Growing up in London with dark skin wasn’t easy for model Stephen Cone.
“Growing up I was bullied and teased for being ‘dark skin’ and not just from kids and other classmates, but teachers as well," reflects the 23-year-old model. "It really affected me. I didn't know how to process it at a young age and embrace and love myself and my skin.”
Stephen, currently studying at Wright State University for mass communication, didn’t know that embracing his beautiful, dark brown skin wasn’t going to be the only thing he'd have to learn to love and embrace.
Stephen learned to love the skin he was in with the support of friends and family. He also respected and appreciated the dark skin tones of actors like Lance Gross and Idris Elba, but now devastated by the news from a dermatologist who confirmed that he indeed had vitiligo, Stephen didn’t know what to do.
“I didn't notice it at first," he shares. "Really, I thought it was a rash of some sort but my friend on our way to class pointed it out, and I joked around and said I had vitiligo. Which at the time I didn't know I did. I was just trying to cover up the fact that I was actually embarrassed about what was going on.”
“I felt like my younger self before the confidence,” he shared honestly. “When I first got the news I was hurt. The first dermatologist made it seem like there wasn't much I could do. I was like, 'Man, I just got comfortable in my skin. And now this is happening?!' How are people going to look at me? How can I stand in front of a camera like this? I felt like I was just starting to look OK to people and now I look worse.”
For a big change like this, many would crumble under the pressure, but Stephen opened up a dialogue on social media, beauty from a male’s perspective, when he posted an image of himself revealing his vitiligo along with a deep caption:
What caused the stylish model (who humbly doesn’t refer to himself as a “model” because he is unsigned) to share his experience and have the confidence to talk about his change? His close girlfriend!
“I have my girlfriend to thank for that picture,” Stephen chuckled. “It came from a combination of a couple of things. God, girlfriend, friends, and people who would know the situation and say encouraging things [is where I drew confidence].”
Overwhelmed by the positive responses about his journey, Stephen didn’t know that his transparency and vulnerability to a moment of self-expression would get such a response. One comment that really stood out:
His response: “My advice to men is to continue to be strong because that is our identity; to be strong and to be leaders but in that we have to show emotion. It's through our emotional experiences that we connect with others. That's what I've learned with sharing my story.”
We really appreciated Stephen's honesty and openness because he offers a strong male point of view that supermodel Winnie Harlow may not be able to express.
His thoughts on the supermodel who inspires many with her vitiligo? “First off she is beautiful; vitiligo or no vitiligo. And from what I know about her, I think she is an amazing voice and model for those who have vitiligo. I mean it! Because of people like her, we have even more awareness about this skin condition.”
His last advice for those going through similar changes is to "continue trusting in God and those around you, and know that everything happens for a reason. Stay strong and close to who love you.”
We complete agree! Although he is currently working on redoing his blog, you can keep up with Stephen’s journey through his Instagram: @stephen.cone. We'll be watching!
(Photo: Kmiya Brownlee / Courtesy of Stephen Cone)
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