“Skin is Just a Vessel” – Blogger Komal Patel on Losing 100% of Her Skin Color to Vitiligo
Komal Patel knows who she is – inside and out. But that doesn’t stop her from having to explain – and sometimes defend – her appearance to countless others. After vitiligo appeared on Komal’s right leg at the age of six, the condition spread rapidly across the rest of her body. Today, at 31, Komal has lost 100% of her skin’s pigment to vitiligo. As an Indian woman, the difference was life-changing. Yet Komal didn’t miss a beat, leaning into her food and lifestyle blog, Sweet and Masala, to help her reconnect with her cultural heritage. Today, she leads a thriving community of foodies who show up for her sweet personality, savory recipes and dose of daily wisdom.
Name: Komal Natasha Patel, Blogger & Founder of Sweet & Masala
Location: Somerville, Massachusetts
Years with Vitiligo: 24
When and why did you first start your blog, Sweet and Masala?
I first started my blog in August of 2016, so about 2 and a half years ago, roughly. I love food and I love cooking and trying out new recipes, so I decided to start the blog as a way to track all of that. I wanted to show people that food is such a good vessel for many things in life, so I decided to expand the blog from just recipes to more of a lifestyle blog where I talk about how food can impact your life through various streams like beauty and health. I like to think of my blog as a communal kitchen, where people can come, have a chat, grab a recipe, maybe get a few all natural beauty tips and talk about culture. One of the series on my blog is called Vitiligo Diaries where I share more personal lifestyle experiences. It is also where I first shared with my readers that I had vitiligo and explained what it is.
Your blog focuses heavily on food and lifestyle. Why is food such an important part of your life?
It’s so important to my life because food – along with water – is the sustenance we need to live! Food is a catalyst for great conversations, especially around the dinner table. Food can make your skin bright and clean or dull and oily. Food dictates how we feel, what we look like. There isn’t a facet of my life that doesn’t boil down to food. Growing up, especially as an Indian girl, it was important to learn basic house traits, like cleaning and cooking. I remember one summer my Mom sent me to my grandma’s house where I got my first taste of how to cook a full Indian dinner. Honestly, I can’t say I loved it back then. I mean, kids want to play, but looking back now, I feel like food has brought me closer to my culture, especially because I feel like vitiligo brought me further away from my culture.
What do you typically cook? Do you have a favorite recipe?
I like to experiment with all types of cooking and techniques. One day it will be baking, one day trying something with molecular gastronomy, exploring flavor profiles. It is so much fun. I especially love to do world favorites with Indian twists, like a spicy pasta or enchiladas with Indian spices. Colliding worlds is so much fun. I once hosted a dinner at my house which was based of Italy meeting India. I made a bright pea risotto, but topped it with spicy, crispy fried Indian style Onions. I made a “creamed spinach” which was based traditionally of an Indian favorite, saag paneer, but paired it with a meaty ribeye. As for a favorite recipe? Wow. That’s hard. No favorite recipe! How can I choose?! However, my fiancée likes it when I make any type of curry, whether it be chicken, veggie, fish, whatever!
What’s a day in your life like? How do you balance blogging amid life’s other demands?
I usually start my day between 6:30 and 7 a.m. I get up, take a shower, get my lunch together if I haven’t done it the night before, then take my dog, Khush, out for his morning walk. I live in Boston, so then I jump on the bus to the train station, then walk into work. I am a Business Analyst at a financial company during the day and my job is pretty demanding. I am a stickler for time, so I am usually about 30 minutes early for work every day. I hate feeling rushed. I like to get to work, make my protein oatmeal, grab a green tea, catch up on emails I missed throughout the night and then read a little news. After that, it’s all work. Meetings, spreadsheets, analysis. On my lunch break I like to go on a walk. It helps keep the blood moving and is good to stretch your legs. After work I take Khush out for some playtime at the park, then, its dinner time. I usually cook dinner from scratch every night. It helps me unwind. After that, I work on blog things. Writing articles, laying them out, doing research, editing pictures. Since it is usually late and dark when I get home, most of my blog pictures have to wait until the weekend, so I can capture pictures in great light. It’s all hard to balance, especially when I need pictures, but planning is key. Planning out what you need, when you need it by.
You dedicate a lot of your free time to blogging so you must love it. What’s your favorite part?
My favorite part about blogging is having a platform to share my stories and experiences. It’s great because it’s MY blog. I don’t have to write about anything I don’t want to write about, and I never have to censor myself. Blogging is one of the most expressive things you can do. The best part is you can always evolve. You never have to be pigeonholed. Like right now for instance, I have taken a break from the blog and am regrouping to change the blog’s vibe. If the blog wasn’t my own, I couldn’t do that. My favorite thing though has been meeting people from around the world and sharing this blogging world with them. I have a group of women that I speak to on a daily basis. I have never met them in person, but since we have been talking every day for almost 3 years, I feel super close to them.
You’ve lost 100% of your skin to vitiligo today. How has that influenced your life?
It’s influenced my life a lot and in so many ways. I am 100% Indian and sometimes I just don’t think I am. Physically I don’t fit the part. It’s been an uphill battle to really get to know myself and share the real me – not just what’s on the outside. It feels like a constant struggle to always prove “how Indian” I am. I think that’s another reason why I started the blog – not just to prove to others that I am Indian, but a way for me to connect with my culture. Having vitiligo though has made me a much stronger person. Since I had to deal with constant stares, questions and sometimes bullying, although rare, it gives you thick skin. You have to, or you would be a shell of yourself. Vitiligo is a mental disease more than anything. Its painless, you don’t really notice what’s happening, but socially and mentally it’s impactful.
You share your life with vitiligo through your blog. Do you find that difficult to do or is it easy to share that part of your life?
I do share my vitiligo life publically. I always have and I always will. I don’t find any shame in that. Yes, it is annoying when people see my name and say, “Are you Indian?” and “No way!” And yes, it is annoying to explain why I am the way I am to every person who I asks. I don’t think many people have to explain themselves on a daily basis like I do. It can be frustrating because I just want to be me without having this vitiligo label attached to me. I would rather talk about it and bring awareness to it than sit back and do nothing though. It’s a catch-22.
What’s your personal take on life with vitiligo and your advice for others living with this condition?
My personal take on life with vitiligo is that you have to do what’s best for you. Whether it’s light treatments, medications, or letting vitiligo run its course like I did. My vitiligo was so advanced that I was fully depigmented by the age of 24. My advice is to always be true to yourself. Skin is just a vessel that holds everything you are inside. Don’t forget that.
Any final thoughts for us?
I am so happy that vitiligo has come more into the forefront in the last decade. People didn’t know about this condition and now that celebrities are popping up with it, the conversation around it has started to stir. Hopefully this will lead to a breakthrough in treatment and a cure.
Erika Page is the Founder and Editor of Living Dappled. After getting vitiligo at the age of seven, she lost 100% of her pigment to the condition and today lives with universal vitiligo.
Vitiligo has not left anyone. Anyone can be affected by this. Big celebrities have also become victims of this.