stigma in society
Generally when you hear the word “disease”, you worry. People associate this term with illness, sickness, infections – the list is endless. So when I initially heard that vitiligo was a “disease”, I was confused. I thought to myself, it’s not a fatal condition, it doesn’t change my everyday life – how could I have something that sounded so… scary? I had never seen vitiligo as a big problem, and it never especially bothered me. That is, until I began comparing myself to other people.
As girls enter high school, there’s a certain expectation that in order to fit in, you must have the “perfect” skinny body, wear brand name clothes, and abide to all the cultural stereotypes and traditions. Naturally, with all these standards engraved in my mind, vitiligo became another barrier in my way to both social and self-acceptance. Every morning, I would trudge to the mirror at 6:30 am, and stare at my vitiligo for what seemed like hours. I would close my eyes and silently pray, even beg, for it to go away, so I could be “normal”. I wanted to be all brown, or sometimes, I wished the white pigment would spread all over my body, and just blanket me completely. Then, I could wear makeup without using extra brown foundation to cover the white patches. However, this battle wasn’t merely a cosmetic problem in regards to how others saw me, but more importantly, how it changed my own self-perception and identity.
I wake up with burns and blisters, rashes, and swelling from the treatments, and I just barely have the motivation to pull over a sweatshirt and race to school. Sure, vitiligo isn’t fatal or threatening, but it has the capability to destroy one’s self-esteem and wreck one’s authentic-self and inner beauty. I would browse through pictures from middle school and feel confident with the shape of my body and stylish clothes. Yet my eyes were always drawn back to the oddly-shaped white patches on my knees, ruining my perception of a picture that should’ve brought back a feeling of nostalgia and happy memories. Even now, I still see group pictures with all my beautiful and confident friends and feel as if my skin ruined the photograph. I even used to hide in the back of pictures so that no one would see my skin and I wouldn’t feel guilty for “ruining” the picture and the memory.
I wish I could just tell everyone how to deal with the stress and frustration that comes with vitiligo. However, we all know that everyone comes in different ways. Recently, I’ve opened up to my friends about my insecurities towards my white spots. These friendships have been the most effective way to release my stress and have improved how I deal with my stress and frustration. My friends constantly encourage me to keep fighting, and being surrounded by optimism has changed my outlook on vitiligo and prompts me to make the best out of my situation. They see me at my low points, cracking under stress and fatigue, and remind me that I am not defined by my skin. They remind me that my skin doesn’t ruin any of the pictures or memories; instead, they say my bubbly energy and positive personality makes them infinitely better. But alas, the key to overcoming the insecurities doesn’t lay in the opinions of one’s friends or family, no matter how supporting they are. We all see insecurities in our bodies because we are comparing ourselves to what we BELIEVE is perfection. We get blinded by social obligations. And no matter how beautiful you are to others, you may still feel ugly. I consider vitiligo a disease not of physical and visual matters, but of having the mental strength to persevere through society’s expectations and become comfortable in your perfect imperfections. It’s important to feel good and loved in your own skin and feel healthy. Therefore, I’ve tried to become more appreciative of my body and take care of it. Sometimes I put on a face mask, take a long hot shower, and take some “me-time” to remind myself that though on paper, I do have a disease, I am strong and can overcome anything that this condition throws at me. Exercise also improves my mood substantially, although I’ve struggled to come up with a consistent work-out routine… it’s a work in progress. It’s important to realize that the most important beauty is not tangible, like one’s fashion or make-up choices, but rather the sense and feeling that you are beautiful, and you are just as worthy as everyone else.
Remember: stop fighting your skin. instead, fight FOR your skin.