For mom of two Cheryl Shaw, a lifelong skin pigmentation condition has gone from being the source of bullying to one of the reasons she landed a modeling contract in the United Kingdom.
Birmingham-based Shaw, 34, has a skin condition called giant congenital melanocytic nevus. It causes her body to produce dark non-cancerous patches of skin formed by pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. The condition isn’t harmful, though the marks that appear—often on an individual’s arms, legs, and torso—are present for life, and people aren’t necessarily always kind about it.
“I would be called a ‘101 Dalmatian’ or that I look like a cookie or a leopard due to my darker spots,” Shaw told Caters News. “Growing up I felt so abnormal but I’d always wanted to be a model even though I knew it was unlikely.”
“I used to call them beauty spots when I was younger but now I try and educate people by telling them that I have congenital melanocytic nevus,” she added.
The harsh names clearly had an impact on Shaw, though not in the way her bullies intended. Instead of cowering or trying to hide her unique spots, Shaw eventually decided to set up an Instagram account to showcase what made her unique.
It paid off, too. The modeling charity Models of Diversity noticed Shaw’s photos and offered her the chance to work a photo shoot to show the world just how beautiful she can be—and educate people about her congenital condition in the process.
“Models of Diversity campaigns for the fashion and media industry to challenge conventional perceptions of beauty and show a greater representation of all areas of society,” the organization’s founder Angel Sinclair shared. “That’s why we are so proud to support Cheryl, who has the skin condition Congenital Melanocytic Nevus in celebrating her diversity on her journey in to modelling.”
Clothing brands ASOS and New Look dressed Shaw for her first photo shoot, and she’s gone on to be featured in photo shoots for magazines like Vogue Italia while talking about how to accept yourself and find your inner beauty.
Shaw didn’t always have the radiant self-confidence that she has now, though she hopes that her positive self-image will help other young women with her skin condition to feel more at home in their bodies.
“Summer was always a struggle as I used to wear thick layers of clothing because of the name calling,” she said. “Now I know that not everyone has to be the same to be beautiful—accepting who I am has changed my attitude.”
According to Shaw, it’s important to show not just the world what her self-confidence means but also her two sons. She’s become an educator for women at large, and added in her interview with Caters News that she also uses her platform to highlight to her children just how important it is to appreciate yourself for exactly who you are—no matter what.
“I also enjoy showing my son’s, Javante, 11, and Vito, three, that it’s fine to have imperfections,” she said.