Rachel Fuller: On Vitiligo, Modeling, and "Loving Yourself."
An Interview with Rachel Fuller
By Emily Swan
When you first meet Rachel Fuller, you probably won’t notice anything outstandingly different about her appearance. She keeps her look low-key, despite striking grey eyes and strong bone structure (a photographers dream, right?), and can blend in well with the college campus crowd. Of course, that’s how she likes it.
What you will notice first about Rachel is a quiet confidence, one that means that while she has an incredibly good sense of humor, she is not about to take any sh*t from you today.
“If I can be confident,” she tells me, “anyone can.” She’s here as proof that despite abuse, bullying, and a rare skin condition, you can achieve a strong sense of self worth, and- what’s just as impressive- almost complete body confidence. “Love yourself” is her number-one piece of advice for all girls and women, something she says has taken a long time, and lot of change for her to do herself. A big part of her journey has been learning to love the patches on her skin, caused by the skin condition vitiligo.
The first give away to Rachel’s vitiligo is a white streak of hair standing out from the rest of her darker strands. When she and I first discussed her condition about a year ago, I remember her saying that one bright highlight was something she had always really liked. What I remember even better was her honesty and her openness when it came to the problems she had faced in the past. Struggles with her family, toxic relationships, sexual abuse, and, of course, bullying centered on her skin, were all subjects she was able to talk about with ease. She had nothing to hide from me, or anyone, and you can see that in her photos.
She reminds me, when talking about being beautiful, that she doesn’t “think that girls have to be a model, or be ‘model material’ to be beautiful.” She sees beauty from the perspective of someone who has struggled to find it in herself, and who has ultimately found it.
Emily Swan: So for those who may not know, what exactly is vitiligo? Rachel Fuller: Vitiligo is an auto immune disease that affects the pigment you have on your skin. You lose your pigment, mainly in patches, and it grows over time to where you have no pigment.
ES: What was it like growing up with a skin condition? RF: It wasn’t too bad at first. I felt no different from anyone else, until other people started making me feel bad about it. Kids called me weird. And I looked different, and then when I started to realize on my own that I looked different, it started becoming a problem.
ES: So how did that affect your confidence and your sense of self-worth? RF: I didn’t have a lot of confidence to begin with. I was an outgoing kid, but I was relatively shy at the same time. I could be the party starter, but when it came down to it I was really shy, and I had a low self-esteem. Especially up through middle school and high school, which was when it was pretty bad. And then, anytime someone would insult me, I would take it personally.
ES: As females we face a lot of picking apart of our bodies. Did you ever face any other kind of body shaming, such as skinny shaming? RF: Absolutely. In middle school, I think I was just developing a little bit earlier than most kids, so I was disproportionate. I was a little bit softer. I can’t say fat, because I wasn’t, but I was just softer, or a little bit pudgier than most kids. When I was going into high school, I got really tired of that. I’m not going to say I had an eating disorder, but I encouraged myself to not eat, and I got skinny really fast. And throughout high school, I maintained that. I was extremely tiny, I was notorious for being so small. At that point I realized people were talking about how small I was, so anytime I talked about my body insecurities, people would just toss it off, and say “oh you’re skinny, you have nothing to worry about.” So no matter what I couldn’t please anyone, and therefore I couldn’t please myself back then.
ES: When did your confidence turn around? Because as long as I’ve known you, you’ve seemed a confident person. And especially in the past year, I’ve really noticed that. You’ve been an inspiration to me personally in that I can tell you really value yourself. RF: What I realized is you have to be around positive people. For some reason people have the tendency to take compliments from random strangers more so than they take compliments from loved ones or from people they know. That blows my mind. I was one of those people. I gained confidence when I got out of a bad, toxic relationship. And I got different friends, more positive friends. And I needed an environment change. I wanted, and needed, to be around different people. Also, I got into modeling, and that really boosted my confidence. I mean, it would for any girl. But then after a while, when school started, I started my classes in college, and I wasn’t modeling as much. And now, I haven’t modeled in a while. But I still have that confidence. And the reason why is I have finally grown comfortable with my skin, and who I am, and how I look. And that takes such a long time. And it’s really hard for people to do that. Usually into their twenties, thirties, maybe forties, do people get comfortable in your skin. You have to love yourself. You’re going to be with yourself twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the rest of your life. You have to love yourself because you’re the one who knows you the most, you’re the one who understands yourself the most.
ES: What got you into modeling? RF: My father is a photographer, and I was never really was into modeling. I thought it was interesting, and I know a few people who were modeling or trying out for modeling in middle school and high school. I was a little bit envious of that, but I didn’t want that as my job occupation. My dad decided to do modeling photography, and one day a girl needed encouragement and I hopped in the pictures with her. And it blew away my dad and many other photographers. And that’s when people realized I had a “natural talent.” I just was decent at it, and it kind of kicked off from there. I started modeling with my dad, and anytime he went out to take pictures of people, I joined.
ES: So what would be some advice or tips for girls who want to get into modeling? RF: I can’t say be confident, because you can’t be confident overnight. You need to love yourself, because you’re going to rock your body either way. You know what angles are best for you, because you’ve seen yourself in the mirror. Who doesn’t pose in front of her mirror every once and a while, trying to see “oh which side is my best?” Be confident in yourself, love yourself. And then of course there are going to be photographers who are going to help you. If you love yourself, you are going to see results and more through the pictures.
ES: Any specific confidence building exercises, or just mottos? I don’t try to dress to please people. I realize that is never going to work. I dress to please myself. If you know me, you usually see me in a t-shirt and Nike shorts. That doesn’t mean I go exercising every day, that’s definitely not true. I’m actually really bad about exercising. I just be myself. I don’t wear too much make up; I don’t draw too much attention on me, because I don’t want to stand out in a crowd. I want to look good for myself. If I think I look pretty, then that’s all that matters. I am going to feel better about myself; I am going to stand out in feeling confident that I am happy for me. And then, if you want that attention, if you want people to see you are confident, you will succeed there.
ES: Do you ever feel like having a skin condition gives you an advantage in modeling? RF: It draws attention. With the photography that I do with my father, it didn’t, because he just did modeling in general. But with you and a few others, who were just practicing, they use me because I am extremely positive and open about my skin condition because not a lot of people know about it yet. One in one thousand, maybe ten thousand people, not even, have it. I am okay with flaunting it; I use it as awareness. And also I enjoy having my picture taken.
ES: Any advice to girls with skin conditions who aren’t feeling good about themselves? RF: It goes with the confidence. You have to love yourself and realize that not everyone is 100% perfect. I didn’t realize this until recently. Someone has weight problems, someone has stomach disorder, someone doesn’t like the way their feet look, someone has a giant mole, and everyone has something they don’t like. Everyone has something. Your skin condition, or your disease, whatever it may be, everyone has a problem. If you look at it with un-judging eyes, everyone has a problem, and we can help each other. You just have to understand you aren’t so different in a negative way. Yeah, you have a skin condition that might not be common, but you are not alone. There are people who can help; there are people who have problems that are just as bad, if not worse than yours. If you can get that confidence and security about yourself, you will be just fine.
ES: Any advice to girls in general? RF: Be confident, be beautiful, and get yourself an education!
Girls don’t have to be a model or be “model material” to be beautiful.
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