MASERU – She has survived great disdain growing up, and Leopard Zara has proved beyond doubt that skin does not define a person. Leopard Zara, whose real names are Ketumile Princess Peete and resident of Ha-Mabote, is a 20-year-old living with a rare skin condition called Psoriasis – a disease caused by rapid multiplication of skin cells. It also causes inflammation inside the body leaving patients with this skin condition at a high risk of being asthmatic, prone to heart diseases and other conditions.
Leopard Zara discovered she had the condition some seven years ago, and says she was uncomfortable and depressed most of the time because people used to ask her a lot of questions about it and she had no answers. She spent most of her teenage years behind the shadows, stayed indoors all the time because she was avoiding stares and questions. “It really took a toll on my mental health, and I had anxiety especially social anxiety because of it,” she told Life&Style.
She is a third year student at Botho University pursuing her Honours in Health Information Management, while also a part of the National Executive Council at Tlhokomelo e Phethahetseng Mental Health Association (TePMHA) as a representative for the youth. Apart from that she is a brand ambassador at MTAB Travel and Adventure. Currently working with a skin awareness organisation based in South Africa, she is also a freelance model.
Outside the entertainment industry, Leopard Zara is the founder of Beyond Scars, a platform created for people to share stories about their skin conditions or any other scars they have. She is also currently working on a catalogue about people with different skin conditions. “I started my modelling in 2020 after I was confident enough to show off my skin. I have participated in music video shoots, promo video shoots, clothing line shoots as well as normal street fashion shoots, I have also been a hostess.
Being able to express myself through my passion being modelling has to be the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am always looking forward to shoots and showing more of my skin condition, I live for that, it sets my soul on fire,” she recalled her journey. She continued that her journey has not been a walk in the park, in that when she first decided to model, she tried joining some modelling agencies but was ignored as she never received any responses.
Actually her potential, she says, was questioned multiple times. She was even told to her face that some of the guest houses she thought to model for needed appealing individuals to attract guests. “Even though it was kind of difficult, I have had the most amazing experience, I have been working with amazing photographers who treat me like a model not a model with a skin condition and I will forever be grateful, I have also met new people during shoots, the networking has also been of great help,” she said.
The name Leopard Zara, she revealed, came about because of the spots she says she has on her body which are similar to those of a leopard because of her skin condition; she actually calls them leopard spots. Zara, she adds, is a Christian girl name that means princess, pointing out that “she is a Christian herself and her middle name is Princess so I just made a combination of the two names…that’s how Leopard Zara was born.”
“To those that wish to be models or are already models with skin conditions, be yourself, do not hide in the shadows because of your skin conditions. Work hard and make sure you reach your full potential, you are already standing out, make an effort to stand out even more. Do not let anyone tell you who you are, know yourself and what you want out of your career. The fact that you are already into modelling proves that you are confident.”
“I have been mocked a couple of times, been told to cover my skin, I have experienced a lot of verbal abuse when it comes to my skin condition. At some point I was depressed and wanted to give up on everything because of the negativity I was getting from the society but I still managed to rise again. I have had a lot of successes in my journey, bagged a lot of deals like the ones I mentioned previously, I am more confident in my skin than I was before and I am grateful.
I did not get here on my own, I thank all the people who have been supportive and held my hand through this journey, if it was not for them, I would not be here,” she noted. “My advice would be…allow yourself to be vulnerable, once you have gathered the strength to show the world who you are then strike. It takes time, you do not just wake up and decide to be loud about your insecurities or what used to be your insecurities. You are definitely going get there and do not let the negativity get to you, people always have something to say.
Leopard Zara sees herself as a modified version of Winnie Harlow, a famous model who also has a skin condition. “I also see myself as a mental health and skin condition activist because those are two things I am passionate about. I would also love to see children being taught about how different people are, that way people with skin conditions and other conditions will also be comfortable because there will be reduced verbal abuse and judgement,” she concluded.