I would be the first to raise my hand if we were asked collectively, “Who tries to cover their vitiligo?”. Primarily, I cover my vitiligo because I prefer not to look at it, and secondarily, for it to be less noticeable to others; however, I am not ashamed to have vitiligo. That said, I don’t walk around like a proud peacock fluffing my white feathers for all to see, either. Rather, it is just a part of me and if someone happens to notice it, they notice it.
What if I thought I had an unusually large nose, or lips that were too thin, or that my forehead was too large for my face, and I caught someone looking at that? Would I be ashamed? No. I’d probably feel a bit of a sting to my ego, but I’d go on without a second thought. Well, any one of those attributes could be viewed almost the same as vitiligo; they contribute to the sum of me.
Here’s how it differs: no one is going to come up and ask me, “Why is your nose so big?”, but they will ask why my skin is “like that”. Ugh, do I pull the shirt sleeve down to cover my hand or do I stand tall and answer? Only one of those answers will make you happy with yourself.
One of the most liberating experiences happened to me about four years ago. Until that day, I hadn’t really ever been confronted about my vitiligo, nor had I ever felt a greater need to educate.
I was at a relative’s home for Mother’s Day and as began setting the table, my 4 year old step-niece (my step-father’s daughter’s daughter- that’s a mouthful, lol) walked up to me, pointed at the white patch on my hand and said in a sweet and curious tone, “What’s that?” Instantly, and seemingly from out of nowhere, her father chimed in, “Honey, we don’t ask those kind of questions?”
His was a simple sentence, but the inference was damaging. It made me feel as though he thought something was ‘wrong’ with me; moreover, something so terribly wrong that it shouldn’t even be discussed above a whisper. Worse yet, I felt he was teaching his daughter to fear those who may look different from her. Not only did I want to lovingly tell his daughter about vitiligo, I wanted him to sit there and learn about it, too. And maybe I wanted to give him a little lesson in tact…just a little one
Undisturbed, I said, “It’s okay. I’d love to talk about it.” I sat down on a chair next to her and held out my hand. “You see these white patches? You can touch it if you want to. (she put her tiny finger right in the middle of my hand) It’s where the coloring in my skin went away for a little while, and sometimes it comes back, and then goes away again. It’s kind of like freckles, but it’s white instead of brown.” Her reaction was priceless. “Oh, okay.” she said nonchalantly. One of the other children caught her attention so she went off to play, and her father thanked me.
We have to seize opportunities to lift our self-esteem. I could have just let him walk away scolding his daughter for asking me about vitiligo, but by asserting myself, I took control of that moment; I taught a little girl about vitiligo, and I made it damn clear to myself and her father that is vitiligo is nothing to be ashamed of. Now that is liberating. You should try it sometime.