Beauty News: Changing perceptions of beauty

SONYA DANITA CHARLES is not just another model with a social media page, but one that uses the platform to redefine what beauty actually means and shares her real struggles, insecurities and challenges.

Sonya has a skin condition called vitiligo, which is caused by a lack of pigments called melanin, leading to the skin losing its colour.

This often draws stares, curiosity and sometimes, even negative comments from random strangers, but the bold 30-year-old, who walks out with her vitiligo patches visible, takes it all in stride.

Truly a role model, Sonya has not only embraced vitiligo but has never let her condition hold her back from achieving success in life. According to Sonya, vitiligo is a condition where the skin loses its pigmentation because the immune system attacks melanin skin cells (melanocytes), assuming it is a virus.

Patches on the skin vary and look different in every individual. To date, about 1% of the world population has vitiligo.

The art of self-love

Some would have patches of light skin, a huge spot in one area or spots scattered all around the face and body, just like what Sonya has.

“It started when I was eight years old with a small patch on my face and progressed through my teenage years,” said Sonya. “Growing up, it was challenging. They (students) called me names like dalmation and cow (due to patches on her skin),” said Sonya, who was bullied by other teenagers.

However, she feels such a situation happens due to a lack of awareness and education among the students. “Basically, I have tried everything for my skin and nothing really works,” shared Sonya.

After putting her body through numerous medications, it came to a point that enough
was enough and she decided to stop at the
age of 17.

“I started to realise that I needed to love
myself better rather than trying to change,” shared Sonya.

Dreams do come true

After completing her BBA in Fashion and Business Marketing at Woodbury University, Los Angeles, California, Sonya had the opportunity to work backstage at the prestigious New York Fashion Week. She had always wanted to try her hand
at modelling but lacked the confidence, noting
that the models at these shows seemingly
had perfect complexions.

The opportunity to model did, however, unexpectedly pop up. Sonya, who was working
in a marketing department based in Pavillion KL, was walking towards the washroom, when
a photographer spotted her.

“I took his name card and I did not think much. A couple of months later, he messaged me again and said everything was ready and that all I needed to do was show up. At the shoot, I was crying because I was feeling insecure and was not
ready to show that side of me,” said Sonya.

Making history at KL Fashion Week

She revealed that previously, photos posted on social media had her body completely covered. Then thought about Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who overcame the stigma of vitiligo to become a massive success in the fashion industry.

Then, she started to write “little stories” with every picture she posted, along with thoughts, struggles and insecurity she went through on social media.

Soon, the public took notice and brands started to call her for ads in magazines, editorials and campaigns. She is the first model with vitiligo to walk the runway in the history of KL Fashion Week in 2018.

Sonya, who founded the Vitiligo Association Malaysia, an online platform to create awareness and advocate, has worked with cosmetic brands like Lancome, Estee Lauder, Maybeline and Sephora.

“I started using my platform to create more awareness and change the idea behind beauty, to restructure beauty and what it actually means, when I was growing up,“ explained Charles.

“My idea is to change the whole narrative and also to raise awareness among people with skin conditions or who look different, in general and to teach that, regardless of how we look outside, what matters most is who we are inside.

Redefining beauty

“My idea of beauty is individuality because I feel everybody is made for a reason. I always believe beauty is not subjective to what the media tells me or what people tell me, but rather to what you choose to see as beautiful,” she expressed.

This, she believes, is what makes a person beautiful. These days, Charles views her skin patterns as a work of art, saying that when colours get splattered on a blank canvas, different patterns emerge.

“I see my skin as a form of art, the same way, some people have tattoos or piercings as a form of
art. My skin is my version of art,” she confessed.

Spreading positive messages

As a social media influencer, Sonya describes herself as a “body positive activist”. She aims to help others feel more confident and to love and understand themselves better, but she also wants to be honest with her followers.

“For me, it’s all about being authentic and showing vulnerability. I genuinely believe vulnerability is strength, even though we are told that vulnerability is a sign of weakness, but I feel the complete opposite, as that makes us human. We all have good days and bad days.”

Sonya hopes to use social media platforms positively to make positive changes in the environment, culture and industry.

Reach out to Sonya via her Instagram account:

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