cover 

Life was never going to be easy for someone like me. Born with Vitiligo, a skin condition where white skin cells stop forming or begin attacking each other, causing white patches on the skin, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out I had little chance of escaping taunts, stares and inquisitive questions.

Being mixed race my patches were albino like and very distinctive. Vitiligo is a condition that can spread at an alarming rate. Those affected may end up with a few small patches, whilst for some it can spread across their entire body. For me, it started as a tiny spot on my hand which eventually spread covering 80% of my body. I had it all over my arms, legs and worst of all my face.

Being so young, I was none the wiser about being different. For all I knew, everyone was born with Vitiligo. My parents kept things normal and chose not to cover my skin. They would dress me in girly dresses, shorts and t-shirts, allowing everyone to see my skin and for me to feel like I was the same as everyone else. The time when I realised I was different was when the name calling started. In the school playground I’d get called penguin, zebra or anything that had black and white skin. Kids made their own assumptions. Some thought I was contagious and were cautious about touching me, others thought I’d been burnt in a fire.

When I turned 5, I started going to Great Ormond Street Hospital for treatment. Back then (1980’s) there wasn’t a known cure and so it was hard to slow down the development of more patches. Dermatologists were frequently developing new treatments which my parents actively put me forward for. I was prescribed with steroid creams, tablets, homeopathy – but nothing seemed to work. I could be trying a new treatment for six months without it making the slightest bit of difference. The steroid cream which was incredibly strong, scarred my skin however cleared the patches on my face much to my relief. Nonetheless, after several failed attempts at being treated, we decided to abandon treatment and let nature take its cause.

I was overtly shy and very introverted during my primary school years. I had a small group of close friends with whom I did everything with. Because of this, the kids who had more confidence saw me as an easy target. I recall a girl in my class calling me spiteful names as she eyed me up and down in disgust. She would deliberately sit next to me in class and then within seconds would jump up and shout “I can’t sit next to Natalie, in case I catch the disease she has”. It would upset me, especially as I was too shy to say anything back. I would just look up in embarrassment and then carry on with what I was doing.

Things got worse when I entered my teenage years. I despised who I was and passed a lot of the blame onto my Mum, which put her under a lot of pressure. I was convinced she had done something detrimental whilst carrying me, especially as my sister was born without any imperfections. It was bad enough having to deal with exam pressures, boys and puberty, so to have to contend with a skin condition that only I had, left me in a depressive state.

Having Vitiligo stopped me from expressing myself. I loved fashion, but couldn’t dress freely. I daren’t wear skirts or t-shirts and became obsessed with covering up. I hated summer and wished it was December all year round so I didn’t feel so out of place. I’d wear anything that covered my skin as I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone catching a glimpse of my Vitiligo and only wore dark colours, making my outward appearance very bland.

My skin got worse in my early twenties. Stress is a contributing factor in making Vitiligo worse. I don’t recall going through a stressful period, but I recall watching as my skin went whiter and spottier over the course of six months. It shattered my confidence further and made it difficult for me to even contemplate being in a relationship with anyone.

Being the only person in my school and in my family with Vitiligo, often meant I felt very alone as no one could relate to how I was feeling. I’d heard of the Vitiligo Society through going to hospital and decided to join as I wanted to meet people suffering with the same condition as me. It was a massive relief to be around people I had something in common with. I felt inspired and humbled listening to other peoples stories in particular how they coped day to day. I started to feel more positive and felt a sense of comfort knowing there were people going through exactly what I was experiencing.

In 2014, I decided to have one last shot at treatment and got approval from the hospital to have Phototherapy, a type of treatment that uses UVB light to stimulate pigment cells in order to produce melanocytes. After 14 months of treatment the results were miraculous. I am now only 25% covered in white patches and have gained a level of confidence and self-esteem I didn’t know existed within.

Recently, Chantelle Winnie, who has a very prominent form of Vitiligo, made it onto America’s Next Top Model. I was overwhelmed at seeing someone with Vitiligo being praised for her natural beauty. Aside from building awareness internationally, Chantelle became an inspiration to people like me and proved that those who are different are just as beautiful.

Everyone takes a journey in life and whilst times were hard, I wouldn’t change what I went through. I finally feel like I’ve reached the stage of acceptance and am more comfortable with who I am. If I were to speak to my ‘younger self’ now, I would say accept who you are and embrace what you were born with. See what you have as a blessing, there is a reason why you are unique and sometimes that makes for a slightly more interesting life! Don’t spend time worrying about those that try to make you feel inferior. People will stare and will ask questions, but don’t feel as though you have something to hide. Show others that it doesn’t bother you, hence why you decided to wear that short sleeved t-shirt in your favourite colour or shorts in 30 degree heat. It’s not about people accepting you, it’s about you accepting yourself first and once you do, you’ll walk with an air of confidence that tells the world ‘you just don’t care’.

Natalie Ambersley

Sex. It’s funny, it’s exciting and it’s part of growing up. It’s natural to be curious and to want to explore your sexuality with people you fancy.

In fact, almost 4 in 10 of us admit to sending a naked photo of ourselves at least once, according to The Wireless Report 2014. The fact of the matter is that ideally, we’d like to live in a world where we could explore our sexuality safely, but unfortunately we’re not quite there yet. 24% of those who have sent a naked photo have had it shared without their consent with other people. Some have even had it posted publicly online for the entire world to see. The impact of that can be absolutely catastrophic on self-esteem, mental health, relationships and future career prospects. Ultimately, we advise that you don’t do it – however if you are going to do it, our experts have shared their top tips for doing it safely:

Naked photos – doing it safely

Don’t do it if you don’t want to: it’s important to never do something that you feel uncomfortable doing. If you’re being pressured into it, please stop and think before you act. Support is always available to you should you need it.

• Your body is beautiful: we all come in different shapes and sizes and take it from us, your body is beautiful. If you are sending images for validation of your beauty, this may conceal an issue with self-esteem.

• What’s the motive? Unfortunately, not everybody is genuine and kind in their motives. You may think that you can trust somebody but we’ve all heard the horror stories. If you’re going to do it – only share images with someone who you completely trust. Remember that you can never be sure who you’re speaking to online.

• Hide your face: along with anything that is distinguishable about you. That way, if your photos are ever shared, people will find it difficult to prove that they are even of you.

• Delete once you’ve done it: it’s never a good idea to leave your naked selfies lying around. Make sure you’ve got secure passcodes and passwords to prevent unauthorised access.

• Never store in the cloud: it’s way too vulnerable. Think of all the recent press.

• Know that it’s okay to say no: your value is in no way defined by your willingness to send a naked picture. If somebody truly respects you, they will understand and will not pressure you.

• Think about distribution: whilst not totally safe, there is a degree of comfort in using an app like Snapchat as opposed to something more permanent. However, don’t be fooled – people CAN download 3rd party apps to store the images without your knowledge.

• Have fun with it: not your thing? We recommend Childline’s Zip It app (available on the app store) – it has loads of funny, alternative and damn right sassy photos that you can send as alternatives.

• Consider the law: if you’re below 18 or chatting to someone below 18, it’s illegal to request, store, produce or distribute any naked photos. Just something to keep in mind.

• Don’t share it: it may seem like a good idea at the time, but we know that the implications of sharing a naked photo can be huge – it can literally ruin lives. Please think twice.

• Speak up: if you have a bad experience, please do not keep it to yourself, it’s natural to be curious about your sexuality. Tell somebody and seek support. Childline are a good start: 0800 11 11.

If you have had a bad experience, or know somebody that has, please speak up. There’s loads of support available in our get help section and in the DTL community and from our friends at Childline on 0800 11 11.

Has someone share a photo of you without your consent? Read this to find out if you’ve been a victim of Revenge Porn and what to do…

As one of the UK’s leading anti-bullying charities, we are constantly researching the current landscape of equality, both online and offline. We took to Google and Bing – both leading search engines, to find out what the most searched for terms were surrounding different demographic profiles. Some of the results were so abusive, they have already been hidden by the search engines.

singlemothers

blondes

feminists

gaypeople

goths

interracial

men

tattoos

women

When talking about size discrimination and bullying many people think that it’s not really a thing. People might think that sharing a meme of a fat person is just funny and tweeting and laughing along about how ‘huge’ Gemma Collins is every time she is on your TV screens is just banter. Well here’s the thing: it’s not funny and belittling someone because of how they look is a form of bullying. To put things into context I am a lifestyle and fashion blogger based in London and I write about a number of things including travel, cooking, style and fashion and I also happen to be fat. I posted on my blog recently about my experience of being labelled a bad role in a number of press outlets after featuring in a channel four documentary called ‘Plus Size Wars’.
 Since the documentary aired I have also experienced a lot of nasty comments about my health, size and appearance on my various social media outlets as well as berated about my size live on the radio. I wanted to share my personal story with the readers of Ditch the Label in the hopes that I can help comfort anyone who has or is experiencing bullying or size discrimination for them to know they are not alone and do not deserve any of the ill treatment they have received due to their size.

Ask most overweight women and they will tell you that they have spent most of their lives on diets, I certainly did. Growing up I was a small sized child, but then at around 8 or 9 years old I developed severe asthma, I was put on steroids and I slowly but surely got bigger and it became obvious to me even though my Nana (the next best thing to a mum to me) told me I just had puppy fat and that I was beautiful and perfect. By the time I hit my teens I was developed in all the right places and had to start wearing a bra earlier than most of my friends in high school, I was most certainly fatter than all my friends but they never made me feel different even though I knew I was. I had the occasional nasty comment about my size, some more hurtful than others, but I was lucky to grow up mostly with nice people that I hope saw me for more than just my weight. However I still hated myself, I couldn’t wear the clothes that all my friends did, they shopped in Tammy Girl and I shopped in Etam and I would cry to my Nan that I felt fat and she would again hold me and tell me that I was beautiful, she was like this best friend that loved me just as I was and for a second she would make me forget. Then one Monday before I was about to head off to school my Nana had a heart attack, she was a smoker and couldn’t stop, that following Sunday she died and I never really got to say goodbye. I was 13 and for days I didn’t get out of bed, My Nan was the matriarch of our family and when she died everyone fell apart, I felt alone and I turned to food as a comfort to fill a hole and my weight increased.

Over the years I built an obsession with wanting to lose weight, I tried lots of things, including starving myself, then binge eating and hiding the packets at the side of the sofa, I tried to make myself sick but that didn’t work out because I hated the feeling of being sick. I went on the cabbage soup diet, the no bread diet, I took slimming pills and became obsessed with the gym. I lost a significant amount of weight for my cousins wedding and when people saw my weight loss they praised me and it felt oddly good, like for once I had achieved the end goal, until it went straight back on. In reality, when I look back I wasn’t even as fat as I thought I was.

Callie Thorpe

Fast forward a few years to University and I was looking forward to starting afresh, yet I still took those troublesome thoughts with me and my weight issues only grew. Drinking made me put on more weight and I was back again being the fat friend of my new group. Boys had no interest in me (that had always been the way) and I always felt used when someone did actually pay me attention. The reality was I was never girlfriend material for them – I was too fat.

Then in 2008 whilst working at my part time job a guy came up to me and asked me out, he was really nice and kind, he asked me on a date and nearly 7 years later, we are still together. Dan taught me that I could be who I was and still be loved, that it didn’t matter what size I was or how much I weighed because he just loved me for who I was, but even that couldn’t stop my weight obsession. Over the years I joined slimming clubs and then started drinking laxative teas. We stopped eating out to save calories and my obsession with food value made me cry whenever I indulged. I made a diet diary blog to share with everyone and to help shame myself into losing weight, it worked for a while until one day, the scales showed a gain and I broke down. Dan sat me down and told me he was worried and I realised the extent to my obsession. That day I got rid of the blog and made a new one I called it From the Corners of the Curve, I started reading other blogs like Gabi Fresh and Arched Eyebrow’s and my eyes were opened to this world where girls of my size were living their lives enjoying fashion and being happy. I decided I wanted a piece of happiness and started documenting my life, my holidays and my new found love for fashion and soon it got noticed . Before I knew it I was being asked to model in a campaign for Evans for a plus size line. It was picked up in press by media outlets I ended up in Vogue Italia with the other girls involved and my blog grew and grew. 



Slowly but surely my mindset changed and other girls began to look to me for outfit inspiration; my following grew and more brands approached me for collaborations. My mental health improved and with letting go of obsessions I let this whole new life come in. Dan and I moved into our own flat, we travelled for 5 weeks this Christmas across Thailand and Cambodia and on the 19th of December he got down on one knee at sunset on a beach in Thailand and asked me to marry him.

You are most likely wondering why I feel the need to share this with you and why it matters. It matters because health isn’t always physical, mental health is just as important and the years of dieting and punishment on myself caused more damage than good. Yo yo dieting has caused a number of issues for me and ultimately made me bigger than I ever really was. Articles are constantly being written about fat people as though we are setting a bad example by promoting obesity when we aren’t. I have never said HEY I’M FAT COME BE FAT WITH ME, all I have said is love yourself no matter what.

Everyone deserves to live a happy and fulfilled life no matter what their size, and believe me, fat people are not ignorant to health risks because that is something which is shoved in our faces daily by our family, friends and strangers. People lack basic empathy and that’s because they don’t understand there are more reasons to weight gain and obesity than simple greed, some people are ill, some people are taking medicines which cause weight gain and some people have mental issues behind their eating habits. It’s not as black and white as people may think. People also shouldn’t be treated any less if they choose not to be healthy, health is not a moral obligation.

 Size discrimination also isn’t just exclusive to fat people, every week you see a magazine which uses images of women without makeup or close ups of their cellulite to belittle and mock them. God forbid a woman having a stretch mark or not looking like they are professionally airbrushed. There are ridiculous standards put on women and men every day and it’s ludicrous.

So instead of today judging someone on how they look, try and look at them as a person and not an obesity statistic like the likes of Jamelia who thinks people under and over the ‘normal average’ don’t deserve access to nice clothes. Bullying of any kind is wrong and words especially on the internet can hurt. Be mindful of what you say and don’t support people who engage in making nasty comments or ‘joke’ and mock people on the internet. Until we all unite this issue will always be around, so stand up and be proud of who you are whether you’re thin, fat, tall short, whatever you may look like – you deserve happiness.

Callie Thorpe / @CallieThorpe

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity of meeting up with the wonderful Dustin Lance Black for a couple of hours. We talked Ditch the Label, bullying, transatlantic equality… and cake. I also spoke to Dustin about his upbringing and career inspirations and I may or may not have made a few blunders along the way. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video – we’ve split it up into 2, for your viewing pleasure (and because it would have taken ages to upload otherwise). Huge thank you to @DLanceBlack for his time and for all of the positive work he does and to @OllyPike for heading up the production.

Liam x

You can find out more about Dustin Lance Black and his work on his official website. If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in the interview, support is available in the Ditch the Label Hub.

As part of The Annual Bullying Survey 2015, we asked young people how they felt about their appearance. We found that 1 in 2 young people would alter how they looked in order to feel better about themselves. Check out our interactive infograph belows to find out how the response varies between different demographics. In this series, we look at variation based on: gender, sexuality, disability, ethnicity, religion and household income.

If you don’t feel particularly great about how you look, check out our Feeling Beautiful Guide.

Gender Variation

Sexuality Variation

Disability Variation

Ethnicity Variation

Religion Variation

Household Income Variation

These infographics were kindly and lovingly produced by our friends at Intel Mcafee as part of their Brighton charity day in 2015. Thank you!

Social media has been divided in a debate over that annoying ‘Are you beach body ready?’ poster currently on the Underground. Here are 10 reasons why that poster is B*S* and why we must condemn it:

  • It’s edited and therefore does not represent a real body
  • The poster suggests that you are only ‘beach body ready’ if your body looks like the Photoshopped model
  • There is no representation of other body shapes and sizes that are more realistic
  • It makes women feel like crap, as one Facebook user comments: “I hate this sign. I look at it twice a day whilst waiting for my tube train. It makes me feel like sh*t.”
  • It promotes extreme dieting when we should be promoting healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle  and not “meal replacement plans”
  • It’s part of the reason why 47% of teens want to change their appearance and children as young as 13 now want liposuction
  • It represents the bigger picture of using ‘ideal’ body image to sell a product
  • Consumers of the campaign will subliminally take the body shape shown as gospel and will then use it to benchmark themselves and others against
  • Because the beach is for everybody, regardless of your appearance or body shape
  • And last but not least… (our design team suggested this one)… that shade of yellow is really offensive

There you have it. 10 ultimate reasons why we must unite as a society, chew this crap up and spit it back out. This is NOT acceptable and we’re chuffed it was banned.

Excitement doesn’t even describe how we felt when we were given the opportunity to interview one of the most inspirational and loveable public figures on British television: Gok Wan. We spoke with Gok about Ditch the Label, his experiences with bullying and the advice that has for young people being targeted by bullies. Here goes…

Ditch the Label: Hi Gok! Thank you so much for speaking with us today. It’s great to finally get you on board with our anti-bullying organisation.
Gok Wan: Not at all, I think it’s great what you are doing. I like that you are concentrating on topical issues such as online bullying. When I was younger there were no real services available and so I think that Ditch the Label is highly appropriate and a much-needed outreach for teens across the UK. There is an incredible sense of community and I like it a lot.

Ditch the Label: So we know that you were bullied at school for attitudes towards your weight, race and sexuality. Were there any particular instances that really left an impression with you?
Gok Wan: When you get bullied, I think it all leaves an impression. You should never underestimate any experience of bullying and all of it needs to be remembered because it gives you power when you are older. For me, it was just a constant barrage of stuff. It was never ‘Hollywood’ style, my bullies were very clever and so there was a lot of psychological abuse going on. The bullies would beat me down, I was never physically attacked – it was all verbal and psychological. I was a big guy and so kids were physically afraid of me.

Ditch the Label: How did you deal with the bullying at the time?
Gok Wan: Well I gave myself a makeover at 13, I reinvented myself and turned into someone else. I gave everyone a visual warning not to come near me. I became much “cooler” and fitted in. I slotted in by looking like the bullies which stopped the bullying for a while.

Ditch the Label: Why do you think the bullies targeted you? What do you think their motivation was?
Gok Wan: In a word: difference. You can’t beat bullies for bullying because they are all being bullied themselves. I do a lot of work with kids and have learnt that bullies go through extreme circumstances. Often there is neglect at home and they often want to vent an experience and believe that bullying is the right thing to do.

Ditch the Label: In our Annual Bullying Survey 2013, we found that 24% of young people who are bullied self-harm, 25% have suicidal thoughts and 17% truant from school or college. What kind of advice would you give to anyone in either situation?
Gok Wan: It is more about not getting to that stage. I would say that it is important to find a voice and to talk to someone you trust. Remember that you are not alone and you must never believe what bullies say to you. People will walk away from bullying you but the effect it has on you will be lasting. Do not harbour the experiences, they are a brief moment in time. You have the power to talk to someone, it’s illegal to bully people – they are in the wrong and you have no reason not to report it.
Ditch the Label: Our research also found that 21% of young people are bullied online. Obviously, cyberbullying was never around when you were at school but do you ever experience it as an adult? What kind of advice would you give to someone currently being targeted online?
Gok Wan: I occasionally get comments on Twitter, I simply don’t respond and just block the users. Often bullies just want a rise so they just provoke – this means that their attack is only valid if you retaliate. All social networking sites have a turn off switch, if you are being targeted online then stop people from following and friending you and block them from your networks. If it is within a community you need to evacuate yourself from it and report the bullying. The Internet is self-policing, nobody is going to pick up on it unless you police it yourself. People can, as we have recently seen, be prosecuted for cyberbullying. Report it.

Ditch the Label: We also found that eating disorders were frequently reported by young people who are bullied for their appearance. Working in the fashion industry, what is your take on it?
Gok Wan: Well I don’t think it’s fashion based, I think it’s humanely based. Regardless, people have no mind to bully anyone. It’s important to address eating disorders and mental health diseases and to seek advice and support as soon as you can.

Ditch the Label: You work with a lot of women who are unhappy with their appearance, do you think that anybody or anything, in particular, is to blame for that?
Gok Wan: I think that there are lots of contributing forces. The media and press have a responsibility, clothing stores have a responsibility – I think it is a collection of lots of different things. A lot of people have low self-esteem because of weight issues and so I think that it is important to be educated about healthy living and wellbeing because it can have a huge knock-on effect. People need more education and information about food, health and wellbeing.

Ditch the Label: So guys are increasingly being targeted with these “ideal” and unrealistic visions of beauty but there seems to be little recognition of the harmful effects or any support for guys with image issues. Do you think that this needs to be something that is addressed?
Gok Wan: Well it isn’t a new thing, guys have always been bombarded – look at the likes of James Dean and Clark Gabel and think of the characters they portrayed, it isn’t a modern thing. I think that the male community hasn’t really had a voice until recently and attitudes towards things such as grooming and clothing are changing but currently, men don’t really have a forum to talk about them because they don’t allow it. Women have a stronger sense of community with gossip magazines, websites, coffee mornings and websites like Mumsnet but guys don’t seem to give themselves the license to discuss it. There needs to be changed but how do we do it? It needs to be commercially and reader viable but it’s the whole chicken vs. egg debate; if there’s no demand, there’s no supply.

Ditch the Label: We recently found that 30% of bullied youths are targeted for their interests, do you have any interests that differ from the norm and were you ever bullied for them?
Gok Wan: I was always coined with the gay guy stereotype but I was, in fact, interested in music, fashion and the stereotypical interests and so I was never really bullied for any of it.

Ditch the Label: If you could turn back time and reverse your experiences of bullying, would you?
Gok Wan: No, never, ever. I wouldn’t be the person I am today. It was an incredible experience, it was awful and dreadful but it turned me into the person I am. If I lived life with regrets I’d be wasting time.

Ditch the Label: Do you ever feel marginalised by society and put into different boxes because of your sexuality and ethnicity?
Gok Wan: Absolutely. We are all pigeonholed and I work in a business where we do exactly just that. We create a character in a certain way and the branding of that character is incredibly important as it sends out thousands of messages that we read without even noticing. 1 thing we need is a community but then we fight against it to be unique. It’s a strange relationship.

Ditch the Label: Do you have any advice for anybody reading this who is currently going through bullying?
Gok Wan: Try to understand why people bully as best you can. Understanding the bullies will become your greatest power. Find your voice and the confidence to talk about it, you are not on your own with services like Ditch the Label around. Don’t feel like you can’t use Ditch the Label as a resource or to build your own community. Isolation is the biggest power for bullies but remember: it won’t last forever. Don’t worry about it, when you get to my age and look back you will regret worrying. Worry about stuff that is important and don’t waste time.

Ditch the Label: Thank you, Gok! Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
Gok Wan: After I wrote my autobiography, I vowed that I would never really talk about my experiences again and so the purpose of this interview isn’t to normalise bullying or to suggest that it is part of growing up because it absolutely isn’t. This interview is about empowering people and giving people the power and confidence to do something about it.