By Kate Moore @Kitmoore

A BRAVE woman has learnt to love her differences by creating artwork with her skin condition - after years of bullying.

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Videographer / director: Gerrit Messersmith
Producer: Kate Moore, James Thorne
Editor: Sonia Estal

Ash Soto, 24, from Florida, stopped going swimming after a group of children asked if she had “showered in bleach” at a pool party. 

She has vitiligo, a condition where skin loses pigmentation, going white in patches and growing over time.

There is no cure and it can be dangerous for sufferers to go out in bright sunlight.

Ash started noticing her skin changing at the age of 12, when a small white spot appeared on her neck. 

After showing her doctor, Ash was diagnosed with vitiligo.

Ash told Barcroft TV: “The spots on my elbows and my arms started getting bigger, I felt very helpless.”

She found going to school difficult as other children would comment on her skin, often with cruel remarks.

“They would act like I was contagious; I've been called cow and asked if I was trying to be white," Ash said. 

She lost her social circle because of it, as other children “didn't want to be friends with the weird girl with a skin condition.”

Despite living in the heat of Orlando, Ash started wearing winter coats and a beanie out in the summer to cover her skin.

Ash said she lost her sense of identity: “I was a shell of the person that I used to be, I didn't recognise myself anymore.”

Jorge, Ash’s brother, explained how vitiligo impacted her confidence: “[she] went from a really outgoing, extroverted young child to completely introverted and insecure”.

On social media, Ash would only ever post pictures of her face - never showing her skin condition.

But one day she plucked up the courage to show her vitiligo on Instagram, which she sees as her “turning point”.

“I was tired of looking at my skin in a negative light, I didn’t want to be so sad," she continued. 

“I felt like if I could build myself up and be confident, I could teach others.

“And if that meant putting myself out there on social media being unapologetically myself then I would do that.”

So, Ash decided to upload the photo, even though it was the “most nerve wracking day” of her life.

“I was so nervous to post it I was going back and forth on the post button; my fingers were shaking.

“I know how cruel social media can be.”

However, once Ash posted it, she was blown away by the positive response.

She said: “Other people started writing to me to say that they also had this skin condition, we started relating stories and I'm like, ‘my God, I'm not alone’”.

After this breakthrough Ash started tracing the lines of her vitiligo and creating artwork out of the skin she used to hate.

The effect is similar to a natural tattoo.

Her design influences have included Van Gogh’s The Starry Night, Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z.

Ash recently built up the courage to go to a swimming pool with her best friend Paulina, who attended as support.

Despite being able to post photographs of her skin showing online, Ash still finds it difficult to transfer her new-found confidence to the real world.

“I feel nervous about people seeing my skin because I still get stares," Ash said.

“It triggers me and brings back memories of what I went through before.”

Ash said that she is, “still learning to love myself every day”, but she has made big leaps with her confidence.

“I still feel nervous about people seeing my skin, I just have to teach myself that it’s okay to be different," she continued. 

“Now when I look in the mirror, I don’t see this as monster skin anymore, I see it as the extra specialness that adds to my uniqueness. 

“I try to remind myself that all those things that I’ve gone through have got me here.”