painful moments in life] into my art.

Music always stood out to me as the easiest way to capture all the emotions at once in one piece. Music for me is wild and free.

What are some of your biggest influences?
I think all the barbecue and shrimp and grits [in Tennessee] really adds a smokiness to my music.

My queerness gives me a lot of material to create with. It's allowing me to be more playful and not take every little thing so seriously.

Silk Laundry jumpsuit, Wild Vertigga T-shirt, and Nakamol earring.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Tell me about your new music. Why is it different than anything you've ever created?
This EP is going to have a lot of similar vibes to my last album, because I wrote it at the same time with the same producer about a lot of the same struggles and self-discoveries as my past music. I'll share more with you on my third album.

I'm such a fan of your cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill." Why did you gravitate toward that song to cover?
It's such a powerful song! Kate Bush is magic. It's almost like I've been being guided to cover that song for a long time. I don't know how to explain it in words, as they can feel so limiting, and this song is beyond words to me. It's just a deep inner knowing, and it makes my heart flutter.

Chae NewYork blazer; Saku top, The Great Eros bottoms, and Inch2 boots.Photo by Jena Cumbo

Are there any other songs you feel really connected to?
I would love to collaborate with Active Child. The songs "Hanging On" and "Johnny Belinda" are also otherworldly to me. I've been listening to this band called Walk the Moon a lot. I also love Phoebe Bridgers. I have a crush on her. I generally listen to instrumental music and classical. If you look up 432hz music, it's incredibly healing, and solfeggio frequencies have helped me with a lot.

What does self-love mean to you?
It's been a process for me. It's been quite the journey. Right now, I would say [self-love for me] is about accepting myself, and having love for all the experiences that have led me to where I am. It also means being grateful for growth. It's also been about learning to be in the present moment. It's been learning to trust myself and not listening to what others think I need to be doing. As I learn to do this, I also learn how to love others deeper. All this being said, it's a process.

Chae New York blazer and Saku top.Photo by Jena Cumbo

What advice do you have for someone struggling to find happiness right now?
Spend some time in solitude if you can, or with a really safe person who you feel you can express yourself freely with. Find someone who has no expectations of you and is supportive. In that present moment, ask yourself, What feels good to you? What do you feel like doing? Use your imagination. Daydream. Find what it is you enjoy doing. I promise you can unlock magic inside yourself. It just takes patience.

*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.