A new children’s book has been launched by a passionate London based campaigner, model and children’s author hoping to raise awareness among younger generations about his own visible difference – vitiligo.
First diagnosed at the age of 15, it took more than six years for Shankar to embrace his condition after battling with low confidence and self-esteem.
Vitiligo is a long-term skin condition which leads to white patches appearing on the skin. It is also known as leucoderma. The condition causes the skin to lose its pigmentation (colour) and appear white or sometimes pink.
Vitiligo can affect anyone at an age, although 95% of people with vitiligo develop the condition before they reach the age of 40. It may be more noticeable in people with darker skin. It is not contagious or physically harmful.
Shankar, 28, has spent most of his twenties raising awareness with charities including Changing Faces and the Vitiligo Society as an advocate for vitiligo, and the launch of his new book, ‘The Adventures of The Vitiligo Man’, heralds his ambitions to share his story to educate from an early age.
“Parents do a tough job”, says Shankar, “any opportunity to get children to learn to be more accepting and be proactive with that is important.”
“I want children with visible differences to have what I never had growing up. This book is based on the negative thoughts I had as a child; my thoughts now, and my advice to my younger self.”
The book, aimed at children aged three to seven, doubles up as a way for adults to ‘heal their inner child’ and follows the story of young Awais from his first day of school. On his journey of self-acceptance, he discovers his superpowers thanks to the support of his mum and those around him.
Shankar adds, “I wish I could be the hero I never had growing up. After my own personal journey, I really wanted to find a way to give back, showing children how to embrace their superpowers.”
“There was a watershed moment as a young adult when I began my journey of self-acceptance. I used to wear make-up to cover my vitiligo to leave the house feeling confident, however one day, while on a work placement and staying at a friend’s house, I realised I’d forgotten to pack the make-up and had to go into work without it.”
“My heart sank – I had to go into work – but this was the beginning of embracing my visible difference.”
“After I stopped wearing make-up, my friend Jay, a photographer, asked to take some portraits of me. Seeing these photos literally through another lens was a big moment, I really loved the photos and it made me realise that I could fully embrace who I am. It’s not been an easy journey which is why this book is so important to me.”
When it comes to offering advice for parents who have a child with a visible difference, Shankar stresses the need for creating positive awareness and support. He also hopes that increasing representation and role models will all help young people and parents.
“This book is perfect for taking kids and adults on a journey to educate everyone on celebrating their differences. You see the story from the perspective of the child, his thoughts and words, and you also see a parent who is really supportive.”
“The mum is also supportive of other curious children and you see how she proactively talks to Awais.”
“Let your differences define you” says Shankar, “celebrate who you are.”
The Adventures of The Vitiligo Man by Shankar Jalota is available to buy in paperback from stores including Amazon, Waterstones, Foyles, priced at £9.99.
Shankar recently supported the charity Changing Faces ‘Stop the Stare’ campaign which asked people to think about the impact staring has on people with visible differences. Changing Faces is the UK’s leading charity for everyone who has a scar, mark or condition that makes them look different. For advice or support see www.changingfaces.org.uk or call 0300 012 0275.