Tough Skin

by Jazz Colgan


Tough Skin is a project that was created to help heal pain, that one may endure as a daily struggle.  Motivating others to feel support from an outsider's perspective, Tough Skin strives for self-exposure to  encourage acceptance and a sense of relief. Imagine living a life in a uniform skin tone, for most of your existence.  Within a moment, you find out that everything is different. Your appearance shifts from the way that you suddenly look at yourself. Noticing visible differences that set you apart from others.

After being diagnosed with Vitiligo, I exiled myself from my environment and felt as if I was alone and a prisoner in my own body. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder, the body attacks the cells that produce skin color.  Resulting in lighter pigment throughout the skin's surface, often in the shape of spots.  This skin disorder affects roughly 3% of the United States, and unfortunately the cause is unknown.  Little funding goes into research for the reasoning of vitiligo. So, technically there is not a known cure.  There are, however, solutions to cover and treatments that may or may not help bring back individual’s skin color. Makeup, topical steroid creams and UVAB laser light treatment, have been encouraged by dermatologists. These treatments are an unnatural style in modifying and changing who you are as a person, when we should embrace and appreciate.

My goal with Tough Skin is to help others feel a sense of rejuvenation and peace within themselves.  Social media has been the gateway in connections with several individuals around the world. After introductions, travel is initiated to meet people with vitiligo and celebrate unique beauty through an outside perspective.  Throughout the conversation, cultured experiences are exchanged in a day-to-day life, living with vitiligo.  Emotions are expressed and a sense of relief is released.  A mala bracelet is given to each person who shares their story to grow the circle of love and create a World of Spots within Tough Skin. As our meeting ends, we take a ‘selfie’ together, to highlight a sentimental moment in our lives. I photograph the areas of their body that has vitiligo, with different angles and perspectives as if I were sitting in their shoes.

When I edit the photographs, I collage the pictures into an abstract human form to protecting each person’s identity. But allow the viewer to look.

There have been a few times that I was walking in downtown Denver, and I see people with visible outer differences.  I can’t help but to watch them and study how they live their lives, with a smile on their face.  I want to engage a conversation with these people and explain my goals with Tough Skin.  It is my dream to expand this project beyond vitiligo; have the ability to hear another person’s insecurities and feel their struggle and be able to support them with connection.  Tough Skin: Vitiligo has become a model for my project, with the intention to expand the spotlight and to raise awareness and acceptance for artistic and unique bodies.

Future directions with Tough Skin are to create a community through social media. Viltiligo serves only as an example of how this strategy could be employed toward self awareness and could incorporate most any disease that can be seen with the naked eye.

I have been able to reach out to over fifty individuals within twenty countries; most people are posting photos of themselves embracing their Vitiligo, while there are some that do not see their beauty just quite.It is empowering to experience a community that is so distant yet so enthusiastic to create a connection.

Tough Skin has been created to portray art through photography. Exposing vulnerability, fabricates acceptance with the result of triggering happiness.

Vitiligo captured in a style that encourages awareness: Opening soft-hearted people with organic tattoos to finally have a voice,

“It's alright to look at me. It’s called Tough Skin.”

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