Meet the influencer with vitiligo who overcame the childhood bullies

People called me ‘skunk face’ and ‘zebra boy’ growing up because of my vitiligo – but it’s been my greatest blessing

  • James Mcleod was regularly picked on as a child for his rare skin condition
  • Vitiligo is a condition where white patches appear on the skin including the face 
  • He has written the books My Daily Superpowers and The Boy Behind the Face
  • READ MORE: Grandmother Iomikoe Johnson from Texas adores her ‘unique’ skin

A motivational speaker has revealed how he overcame the childhood bullies who called him ‘skunk face’ and ‘zebra boy’ to become an empowering influencer.

James Mcleod, 40, from Peekskill, New York, was picked on as a child because he had vitiligo, a skin condition where pale white patches appear on the skin. 

It can affect any area of the body but commonly flares up on the face, neck, hands and in skin creases. 

Determined not the let bullies burst his self-esteem, the personal trainer has dedicated his life to supporting others to overcome their insecurities.

James Mcleod, from Peekskill, New York has vitiligo. It can affect any area of the body but commonly flares up on the face, neck, hands and in skin creases

James has so far written two children’s books, The Boy Behind the Face and My Daily Superpowers, which promote messages of confidence and self-love. 

The author has also been featured in the global fashion magazine, ‘CR Fashion Book,’ on Bodybuilding.com, in campaigns for Soul Cycle, and was a featured presenter at World Vitiligo Day 2020.

He now shares his story by speaking at schools, youth programs, churches and on social media. 

James was first diagnosed with vitiligo at 18 months old and it made for a difficult childhood.

James Mcleod, from Peekskill, New York, was picked on as a child because he had vitiligo, a skin condition where pale white patches appear on the skin

James modelling for Rick Owens. Determined not the let bullies burst his self-esteem, the 40-year-old personal trainer has dedicated his life to supporting others to overcome their insecurities

The author has also been featured in the global fashion magazine, ‘CR Fashion Book,’ on Bodybuilding.com, in campaigns for Soul Cycle, and was a featured presenter at World Vitiligo Day 2020

He said: ‘I was diagnosed with vitiligo when I was 18 months old. Until then, my skin was all one colour. I was a beautiful black baby.

‘At 18 months, my mother noticed a small white spot appear on my face. The spot began to gradually grow, and spread across one side of my face, leaving that side completely white.

‘She brought me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with vitiligo. Doctors believe there may be a genetic component to vitiligo in some cases. My sister has a small patch of white on her leg.

‘As a child I was called so many names, skunk face, zebra face, cow. I am still asked if I was in a fire, if someone threw bleach on my face.

‘Just the question ‘what happened to your face?’ hurt, as if there is something wrong with me.


James as a baby before anyone noticed the pigment loss (left). At 18 months, his mother noticed a small white spot appear on my face. The spot began to gradually grow, and spread across one side of his face, leaving it side completely white. Right: As a baby when the pigment began to fade

A young James as the white spread across his face. As a child he was called so many names, skunk face, zebra face, cow. He is still asked if I was in a fire, if someone threw bleach on my face

‘As a child, being bullied and left out at school, I came home one day and decided I didn’t want to cry anymore, I didn’t want to be scared of people anymore.

‘I forced myself to look in the mirror and confront the ‘monster’. And as I did, I began to realise how beautiful I was.’

He added: ‘As a child my confidence did suffer. However, I learned from a young age that self-confidence is key.

‘My confidence radiates out, and people are more accepting of me the more confident I am.

As a child James’s confidence suffererd. However, he learned from a young age that self-confidence is key

James as a young man with a lot of pigment loss. He said everything in his life would have been different without vitiligo, but admitted his greatest challenge has been his greatest blessing

‘Without vitiligo everything in my life would be different. As I said, what I thought was my greatest challenge has turned out to be my greatest blessing.

‘Vitiligo has helped me impact others in a positive way, and given me an opportunity to be of service.’

James has used his condition to motivate others and help youngsters overcome their insecurities. 

He added: ‘I realised in the last several years that my greatest challenge was my greatest blessing,’ he said.

James as a young boy when the pigment loss was as its most striking. Vitiligo has helped me impact others in a positive way, and given me an opportunity to be of service, according to James

James has used his condition to motivate others and help youngsters overcome their insecurities

‘I have a visual difference that people notice. As I have grown to embrace my difference and the beauty of my skin, I realised I could help others who are dealing with their own insecurities, whatever they may be.

‘I know what it is like to be uncomfortable in your own skin, to be afraid of what other people think of you, to be ostracised and bullied.

‘I am blessed to have found a strength within myself that allows me to love myself, and it is my responsibility to share that message with others.’

‘My mind is what is most unique about me, my way of thinking, that has led me to this place of happiness and success and joy for life.

The New Yorker regularly shares his work on his Instagram page @thatvitiligoguy to help and inspire others

He says he knows what it is like to be uncomfortable in your own skin and to be afraid of what other people think of you

He says he is honoured to live his life. He says the biggest compliment is whenever someone reads one of his books, attends one of his presentations, watches a video, and tells him that he has impacted his life

‘I am very honoured to live my life. Whenever someone reads one of my books, or attends one of my presentations, or watches a video, and tells me that I have impacted their life for the better, that is the best compliment I could ever receive.

The New Yorker regularly shares his work on his Instagram page @thatvitiligoguy. 

In a final message he said: ‘You are not your body. You are not your skin. You are not your appearance.

‘You are a spirit and a heart and a mind. Love what is on the inside, and what happens on the outside will change in amazing ways.’

WHAT IS VITILIGO?

Vitiligo is one of the most common autoimmune skin diseases and is caused by a lack of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its colour.

Late singer Michael Jackson always said he was blighted by a rare skin disease called vitiligo – but his claim is shrouded in controversy as many experts are adamant he wasn’t a sufferer.

Canadian fashion model Winnie Harlow is a known sufferer.

The body’s immune system attacks the pigment cells, mistaking them for foreign invaders.

This causes painless white patches on exposed areas such as the face and fingers, although they can also appear on the wrists, around the eyes, groin, armpits and inside the mouth.

The disease affects around one in 200 people, and about 50 per cent develop their first symptoms before the age of 20, though it’s not clear why.

However, ‘stressful’ events, such as childbirth, hormone changes or even cuts to the skin, may trigger it — there is also a genetic link.  

There is no cure, but some treatments can reverse pigment loss if used early enough.

READ MORE: 

First-ever at-home drug that can REVERSE skin pigmentation loss caused by vitiligo is approved by the FDA

‘New spots are turning up all the time’: Georgia May Foote reveals she’s been diagnosed with vitiligo as she bravely shares a snap of her pigmented skin

‘I want people to embrace it and be happy in their skin’: Demi Sims says she was ‘devastated’ after being diagnosed with vitiligo and still gets ‘new patches all the time’

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