Stigmatization has no country of origin and is not a localized problem. Emile Goffman brilliantly identified that societies and individuals develop stigma towards a mental illness, a physical deformation, or a perspective that relates to race, religion, or something else.
Africans particularly suffer racial stigma. This is evident in many global scenarios including the event which led to the Black Lives Matter uproar in 2020. However, while Africans suffer the perils of negative branding, they also engage in socially ill acts too.
Stigmatization in Africa is a growing problem. The challenge is usually suffered by people living with diseases or deformities, especially women. For instance, a report by WHO Africa tells the story of a female COVID-19 survivor who suffered stigmatization even after recovering. HIV patients are also targets of stigma and treatment in many African societies. However, for Adelaja Ewawunmi, it has been about her skin condition.
Adelaja Balqis Oluwadarasimi Ewawunmi appears different from her peers. She is a native of Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State in the southwestern part of Nigeria. Adelaja Ewawunmi was born with vitiligo which causes spotted skin. Her condition makes her stand out. Rather than allowing the negatives to weigh her down, she channeled it into modeling.
Understanding Adelaja Ewawunmi’s Condition
Ewawunmi has a medical condition called Vitiligo. It causes over pigmentation in different skin areas leading to the formation of patches. This variation in skin color happens when melanin-producing cells do not function at all, or as they ought to.
According to studies, the cell malfunctions that give rise to vitiligo could be linked to autoimmune diseases. These diseases make a person’s immune system attack their healthy body cells rather than infectious cells. However, vitiligo is a rare condition. In fact, it is believed to occur in just about 1% of the entire population worldwide.
There are three forms of vitiligo and Ewawunmi developed the generalized one. This means that she has patches all over her body. Less severe forms of the condition cause patches in a few spots in a single area, or on one general area. As much as there is no cure for vitiligo, the condition is also noncontagious. Unfortunately, vitiligo patches are thought to expand as the skin grows. The condition can occur in any skin color type—black or white—and in people of any age.
Her Touching Story
In an interview with BBC Pidgin, Adelaja Ewawunmi described a lifetime of disturbing reactions from people due to her medical condition. Most people do not understand what it is and a lot more do not know that it is not transferrable. She said,
“When people meet me for the first time, I think they have this mindset that when they touch me, they’re also going to have the same skin as mine.”
As you would imagine, this mindset leads to all manner of evasive actions from people—refusing to shake, hug or even sit next to the young girl. In Nigeria, this could be even worse because of the nature of the available health care systems. The risk of contracting diseases and having to pay heavily for proper diagnosis and treatment can significantly promote stigmatization. In an interview, she said,
“I have a lot of embarrassing moments but the one that made me cry was when I went out to buy body cream at a shop some years back. When I got to the shop, I met the woman in charge and told her what I wanted but she sent me out instead. She told me ‘you’re not a human being, I can’t sell cream to you because you look like a spirit.’ She insulted me till I left the shop.”
Furthermore, she told BBC that her experiences go beyond public interactions. As it turns out, Adelaja Ewawunmi also suffers setbacks in her private relationship. “I once dated a guy”, she said. “He lied to me that he loves me but no, he actually loves me because of my skin—he wanted to break a record.”
Adelaja Ewawunmi’s Stunning Comeback
African societies have this funny thing where everybody wants to be your doctor. The editorial fashion model expressed that she has had many suggestions from people in the past. Some asked her to use bleaching creams, while others recommended drugs that they claim will cure her vitiligo. In fact, Adelaja Ewawunmi said her mother spent lots of money paying doctors to do something about her condition.
After countless traumatic experiences and many failed attempts to change her skin, both mother and daughter have come to accept it that way. Nevertheless, Ewawunmi has gone beyond just accepting her body and vitiligo condition. The young adult is now glowing under studio lights and camera flashes.
Yes, you heard that right. This u-turn is her way of changing the way people see her. The young adult hits the camera differently with her regular but outstanding poses and has graced many adverts and blog pages. At age 20, she has managed to establish a solid career as an editorial fashion model and a vixen model. It’s no surprise that she has a whopping 5.9k followers on Instagram.
Ewawunmi’s decision to start modeling has helped her overcome stigmatization. Apparently, the 20-year-old is convincing in her show that vitiligo or albinism is not a limitation. She expressed her confidence about her skin and added that she believes that people will take her the way she takes herself.
“I used to use makeup to cover my skin, but I am now very comfortable with it and can meet anybody without worrying about it”.
Stigmatization easily leads to depression. While we cannot control how people act towards us, we can control how we respond to them. A 2020 World Health Organization fact sheet clarifies that depression is one major cause of illnesses and diseases in adolescents. Therefore, Ewawunmi stands out not only for her unique skin but also for handling her condition differently.
Even though she initially tried to run away from it, the model is the perfect illustration that people living with various conditions can still live happily. Finally, Adelaja Ewawunmi’s story is exactly the kind of turnaround that AfricanVibes hopes to see among black people. Do you have people with vitiligo around you? How do you treat them? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below.
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