I’ve had vitiligo since I was a teenager, my brother had a patch all his life and as far as I can remember I think he’s only ever had the one but mine didn’t develop until my very early teens. It started with one little spot, within months I was covered in white patches, here there and everywhere. I hated it. Then it appeared on my face and well as a teenager my life may as well have been over by then.
Vitiligo isn’t very well understood, it’s thought to be hereditary (I’ve family on my Dad’s and Mum’s side with it so getting it was inevitable) and linked to auto-immune disorders/issues. To be fair, it is just there, does cause me pain or discomfort unless I burn it in the sun and then it blisters badly like a burn from a cooking incident. So other than no natural protection from the suns rays whatsoever and having to ensure I follow extra strict sun block routines, it’s just there.
Like a birthmark is how I sometimes describe it (yeah I know I wasn’t born with it but I’m so ready it’s similar because it’s just there) because when I get asked it comes with reams of questions that I either don’t really know the answer to or just don’t want to answer-usually because it’s someone I don’t really know with poor social etiquette. I mean I’ve been referred to as “a panda”, asked if it’s because I’m “a mix of black and white” or if it’s because I “can’t put fake tan on properly” and the biggest most common one of all, “are you trying to be like Michael Jackson, will you decide to turn white like him too?” I mean do people really think it’s ok to talk like that to someone?
Anyway, as you can imagine I hated it for a long time growing up. Took me years to accept that I have an ever changing skin tone, that these white patches will disappear and reappear at different times in different shapes and areas, but that they’ll also always be there. As a teen I got really upset and got prescribed special make up, mixed to my skin tone to paint myself in. It was like a human colouring session every day as I patched up my knees, elbows, hands, eyes and even feet on summer flip flop wearing days. I tried to hide every single little bit. It was a massive deal to me, I thought having it meant I wasn’t beautiful, that no one would ever see me as attractive and that it grossed people out and made me look horrible. Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing, what I’d love to go back and tell my teenage self!
It’s one of those things that just really does not bother me at all anymore. It is what it is and let’s face it, there’s a hell of a lot worse things to worry about. People have life threatening illnesses, disabilities and conditions that can effect their way of life and I was getting boiled up over a few patches of different coloured skin? First world problems or what man?
I’ve never written about it before and to be honest I rarely even speak of my vitiligo anymore, because it doesn’t bother me. I was prompted after watching a video online by an American Model who embraced her patches after being inspired by Winnie Harlow. Now both these women have the condition a lot worse than I have. Mine’s pretty bad, I’ve not a body part without at least a patch or two, my hands look like they’ve been splashed with paint and I’ll never sunbathe topless for fear of burning my white boob to a crisp, but theirs is much worse. They’ve got me thinking though. They both still looked beautiful, one model more than the other…
You see I’ve always been a big fan of America’s Next Top Model, bloody love the show and Tyra Banks but some of the people on the show were ugly people. Not in the physical sense but in personality. Nasty, bitchy unkind people. Winnie Harlow included, now I don’t know her as a person but I wasn’t given a good impression from the show. I know clever editing to make good tv may not be showing her character honestly so I’m not saying I know she’s not a kind person for a fact but I get the impression she isn’t. And let’s face it, true beauty is in the beholder. It takes becoming an adult and a mum I think for you to truly believe and embrace that.
I was at a wedding years ago, sat during the evening do with a girl I’d befriended during the hen do, I turned to her and pointed to one of the bridesmaids and said I thought she was beautiful. The girl turned to me and said, “hmmm yeah but don’t you think real beauty is from the inside and shines through” and that has stayed with me ever since. Said bridesmaid was actually a first class bitch and had upset several members of the bridal party and guest list, myself included, on the run up to the wedding and her anger/nastiness always showed. Like I said, the honesty of this new friend of made stayed with me and since then I’ve noticed it more and more.
Genuinely beautiful people have a kind heart and good nature and it shines through, you see it in their beauty, in their eyes and in their behaviour. You naturally want to gravitate towards them because they are kind people that bring out the best in you and enable you to be comfortable around them. Physically beautiful people may look good on the outside but it doesn’t take long to feel their negativity and prickly thorns come out. Physical beauty may appear good on the surface, but it cannot hide someone’s true personality.
So like I said, I’d love to go back to my younger say, it really doesn’t matter that you’ve done different coloured patches of skin, they’re going to get bigger, worse and lots lots more of them, but you’re not going to care. Because one day you start to realise that looks genuinely do not matter that much, you’re going to meet people of all walks of life and the ones you’re going to want around are going to be the ones that enhance your life, not just stand around looking pretty.
Most importantly though, I wish I could tell my younger self that as I grew older I’d learn the most important lesson of all, the people that matter in your life will not care or be focused on your outer appearance. They will care more about your inner beauty and you, your values, your emotions, your purpose and well being. They care about how you contribute to their life and the joy you bring them. Actually, anyone concerned so heavily over your looks and uniqueness and that is either not willing to see beyond them or makes issue of them so that you feel negative is really not worth having around.
So no it’s not because I’m a mix of black and white, it’s because I’m a human being and just like every other person, I’ve something about my looks that makes me unique and different but I’m also so much more than a few shades of skin.