What is Vitiligo and what can we all do about 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, ranging from someone refusing to shake a person’s hand or to be served by someone 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.

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, diet 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 delighted with the progress I’ve made 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.

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 in life. I believe that people who don’t feel good about their bodies are holding themselves back in so many other ways too, and 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 skin, so he could at least achieve uniformity of colour again. But the problem with this drastic decision meant that, with no pigment at all, he was never able to go out into the sun or live a normal life. And perhaps it was the shame he felt about losing his pigment that led him to retreat from society. When I watch his earlier videos such as “Beat it” and “Thriller”, he looks so confident in himself, but as the years go by, he covers his body more and more with makeup and clothes, and he doesn’t look as self assured as he once did.  And that’s exactly what negative body image can do to us.

It starts by dominating our thoughts, then our choices, and ultimately our quality of life.

How many other geniuses and creative individuals are out there hiding in this wonderful world 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.

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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