After living with vitiligo for almost 10 years, I have come to realize that my skin condition is both a blessing and a curse. The curse – the intense bullying I faced ever since the first white spots appeared on my legs. The blessing – the lessons I learned from spending my life being bullied as a girl with vitiligo.
1. You can’t change people.
There will always be people who can’t understand vitiligo and the fact that some areas of our skin have pigment and other areas don’t. Kids at school have stared at me and pointed and laughed. People have told me that I should be in a hospital or seek medical attention for my “burns.” One kid in my English class even announced to the entire class that he didn’t want to sit next to me because he didn’t want to “catch those weird spots.”
Obviously, these reactions hurt me in the moment. But over time, I realized that no amount of explaining my skin condition to people would help them understand it. People who bully you don’t know what they’re talking about, and they never will. And that’s something you need to accept. Besides, anyone who makes you feel badly about your spots isn’t worth your time.
2. ‘Perfect’ is what you make of it.
Many people have said that I would never find someone that loves me or would want to date me with such “ugly spots.” I would compare myself to other girls who were “beautiful” and put myself down because I could never look like them with my vitiligo. I just wanted to be “perfect.”
Eventually, I realized that “perfect” doesn’t exist – it’s what you make of it. Having vitiligo has made me want to celebrate people’s differences. My skin is what makes me unique. And even if I didn’t have vitiligo, I still wouldn’t be perfect. No one is, not even the people who bullied me.
3. You’re stronger than you think.
Zebra and cow – that’s what the kids used to call me. I remember dreading looking in the mirror, wishing I didn’t have to go to school and face people. I remember being the only kid wearing pants in 90-degree weather because it was easier than being bullied.
And yet, here I am, stronger than ever, because I got through it. And if I can get through bullying, then I can get through anything. It takes a lot to deal with vitiligo, but you become a stronger person because of it. I now have the confidence to stand up for myself and not let insults affect me.
4. You have to love being a girl with vitiligo – because that’s you.
If you want to be happy, you have to love yourself. In a way, the people that have made fun of me have actually forced me to love myself. At first, I loathed myself and my skin, buying into their insults and believing them. But what good did that do me?
Over time, I realized how truly fortunate I am to live the life I’ve lived and I made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to let life pass me by anymore. I could choose to love myself and my life every day and just be happy. This idea of self-love has taken me years to grasp and I am still working on it – every single day. It allows me to feel so much happier and enjoy life in ways that I have never experienced before.
So here’s a thank you to my bullies. Thank you for pushing me to accept myself for who I am and for making me the strong, confident person I am today. You didn’t break me. And you never will.
Sandra Reese is a New York-based writer and fashionista. She’s finishing her communications and public relations major at SUNY Cortland in New York while running social media for the Vitiligo Research Foundation. In her free time, she’s the voice behind the fashion blog Sandy RE.