Clarissa Vargas is a 24 year old creative born and raised in Harlem, NY. I reached out to her after coming across her Instagram page and taking interest in her aesthetic. In our interview, Clarissa and I discuss vitiligo—pigment loss in areas on the skin—beauty standards, and her current projects.
What career are you pursuing and/or currently trying to pursue?
To be honest I'm in a really creative stage in life right now. I'm trying a bit of everything and I only do things that make me happy. Recently I started to hang around the right kind of crowd, all my friends and "business partners" are really driven, young, talented individuals who support each other. It motivates me to keep creating more dope content, which brings me to what I've been working on...
I recently put out a Q&A video answering some questions on vitiligo, a skin disorder that physically takes away your melanin/pigment.
Other than that I've also been trying to turn my home into a creative space. I'm a homebody and I actually believe I've experienced depression and anxiety. There's been long periods of time where I won't leave my house unless it's for work. I cancel plans with friends all the time because I feel like I can't force myself to get up and go be social. In my living room I have my creative corner where I style myself, beat my face, slay my hair, and have friends come be my photographer or I just rely on my phone's self timer. I edit my own pics and they actually don't come out too bad (laughs.) It's so fun to do, so I have no idea if I want to model, photograph people, be a stylist... I even make my own glitter eyeshadows! I'm having fun creating right now, I'm curious to see what jumps off.
At what age did you begin to develop vitiligo and what has the experience been like growing up?
I don't remember exactly what age but I was pretty young, I remember my mom finding a spot on my back and freaking out over it when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade. She took me to the doctor and they told us what it was, that it only affects about 1% of the world's population, and there's no cure. I think that part, about there being no cure, was tough to accept because it's like telling me there's no hope for my image, no hope for my self esteem. Growing up was tough, and in Harlem especially. In the summer I would wear jeans and long sleeves, or if I had a tee on I would walk with my arms kind of inward so that the spots on my elbows wouldn't show (so uncomfortable!) I've had a guy throw a small rock at me for not wanting to talk to him in the street, he aimed it at the spots on my leg.
But, when I got to 8th grade and then high school, I noticed a change in my spots. In most cases vitiligo is known to spread and cover a lot of the skin on your body but mine started to slowly fade away. As the vitiligo started to fade away on my face almost completely, as well as my back legs and elbows, I started to miss it.
Needless to say, I spent years being super uncomfortable in my own skin. With Winnie Harlow rising to her supermodel stardom, and CoverGirl just announcing their first vitiligo cover girl, Amy Deanna, I feel like a lot of doors are opening up for me. Fun fact: I've had contact with both these individuals through Instagram before they popped and I'm just hoping to be next! I have a message to spread just like this vitiligo chose to spread all over! (Laughs.)
What are some common misconceptions that people may have about vitiligo?
The main misconceptions I hear is that vitiligo is contagious... super FALSE! It's literally just two toned skin; it feels the same as if my skin were to be all one color. Also, people assume I've been burned in a fire. Skin is usually not smooth after being burned but this is why we are here to correct any misconceptions or ignorance and invite education and acceptance into the conversation.
After watching your YouTube video about your experiences with vitiligo you seem to be very confident and comfortable within your own skin. Did it take a while to achieve such confidence? Did it take some getting used to?
It definitely took years to be as confident as I am in my skin now and it definitely has to do with representation. In high school, I found Winnie Harlow on Instagram and Youtube before she was on America's Next Top Model. Seeing her be so open and honest about her experiences with vitiligo helped me deal with my own. I saw what she accomplished in such little time facing adversities and obstacles and she shined right through those. She's my biggest role model even though she herself doesn't like to be labled as such.
I made this Youtube video to answer any questions that my personal friends and followers had for me, but everyone's experience with it is completely different, so in the near future I want to link with some people I know in NYC with it and set up video interviews asking similar questions that I answered in my video to get their perspective. I want to make them fun and positive because other videos tend to be a little sad.
What are your thoughts on the way social media "defines" a woman's beauty?
This is a complex question but one thing's for sure, we're definitely experiencing a new kind of world. I think our generation has faced some sensitive times, and although our culture is making strides to accept every single human being, people are always going to have an opinion. Social media is an outlet for anyone to post anything they want, so literally anything goes. I think because of this, people have been taking more risks with their personal style choices. I'm happy that we're inclusive of different races, hairstyles, customs, and I'm happy that social media serves as an educational tool at times to expand people's horizons.
I try to remember that beauty is but skin deep. Personally, I find beauty in everything, in colors and shades, in nature, in the sky, but most importantly I find beauty in people's minds. The way people think is what intrigues me, hearing people's visions.
What woman or women in your life inspire you and why?
My mom is my number one motivation. She always told me I was beautiful and gave me a choice on what to do with my vitiligo. When I was younger, since there was no cure I was given different topical treatments to try but they were all itchy or thick creamy ointments that were uncomfortable. My mom didn't force them on me and I love her for that. She would tell me she loved me every single day and never was embarrassed by me. I know she's looking down at me proud that I finally see the beauty in myself that she saw in me.
What is an uplifting quote that you live by?
Hmm, I don't have a solid quote that I live by but in my mom's diary, she has a line that'll always stick with me: "I know you're a good person but I want you to be better, always." This is my motivator in those dark times where I feel defeated or lost in the world; I know I'm a good person but there is always a better me waiting to reveal herself. Everyday is a new day to better yourself, and so I take things one day at a time not to overwhelm myself.
Keep up with Clarissa on Instagram and subscribe to her Youtube channel.