The truth about Vitiligo and what we can all learn from it

During my life, I’ve met many people whose worlds have come crushing down simply because they started to lose the pigment colour in their skin (myself included).

Most of us are aware of the indignity and inequality that occurs around the world due to differences in skin colour, but many don’t know of the additional shame, frustration and mistreatment of those who, without choice, start to lose their natural pigment.

I’ve lost count of the number stories I’ve heard of rejection, such as a new acquaintance avoiding shaking a person’s hand or someone refusing to be served by a waiter in a café just because of the un-uniformity of their skin colour.

Can you imagine how this would make someone feel?

I like to think that deep down, humans are generally good, and no one intends to inflict this kind of emotional pain on anyone deliberately. I believe that staring or pulling away is a reflex response stemming from social conditioning and a misunderstanding of what Vitiligo actually is. We all let fear get in the way from time to time.

So for the record, this is what it is.

Vitiligo is simply a condition whereby a person starts to lose the colour of their pigment in their skin. It can be a couple of spots or it could spread to larger areas of the body. It doesn’t hurt and it isn’t contagious!

Some people get dark pigmentation spots (known as hyper-pigmentation) and some people get white spots, and this is Vitiligo.

Doctors don’t know the underlying cause yet, but it is generally considered one of the many autoimmune conditions that are becoming increasingly more common due to modern day lifestyle, our processed diets and stress.

The good news – which not a lot of Vitiligo patients know – is that it is treatable! And I am one of many people who have been able to restore their pigment.

By the time I started treatment it had spread to over 60% of my body, so it will take quite a few years to restore fully, or it may not ever return completely, but I am grateful for what my body has achieved so far.

I owe this to the amazing Professor Schallreuter in Germany who has dedicated her life to treating people with Vitiligo. She has restored hope to so many people when all was almost lost.

Regardless of whether someone pursues treatment or not, the day-to-day reality isn’t an easy one.

It has taken me many years to get to the mindset I have today and to feel this comfortable in my own skin. I wasted so much time and energy feeling self-conscious and anxious about it; always trying to cover up and hide it. I tried desperately to fit the mould of society’s “perfect” body, but inside was feeling like I was failing badly.

The reason I write – and the reason I choose to speak up – is because I strongly believe there is a link between self-consciousness and the extent to which we show up and enjoy life. I believe that people who don’t feel good about their bodies are holding themselves back in so many ways. As a result, their true selves don’t shine and the world is worse off because of it.

I believe the shame around being different and losing pigment may have led to Michael Jackson’s decision to bleach his entire skin, so he could at least achieve uniformity of colour again. He probably felt shame about having white spots, but then was criticised for his decision to bleach his skin too. I think that’s a shame and that he had a right to be proud of his skin regardless of the colour or pattern it took on. After all, the musical genius he offered the world was so much more important and valuable. That’s what we ought to focus on. Not someone’s skin.

So many of us are hiding or covering up in some way because of some physical flaw. When we do this, it’s impossible to express our full creativity and potential, and the world is denied our gifts and talents.

How many other creative and talented individuals are out there hiding in this wonderful world simply because they’re ashamed about how they look?

The reality is we’re all flawed in some way. Even though we try our best to be physically perfect, we’ll never actually get there, because no one is perfect in every possible way.

So why are we so ashamed of imperfection when it’s actually what unites us?

It’s what makes us human and unique.

It makes the world interesting and colourful, and life rich and deep.

So let’s all embrace our differences and help those who may feel flawed to know they are worthy and loved regardless.

Here’s my challenge for you – the next time you see someone who looks different to you, whether it’s their skin colour or some other physical ‘flaw’, smile instead of stare.

Not only will you make their day just that little bit brighter, but you’ll likely make your own day a better one, too!

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