Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease and skin condition thought to be brought on by stress or trauma. The exact cause has never been proven, though, so no one really knows exactly what switches it on, nor how to cure it.
According to the British Skin Foundation, vitiligo is where the melanocytes – the cells that make your skin’s pigmentation/melanin – are inactive but still present. It affects about 1% of the world’s population and can start at any age, but will usually develop before someone reaches 20 years old. I was told I had it when I was four.
I didn’t really know what was going on and nor did I care when it first appeared; It wasn’t until the patches started to spread across my body and other’s began to point it out that I really even noticed.
I’ve got an olive skin tone and I’ve always tanned really easily, so, when summer came about and all my friends started to ask “what’s wrong with your skin?” and make comments like “you look like a cow or a dog,” I started to develop a hatred for it. Kids don’t really understand how hurtful their words can be at that age, and I think it’s taken me until now to realise just how much it did affect me. In hindsight, it probably made it worse.
“Vitiligo, especially if it’s on the face and hands, can be really debilitating psychologically.” Dr Chopra from The London Dermatology Centre told BBC Asian Network. Dr Chopra said that some patients express how other people think the condition is contagious, and that he’s heard stories of parents telling their children not to play with kids with vitiligo in case they catch it.
Being singled out for my skin as a little girl meant I was constantly worried and concerned about it being on show, and often felt the need to cover it up to be ‘normal’. I’ve always suffered from anxiety too, so constantly overthinking and panicking about things definitely didn’t (and still doesn’t) help the spread of my patches.
When I got older and went to secondary school the bullying stopped but my self consciousness didn’t. I can remember putting foundation on my knees and wearing nude tights so that I could wear skirts like all the other girls and not worry about my knees being on show. I chose long-sleeved shirts over short sleeves so I could cover the vitiligo that had suddenly sprouted on my elbows.
At around the age of 12 my parents decided to take me to see a dermatologist. They could see how vitiligo was affecting me and she wanted to see if there was anything we could do. It was then that I was told about UVA/UVB light treatment (or phototherapy) which I started and continued to have once a week for two years. It works in a similar manner to a sunbed but your skin is instead exposed to very specific wavelengths of ultraviolet A or ultraviolet B light from a special lamp, and the treatments are monitored carefully to keep exposures well below the threshold for any possible cancer development.
It worked in certain areas that I had patches, such as my hips and knees, but wasn’t as effective on places closer to the bone such as my hands or feet. There is no cure for vitiligo. Although treatment may be helpful in restoring the colour, it cannot prevent its spread or recurrence.
Though phototherapy helped me feel more confident, I came to the realisation that it was never going to change. I began to accept my skin condition for what it was and decided to embrace it instead. It made me unique, so I started to show it off proudly.
In my teens, when social media became the norm, I began to see other people posting pictures of their patches for World Vitiligo Day. I came across Winnie Harlow around this time, too, and she inspired me so much. She was called similar names to me as a child and yet there she was; this stunning supermodel that oozed self-assurance. Landing on the 25th June every year, WVD is a date which I always look forward to and usually celebrate with a shameless post of my own.
You’ll see people from all over the world championing each other, sharing stories and spreading the word. Some of these people, myself included, have even had the privilege of being photographed by Brock Elbank – a photographer renowned for campaigns on Instagram and for documenting people’s differences in various photography collections. His vitiligo series made me feel normal and special all at once, and I know the same can be said for everyone else he captured.
Vitiligo is more accepted by society today. People might not necessarily know what it is but they’re more likely to have seen it before, whether that’s on a model on their favourite clothing site or on someone walking down the street. Don’t get me wrong, I still get people staring at my skin (particularly my hands as that’s where it’s most noticeable) and giving me looks or asking questions, but instead of cowering away as I used to I will quite happily educate them now.
For me, it’s the online community of people with vitiligo that lifts me up when I’m feeling insecure. From the Facebook support groups and social media advocates, to the people I see on TV with it, it all means so much to me now and to the little girl I once was.
For more from GLAMOUR UK’s Commerce Writer Georgia Trodd, follow her on Instagram @georgiatrodd.
Read the full article here