A young woman with vitiligo who was bullied at school by classmates who thought she was ‘contagious’ has defied her critics to become a successful fashion model.
Enam Heikeens, 25, who was born in Ghana, first began to notice white patches emerging on her arms at seven years old.
When they started to spread across her body, Enam was diagnosed with the skin condition, which causes the immune system to destroy pigment.
As she grew up, the now 25-year-old even found her love life suffered, as men she dated were too embarrassed to be seen with her.
However after years of hiding away, Enam, who had been training to become a nurse, was scouted by a modelling agency, and she says life has transformed for the better.
She said: ‘I was bullied throughout school because of my skin, I couldn’t hide my condition as I had patches all over my face.
‘At school, my class mates wouldn’t go near me because they thought I was contagious.
‘I was so depressed about it but five years ago I decided enough was enough.
‘My skin condition wasn’t going anywhere so I might as well accept myself.
‘Soon after that I was scouted by a modelling agency and I haven’t looked back since.’
Despite being bullied for her appearance in the past she said she loves being in front of the camera.
When Enam first discovered patches, she and her family thought they were birth marks, but once they began to spread she became concerned.
She says: ‘When I went to the hospital, they had no idea what it was.
‘It wasn’t until I met another woman with vitiligo who was visiting my school that I found out what I had.
‘She also told me learn to accept it because I will be this way for the rest of my life.
‘No one in my school, the hospital or society knew what vitiligo was. It’s was a very difficult time.’
Enam claims years ago not only were her friendships affected, but also her love life.
She says: ‘My relationships were terrible, whoever I dated was embarrassed to be seen with me.
‘If I went on dates, the guy would pick somewhere hidden.
‘I’d find out that they would not want to be seen with me, and didn’t want to bump into any friends when they were with me.
‘Things have been much better since then anyway. I am in a relationship now and I am really happy.
‘We have been together for one year.’
After Enam left school, she began training to become a nurse. It was there where she learnt more about vitiligo.
She hopes her modelling will empower women who also have the condition and to learn to love themselves.
Enam says: ‘When I started training to be a nurse, I started to educate myself more on vitiligo.
‘After reading about it and studying it more, I became more confident and embraced it.
‘When I went to a vitiligo conference, a modelling agency scouted me. So not only am I a nurse, but now I model too.
‘At first I was scared, but now I feel so proud.
‘I have now modelled for magazines and clothing brands.
‘I want people in the fashion world to know that no matter what weight you are, skin colour you have or how you look – anyone can do it.
The vitiligo model is not only inspiring people through her remarkable photoshoots, but also through her educational and inspiring speeches across her community.
She added: ‘I feel that even today not many people know what it is, I get messages all the time on social media of people asking if I have been burnt in a fire, or if I am an acid attack victim.
‘After learning more about my condition, I decided I wanted to educate people.
‘I’ve been visiting schools and churches, and teaching them about vitiligo.
‘I teach people to never stigmatise people with conditions because it was really traumatising for me.
‘I know how awful it is to be stigmatised, and I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I did.
‘People need to accept it in society.’
Enam says: ‘Now I love the skin I am in, and I hope more people will accept vitiligo too.’