“You have vitiligo, you can’t change that, so it’s either you loath in self-pity, or you do something about it. Turn your negative into a positive.”
Those are the words that turned Aiesha Robinson’s life around. I met Aiesha nearly ten years ago. At the time, we were both working at a cafe in Montreal. It is also around that time that Aiesha got diagnosed with vitiligo – a skin disease where one’s pigment in the skin is lost in certain areas, causing areas of the skin to form spots or patches that are oftentimes significantly lighter than others. I had no idea what she was going through or the struggle that she was fighting everyday.
Many people with vitiligo will cover up the discolouration, making it nearly impossible to actually notice. But after years of covering her skin, Aiesha decided to make a change. She not only saw past her spots, but owned them. What she once despised about herself she embraced and used to empower others, leading her to start her own non-profit organization called Born To Rise, which empowers youth and promotes self-acceptance and acceptance of others through the sharing of her story. Aiesha now also models for Kill Management, and is redefining how we see beauty on and off the runway.
For this Womyn Wednesday, we talk with Aiesha Robinson, founder of Born to Rise, about her journey of self-love, acceptance and the creation of Born To Rise.
What was your self-image like growing up?
Growing up I would say that I was a quiet, insecure girl who looked for approval from others. Because I was bullied at a young age, I think I always longed for acceptance from others. This got in the way of finding out who I really was as a person because I was busy trying to be the perfect perception in the lens of others.
When did you discover that you had vitiligo?
I discovered that I had vitiligo at the age of 18, my second year of college. I noticed a small white spot on my right thumb. I had an idea what it was, having a friend and grandfather that has it themselves. I was hoping it was just a scab so I ignored it for the first few weeks hoping that it would just disappear. After about a month, when it was still there, I decided to show my friend and that’s when she looked at me and said, “Aiesha, you have vitiligo.” She confirmed my worst nightmare. I could remember the scene perfectly. I fell to my knees and just started sobbing. I didn’t think there was such thing as living a happy life while having this skin condition.
What exactly is vitiligo? Do you mind briefly explaining for readers?
Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes the loss of pigment in blotches. It can affect anyone of
any age, gender and ethnicity. Of course, the darker you are, the more noticeable it is. The
patterns of missing pigments is unique to each individual with vitiligo. There’s no telling whether
it will spread across the body, or if it will just be one small patch. The cause is not known. Vitiligo
may be an autoimmune disease. These diseases happen when your immune system mistakenly
attacks some part of your own body. There is no cure.
How did you overcome the obstacles that came with being diagnosed with vitiligo?
Overcoming my obstacles of living with vitiligo wasn’t easy. In fact, it took me about five years to start accepting myself and to turn a situation that seemed negative into a positive. How I finally got to the point of acceptance was through a reality check with my brother. Just the simple words of, “You have vitiligo, you can’t change that, so it’s either you loath in self pity, or you do something about it. Turn your negative into a positive.” That’s when I decided to take control of my life.
I watched The Secret that speaks about the law of attraction. What you think about is what you bring about. This, along with other self-help books helped me gain confidence and self-acceptance. As I was gradually gaining this important skill, I released a documentary about living with vitiligo. From there, I realized how I was helping people and decided to take it a step further by starting my non-profit titled Born To Rise.
How have you grown in the last ten years? How have your perceptions of beauty, strength and self-love expanded?
Geez, in the last ten years… I would just say that in the last four years I’ve become a more confident, self-loving individual. I used to look and want acceptance from others, but I’ve learned that it starts with the love for oneself. I learned that I have control of my life and that is the key reason to my success thus far. I go after what I want.
I’m also way more compassionate and caring for other individuals. I think that I’ve always been that way, but having a skin condition that puts the spotlight on you on a daily basis has made me want to use this uniqueness for the greater good. I’m a walking billboard that screams self-love, strength, acceptance, compassion. Living with vitiligo has taught me that beauty is really from within, as cliche as that may sound. But you really can’t judge others from the outside, because you really don’t know what they are going through. This is a very important message I spread through my organization.
How was Born to Rise created?
Born To Rise was created simply with a vision. I had a dream, I wanted to make a difference. So I literally just shared my idea with my cousin and from there took baby steps to create what it is today. Born To Rise stems from myself living with vitiligo. Feeling alone, not feeling accepted, constantly being judged made me want to speak out. It wanted me to let others know that no, it’s not okay that we judge, it’s not okay to feel alone, it’s not okay to have others feel uncomfortable. The times that I felt most alone or contemplated suicide was when I was judged by our society.
I thought that if I was feeling this way, alone, judged, that that meant others were feeling that way too. I believed we had a right to let others know how they make us feel, let society know the importance of treating each other with kindness because you really don’t know what another person is really going through. That one day you decide to make fun, can be the same day that someone decides to take their life because they just had enough. So BTR started by just giving a platform for others to have their voice heard in the hopes that it will inspire not only our audience to be more considerate, but to let others know that they are not alone, in whatever adversity they are going through. There is someone that can relate to them, so keep rising because if we can overcome adversity, so can you.
What is Born To Rise? What’s its purpose?
Born To Rise (BTR) is a non-profit organization with objectives to explore and bring awareness to topics such as vitiligo, self acceptance, acceptance of others, bullying as well as other relevant issues. I as founder spread my message in schools, boys & girls clubs, and camps through the accounts of my personal struggle and acceptance of living with vitiligo. Furthermore, I strive to promote an important dialogue to support the empowerment of youth. With the help of generous contributors, BTR will reach a diverse audience dealing with relatable issues. The goal is to help the masses RISE against all odds and empower
There is an annual show bringing the community together for a night of inspiration. People will get to empathize with one another as they listen to the stories of individuals overcoming their own personal struggles. With this, we hope that everyone leaves the evening more motivated and inspired for a better life.
What do you aspire for BTR’s future?
Aspirations for BTR is to have our annual show go on tour across the world, and to provide tools for individuals to be the best version of themselves. Born To Rise will become a community. Especially for the youth because I believe everything starts with our upcoming generation.
Why do you think it’s important to see diversity in the people (especially women) and stories we hear and see in the media? How can visibility be used as a tool for empowerment?
Oh man, how do you grow as a person, as a community without seeing diversity? We live in a world where diversity surrounds us. How do we teach love if we can’t see, appreciate each other’s uniqueness? How do we protect our children, how do we bring up our children without teaching them that it is okay to be different? How do they learn to love themselves and others without diversity? To me, diversity is at the centre of our world. We need to see and hear from more people of diverse backgrounds, diverse experiences, to bring some sort of peace, love into this world. Sharing our story, putting ourselves out there is more powerful than you might think. It’s telling someone out there, that you are not alone, you are good enough, you are important, you are cared about, you are appreciated. Do you know how powerful those messages are? Let it hit the right ear, and see the difference that one person makes.
What final message would you share with us and people that may be struggling with living in their own skin?
What is perfection? What is the perfect skin? Who is to tell us we are ‘different?’ Everything we are challenged with in life is for a reason. It’s your choice to rise above the challenge or to succumb to them. Listen man, you are more powerful than you know. You have the power to take control of your life. Whatever it is you are going through is the same thing that will get you through this journey we call life. Know that you were not put on this earth to fail, you were born to RISE above adversity. For every adversity you face, there is a blessing, keep fighting to find that blessing and see how your life will change. You are a friggen warrior man. You MATTER – YOU were Born To RISE!
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