“I Didn’t Notice It At First” Model Stephen Cone Talks Developing Vitiligo Mid-Career
When late pop star Michael Jackson first opened up about his struggles with vitiligo, the skin condition that causes white patches to appear on various parts of the body due to depigmentation, many people made jokes about his condition and assumed it was just an excuse for insecurities about his race and African-American features. Today thanks to famous faces like model, Winnie Harlow and child model, Angel Star we now know that vitiligo is something many people live with and learn to accept and embrace. But male model, Stephen Cone is reminding us that struggles with skin color and black beauty isn’t something American culture has a monopoly on. BET reports that the 23-year-old shared that growing up in London with dark skin wasn’t easy:
“Growing up I was bullied and teased for being ‘dark skin’ and not just from kids and other classmates, but teachers as well.”
“It really affected me. I didn’t know how to process it at a young age and embrace and love myself and my skin.”
Eventually, Cone began to be inspired by actors like Lance Gross and Idris Elba, actors in whom he saw reflections of himself in popular culture, but his awakening self-love was almost interrupted by a diagnosis of vitiligo. He shares he wasn’t exactly sure what was happening at first:
“I didn’t notice it at first.”
“Really, I thought it was a rash of some sort but my friend on our way to class pointed it out, and I joked around and said I had vitiligo. Which at the time I didn’t know I did. I was just trying to cover up the fact that I was actually embarrassed about what was going on.”
He says the diagnosis momentarily brought back feelings of isolation and self-hate:
“I felt like my younger self before the confidence.”
“When I first got the news I was hurt. The first dermatologist made it seem like there wasn’t much I could do. I was like, ‘Man, I just got comfortable in my skin. And now this is happening?!’ How are people going to look at me? How can I stand in front of a camera like this? I felt like I was just starting to look OK to people and now I look worse.”
Cone says thanks to his girlfriend he was able to overcome those feelings by sharing his story on social media, and giving a voice to black men who aren’t very vocal about building confidence and struggling with their appearance. He says her support along with other factors like God, friends and people who were familiar with his situation encouraged him to continue pursuing his dreams.
The unsigned model says forces in the fashion industry like Winnie Harlow are bringing an awareness to the public about vitiligo which he appreciates:
“First off she is beautiful; vitiligo or no vitiligo. And from what I know about her, I think she is an amazing voice and model for those who have vitiligo. I mean it! Because of people like her, we have even more awareness about this skin condition.”
Cone also expresses that there’s beauty in vulnerability and expressing masculine emotion, something that often isn’t highlighted in African-American culture:
“My advice to men is to continue to be strong because that is our identity; to be strong and to be leaders but in that we have to show emotion. It’s through our emotional experiences that we connect with others. That’s what I’ve learned with sharing my story.”
Cone is giving us all kinds of black boy joy with his message and a little “Kofi Siriboe” flavor. We have no doubt he’ll be the face of somebody’s national campaign in the near future.
Do you or does anyone you know have vitiligo? In what ways do you embrace your beauty despite public opinion?