“I’m proud to be spotted,” Ashley Soto tells Yahoo Beauty of her vitiligo, a disease that “causes the loss of skin color in blotches,” according to Mayo Clinic. A few months ago, however, she was singing a different tune. The 21-year-old’s newfound confidence has turned her varied skin pigmentation into art, and it’s taught her that her differences are what make her beautiful.
Soto recently went viral for the masterpieces she creates in her lighter patches of skin. Sometimes she simply outlines the spots in fun colors, other times she turns her body into a map or a Van Gogh canvas.
“I’ve been doing this for a couple of months now,” Soto explains. She uses regular water-based paint and oil-based paint markers, which she says are safe for her skin. “Once I did my first marker chronicles I couldn’t wait to do more. I kept brainstorming and thinking outside the box to create masterpieces,” says the girl who was devastated when she was diagnosed at the age of 12 and the disease spread to over 75 percent of her body.
“I never realized how beautiful my vitiligo was until I traced it with a black marker, it really helps to bring out the different colors of my skin,” she told the Daily Mail. “I was always trying to find a way to look at my skin in a positive light, [and] I couldn’t do that before starting this.”
Soto explains to Yahoo that “the marker chronicles are a way of showing that we are art. I’ve learned with time that there is always a positive way to look at things and the struggles we go through. It’s easy to let things that we have no control over define us.”
She used to be bullied for her different appearance — one girl asked if she bathed in bleach — but that’s now changed since her artwork caused her to go viral. “My vitiligo no longer defines my life in a negative way. This project has been a way to show that what others might perceive as your flaws are actually what make you beautiful and set you apart from the rest. Art is already beautiful as it is and it’s everywhere around us if you just look closely, so creating something mixed with body positivity and art is absolutely beautiful to me.”
Her positive outlook is contagious, and she’s garnered over 100,000 followers, thanks to her artistic ability enmeshed in her body positivity. “After I started showing diversity in the art I created, that was when my following increased drastically. For the first time, my posts were reposted and shared by thousands of people. It was an incredibly empowering feeling to know that so many people were behind me and supporting me. It’s the messages I receive daily to keep on fighting to be heard and to preach the self love everyone deserves to feel,” Soto shares.
“Going viral has been so surreal to me,” the Orlando resident says. “Seeing the support of people has made me so happy because that tells me that my story is making a difference and making people see the art they truly are.” She never thought what tormented her as a preteen would make her so fulfilled later on in life. “I would have never thought in a million years this would happen and I’d be helping so many people over something I thought wasn’t beautiful. But I’m forever grateful and I’m going to keep continuing to inspire and create.”
And it’s not only helping others. “It’s helped me in ways you couldn’t believe,” she said. “I was overwhelmed with the level of positivity and support that people responded with. The amount of people who reached out sharing their own stories of vitiligo or just their struggle with body issues, reassured me I was not alone,” Soto gushed. “And every time I create something so beautiful I look at myself in a different light. It shows me that it’s OK to be different and standout. My skin tells a story.” And her seriously happy — and beautiful — story is just beginning.
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