A gymnast who gave up her sport out of embarrassment when she was diagnosed with vitiligo is now proudly baring her patchy skin in bikinis.
Dionne Lees, 21, thought the pigment-free patches that appeared around her eyes when she was 12-years-old were bad tan lines, caused by wearing sunglasses while out in the sun.
But after more white spots appeared, she consulted her doctor, who said she had vitiligo – a condition that affects one per cent of the world’s population.
In public, people asked her about her unusual patches and treated her like a ‘monster’, with parents pulling their kids away fearing she was contagious.
Dionne, a rhythmic gymnast, was too embarrassed to show her spots in leotards during competitions, eventually leading her to drop out – despite representing at the Commonwealth Games and international level.
Her hospital prescribed steroid creams and heavy make-up to cover her patches, which she wore until three years ago after discovering vitiligo model Winnie Harlow.
Seeing someone proudly embracing the condition helped her to appreciate the beauty in being unique and different, which has led her to now being comfortable in bikinis and skirts.
Dionne, a casino worker, said: “I was 12-years-old when my vitiligo first spot developed, I was in Lloret de Mar, Spain and I woke up with white patches on my eyes.
“They were two big circles of white and the rest of me was really tanned, I had been wearing sunglasses while lying in the sun so I thought must have been caused by that.
“People used to mock me, asking if I had worn sunglasses for many years or whether I was wearing fake-tan, being young and very insecure I would never wear anything revealing.
“I have had people scared of me due to fear of the unknown, parents people pulled their kids away like I was a monster and then others asked if I was burned in a fire.
“As a teenager, it started to bother me, I went to see a specialist who talked about make-up brands to cover my vitiligo.
“I used the make-up every day and then steroid creams for seven years every night before I went to bed in the hope it would make my vitiligo go away but it didn’t work.
“I stopped competing as a rhythmic gymnast, because I had to wear a leotard when performing, but after developing vitiligo I became insecure and struggled to show my legs.
“I would try to find tights to hide my white patches, but ultimately I quit and missed out on something I loved and a lot of opportunities because I didn’t want to show my skin.
“It wasn’t until seeing Winnie Harlow a couple of years ago that my perspective of vitiligo started to change.
“To discover there was a model out there with the same skin condition as me was a real wake-up call and I started to realise that being different is a good thing.