Artist Jasmine Colgan started developing signs of vitiligo – where a lack of melanin causes pale white patches to appear on the skin – in 2011. At first the 29-year-old, from Colorado, U.S, struggled to embrace the skin condition which began with white dots appearing on her arms and legs. Over time though Jasmine, who is of Ghanaian and Irish heritage, began to embrace her complexion. So she started to tattoo around the spots the vitiligo left on her skin every six months, documenting their growth like ‘rings of a tree’.
Within months of having the condition, the marks spread to her face and elsewhere, changing her skin from brown to white, causing her self-esteem to plummet. ‘It was absolutely terrifying,’ she said, ‘it was very difficult trying to come to terms with it for a long time, because the way you look is changing very obviously and you have no control over it whatsoever. ‘People started to stare a lot at me in the street, and that became hugely uncomfortable, walking into a room and knowing that there are all of these eyes on you.
‘And people can be cruel too. Someone once told me I look like a cow, which was pretty hurtful.’ The hardest part, however, was the feeling that she was losing her connection to her African ancestry as her skin tone became more white, she said. ‘I am very proud of where I come from and my family’s Ghanaian roots, so it was upsetting to see that very visibly disappearing in me.’ ‘I know that by the time I’m 50 I will probably be completely white, so having these tattoos on my arms is a visual document of how my condition develops.’
But despite this downside and the effect its had on her dating life, Jasmine said her vitiligo is the best thing that’s ever happened to her. ‘It has made me realise that I’m so lucky to have this unique thing happen to me. It’s like an organic artwork all over my body – and that’s really special,’ she added. To reconnect with her heritage, Jasmine has produced a series of striking self-portraits, featuring herself with a backdrop of traditional Ghanaian artifacts.
As her patches continue to grow at a rate of around 1mm every six months, she said the condition has made her a ‘better and wiser person.’ ‘Now I feel so lucky to have been affected by the condition as it has made me want to help others, who may be struggling with the way they look, to feel empowered in themselves. ‘Honestly, if I could wave a magic wand and make the vitiligo go away today, I wouldn’t because I know I am a much wiser and better person as a consequence of it.’