From Bullied To Influencer: How a Woman With a Rare Skin Condition Became a Model
| LAST UPDATE 08/09/2022
When Iomikoe Johnson developed white marks across her skin, people made fun of the spots and she covered herself in makeup. So how did the insecure 25-year-old become an influencer inspiring thousands across the globe?
In the year 1980, the town of Ville Platte, Louisiana grew by one as they welcomed a baby girl, Iomikoe Johnson. Growing up, little Iomikoe was generally a happy child, raised by two loving parents.
Johnson's family was working-class. They were not wealthy, but the child's parents were diligent and worked hard to put food on the table. "We made do with what we had," explained Iomikoe. She was a happy girl in Louisiana, but that would soon change.
"People Teased Me Because of It"
When Iomikoe started going to school, she learned how unkind some people were to those who were different from them. The young girl's family was a part of the Apostolic Church, a Christian denomination, and Johnson was bullied for her family's religion.
"We were Apostolic, and they believed a woman shouldn't wear anything pertaining to a man, like pants and shorts. So, people teased me because of it," recalled Iomikoe. The youngster was also teased about her body, as peers made fun of her for being very skinny. The Johnson family eventually moved, in search of something better.
The devout family moved from one small town to another, and in time the little girl who had been bullied, grew more comfortable in her skin. Iomikoe also found ways to fit in. "I matured and got a job so I could have better clothes," she said. "Hopefully, this way people would have one less thing to make fun of me for."
Not only was she able to buy nicer clothes, but Johnson was also allowed to wear apparel that her parents used to forbid. "My parents' religious views had changed, so they let us wear pants and shorts," Iomikoe shared. The young lady was being bullied less by her peers, but she had no idea things were about to change.
"He Made me Feel Beautiful"
Johnson went from being bullied for her body and clothes to being accepted by her peers. But one person, in particular, attracted her attention. Iomikoe met a guy and they had an instant connection. The two traded phone numbers and were soon great friends.
"We would talk on the phone and clown around for hours," she remembered. After some time as friends, the teenagers became boyfriend and girlfriend. "He swept me off my feet. I liked how he made me feel beautiful," Johnson said. But the head-over-heals adolescent was devastated by what happened next.
She Was Heartbroken
Johnson and her boyfriend were two teenagers happy in love. The young lady felt better than ever with the support and admiration of her significant other. Then one day, he suddenly stopped calling. The young man didn't answer the phone and his girlfriend never saw him again.
"It was as if he disappeared off the face of the earth," Iomikoe remembered. "I was heartbroken." The adolescent girl didn't understand what was going on. Had she done something wrong and scared off one of the people she loved most? Little did she know, her hard times were only beginning...
"In an Instant, My Life Had Changed"
When Iomikoe was 17 years old, she discovered that she was pregnant. "He [my dad] and my mom were disappointed in me. I was disappointed in myself," she admitted. The Johnson family worked hard to support themselves, and the idea of having another mouth to feed was intimidating.
Nonetheless, when the baby arrived, the new mom was over the moon with her bundle of joy. "He was the cutest little person I'd ever seen. It was love at first sight," she said. "In an instant, my life had changed... He was the most important person in my life." But Johnson's world was about to be altered yet again.
She Couldn't Believe Her Eyes
Iomikoe was busy as ever with her new baby boy. As concentrated as she was on raising her child, what occurred next was probably the last thing the happy mother expected. Johnson got an email from the boy who had broken her heart not too long ago. The young woman couldn't believe her eyes.
"He told me he enrolled in the army and his family relocated to Arkansas," Iomikoe said. "He said once he left the military, he was coming to get me so we could be together... " Johnson was delighted to hear from the old boyfriend, but he still didn't know she had a son with another man. How would he react?
"If He Loved Me, He Would Love My Son, Too"
Johnson and her ex-boyfriend quickly rekindled their romance. But the young woman was hiding a secret, afraid to tell her old lover about her son. When she finally gathered the courage to break the news, Iomikoe was pleasantly surprised by his reaction.
"He was sad, but he told me he loved me and if he loved me, he would love my son, too," Johnson said. The couple continued making their bond stronger. They talked on the phone often and the serviceman started sending money to help his partner raise her child. Things were looking up for the hard-working mother, but not for long.
She Was Pregnant With a Baby Girl
The young lady was beyond charmed by her boyfriend, just as she had been when she was a teenager. "He sent me money to take care of my son so I could focus on school," Johnson explained. "He was a great guy. Everything he said he'd do, he did." After finishing his service, the devoted partner moved closer to Iomikoe and her son.
The love birds soon took the next step in their relationship and got married. It had hardly been a year since Iomikoe had her first son when the newlyweds found out that they would be welcoming a baby girl. The expecting parents would soon face challenging times.
"He Was Gone Two Weeks Out of Every Month"
The mother of two was struggling to juggle all of life's responsibilities. Not only was she a mom, but the young woman was also in college. "I was 19, with two children and a husband who worked offshore on an oil rig," Johnson said. "He was gone two weeks out of every month."
The time apart took a toll on their relationship. The partners began fighting often and Iomikoe was disappointed in her husband's lack of fatherly devotion. The family eventually moved to a city that was closer to the father's hometown. Sadly, more bad news was on the way...
He Lived a Double Life
After they moved closer to her husband's hometown, Johnson suspected that the man she loved was being unfaithful. But the unhappy wife had no idea the extent of the betrayal until a letter from Arkansas child-support arrived at their doorstep. Iomikoe was shocked.
Johnson confronted her husband and he confessed that he had another child with someone else. "We had been married for about 8 years. His son was the same age as our 6-year-old daughter," she said. "For 6 years he hid a baby from me." Iomikoe felt betrayed and didn't know what to do next.
She Noticed a White Spot on Her Skin
After a while, Johnson decided to forgive her disloyal husband. "I didn't trust him for a long time. But I forgave him, and we worked on our marriage," she explained. The mother of two was focused on repairing her family, when one day, she noticed something strange on her skin.
"One morning, as I was showering for work, I went to shave my underarms and noticed this white spot under my arm," Iomikoe recalled. "I tried to scrub it off, but it wouldn't come off." The light mark was about the size of a pea, and Johnson quickly made a doctor's appointment.
"We Lost Everything We Had Worked So Hard For"
The young woman's doctor said that the white patches were an allergic reaction to razors. But even when she stopped using them, the spots on Johnson's skin got bigger. It didn't make sense. But before a confused Iomikoe had time to figure out what was actually on her skin, a tragedy happened.
Hurricane Rita devastated the town where Johnson lived. "We lost everything we had worked so hard for," the mother said. "I was so busy with family and worried about the damages that had happened to our home, I forgot about the spots." The chaos caused by the natural disaster also put the woman's marriage on the rocks.
She Began To Panic
After the hurricane ravaged the family's home, they relocated to Arkansas. It was there that Johnson and her husband's marriage took a turn for the worse once more. What had started so strong and full of love had been worn down throughout the years.
At the same time that her marriage was falling apart, Iomikoe noticed more white marks around her body, including her face. "It was about a month before I got to see the doctor. During that time, I got more spots and I began to panic," she said. Johnson never could've predicted what happened next.
"I Was Going To Be a Monster"
Johnson was shaking from nerves on the day of her dermatologist appointment. She asked the doctor, "Is it cancer? Is it contagious? How did I get it?" The young woman did not understand the diagnosis the professional gave her. Iomikoe had never heard of the skin condition vitiligo.
The doctor explained that there was no cure for the marks on her skin. "I began to cry," Johnson said. "I asked him to show me pictures of people with the same skin condition... I thought the people in the pictures were monsters. And I was going to be a monster, too." She was also worried about how her family would react.
After receiving the diagnosis, Iomikoe was afraid to tell her husband and children. How would they react to this condition called vitiligo? It seemed so foreign, and the effects of it would continue to change the young mom's physical appearance. "What was I going to look like?" she wondered.
"Were my children going to be afraid of me? Would my family be ashamed of how I looked? I was afraid," Johnson shared. As a distressed Iomikoe drove home from the doctor's appointment, more worries and realizations came to her mind. She felt that her life was about to change big time.
She Was Scared No One Would Want Her
On top of the upsetting news she had just received, Johnson had something else weighing her down: An unstable marriage. Following the diagnosis, the once love-struck woman filed for divorce. But insecurities about how vitiligo would affect her appearance brought about great stress.
An angry ex-husband used these concerns against Iomikoe. "He was telling me no one would want me because of the way I looked," she admitted. "Who was going to want a woman with that many kids? He was in my head and it was working." She knew a change was needed to turn her life around.
Hiding her Face
Iomikoe needed a change of scenery as well as some family love, so she went to visit her parents. Unlike the man she had just divorced, the young woman's parents were supportive when they found out their daughter had vitiligo. "[My mom] said... no matter what, she and my dad would love me."
During the visit home, Iomikoe met up with an old pal who was a makeup artist. Wanting to help, the woman told Johnson about a cosmetic that could cover up the vitiligo. "[My friend] showed me how to put it on... and no one would know I had the spots on my face," she said. But eventually, makeup wouldn't be enough to cover the marks.
She Couldn't Cover It up Anymore
The single mom felt lonely raising her children in Arkansas. After visits home, Johnson usually felt refreshed and supported, so she decided to move back. "I got a new job, I bought a new car, and life was great again," Iomikoe said after the transition. But while some things were looking up, others worsened.
Johnson's skin condition was continued to spread, and it affected her self-confidence. "I wore long sleeve shirts and pants all year round," she said. "Once it got to my hands, there was nothing I could do about it." People began to stare at Iomikoe's skin and she felt hopeless. It was the start of a rollercoaster ride of events.
"I Thought To Myself, 'Wow, He's a Great Guy'"
After leaving Arkansas, the family was often surrounded by friends and loved ones. During a visit to her mother's house, Johnson met someone who caught her eye. Iomikoe's sister's best friend had come by the house to drop off a gift, so he and the newly single woman met for the first time.
"My mom introduced us to each other," Iomikoe recalled. "I thought to myself, 'Wow, he's a great guy.' He and I exchanged numbers, but he never called." Little did they know that had been the meeting of a lifetime. But there would be some bumps in the road first.
She Hid Her Skin Condition From Him
The single mother was disappointed that she never received a call from her sister's handsome best friend, Phillip Woods. But Iomikoe was busy with her job and two children, and he was out of sight, out of mind. Yet fate had other plans for the two acquaintances.
Johnson and Woods ran into each other when he happened to drive by her house as she was outside washing the car. The pair chatted and planned a date. "It was one of the best dates I'd ever had," Iomikoe later said. But the infatuated woman kept her skin hidden from him, afraid of how her new love interest would react.
"He Looked at Me With a Shocked Face"
Phillip had seen the white marks on Johnson's hands, legs, and feet. But he did not know that the spots were also on her face, as she covered them with makeup whenever the new boyfriend was around. But one day the infatuated man dropped by for a surprise visit.
Iomikoe wasn't wearing makeup when Phillip knocked on the door and didn't think twice before opening it. "He looked at me with a shocked face... He said, 'Oh, you have it on your face,'" she shared. Would the revelation change things between the two love birds?
When Johnson realized Phillip had seen the face marks, she tried running to the bathroom. But the confused man stopped her and shocked his girlfriend with what he said next. "You're beautiful. Have you been wearing makeup this whole time?" Woods asked.
Iomikoe admitted that she had been covering her face. "You're so beautiful. I don't know why you're hiding this. You're unique. I like it," Phillip assured Johnson. The young woman felt relieved by her partner's reaction. She had no idea that this was the start of a wild journey.
"You're Beautiful. Let Them Stare"
While Iomikoe was happy with her boyfriend's reaction, she still ran to cover up the spots when Phillip suggested that they go do some errands around town. "Let me put on my makeup because I don't want people staring at me and giving me weird looks," Johnson said to him.
"Who cares? You're beautiful. Let them stare," he answered. "You're beautiful and if they can't see that then that's on them." For the first time in a while, Iomikoe left her home without makeup on. The young woman felt safer with Phillip by her side, but she was almost torn apart by what followed.
Bullied for Her Differences
During that first makeup-free outing, a few people approached Johnson at a store and said she was beautiful. "I could finally be free," the happy woman thought. But as Iomikoe started going to more places without covering her spots, she learned that not everyone would have a positive reaction to her condition.
"Someone even asked, 'Why are you walking around with paint on your face? Were you going duck hunting?'... People didn't even want to take money out of my hand sometimes," Johnson recalled. Similar to when she was a child, Iomikoe was bullied for her differences. But the young woman wasn't sure she could overcome it yet again.
Winnie Harlow Inspired Her
The derogatory comments by strangers on the street, in stores, and at work, hurt Johnson, but she persisted. Unlike previous years when Iomikoe changed her appearance to fit in with peers, this time the young woman did not want to hide her true self. "... I was tired, and I wanted to be free," she said.
A while after she went makeup-free, Johnson and Phillip came across a picture of Winnie Harlow, the famous model who also had vitiligo. "It was inspiring to see someone who looked like me accept themselves," Iomikoe said. Looking back, the supermodels picture likely changed everything.
Inspire other People to Love Themselves
After the couple saw Harlow's gorgeous photo, Phillip said, "You could be a model, too. You have a very exotic look and a very beautiful face. Maybe you could inspire other people who look like you to love themselves." Ideas started churning in Johnson's head.
Iomikoe wanted to feel beautiful and embarked on a journey of self-love. "...I found a Facebook group with people who had the same skin condition as me," Johnson said, "So, I started posting pictures of myself and people noticed." Before she could process what was happening, the unique beauty was invited to walk a fashion show.
A Budding Modeling Career
After just one runway show, the aspiring model was approached for more work. "He [a photographer] handed me a card and said he wanted to work with me," Johnson recalled. "I said, 'Me?' He said, 'Yeah. I don't think you know how beautiful you are. Let me show you."
As the new modeling career kicked off, Iomikoe polished her public image. The driven woman made an Instagram account filled with creative posts and pictures of herself. As the profile gained followers, Johnson also started appearing on TV shows to discuss beauty and living with vitiligo. "I had become a phenomenon," she said.
"For Over 12 Years I Covered My Work of Art, Which Is My Skin"
While Johnson walked runways and posed for photo shoots, she also worked hard on another project. "For over 12 years I covered my work of art, which is my skin... I wanted to show women that just because I don't want to cover up my vitiligo doesn't mean that I don't like wearing some sort of makeup," the model said.
Iomikoe decided to create a makeup line called Perfectly Painted Cosmetics. The products were not intended to cover-up people's perceived flaws, but to magnify everyone's special beauty. "We want women to know that they're already perfectly painted," Johnson said. The businesswoman shocked some people with what she said next.
A Journey of Self Love
As Johnson got further into her self-love journey, she wanted to bring others along. The model used the media attention to promote a message of self-acceptance. "I was... helping people overcome their fears and accepting themselves... I was completely happy in my life for the first time," the activist said.
Iomikoe saw her skin condition in a completely different light. "I once thought of vitiligo as a curse, and now it is the best thing that ever happened to me," she said. "...I figured out my purpose. My purpose is to inspire and empower." Johnson worked hard to embrace her real self, and hoped others could do the same.