Growing up, I rarely talked about my spots – not even with my friends or family. In my mind, it was pointless to try, because they couldn’t possibly understand what it was like to live with vitiligo. And if they couldn’t understand, then what insight could they possibly offer?
But one day a few years ago, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to ask my friends about my skin. I wanted to know what they really thought about my spots – and I was surprised to hear their answers.
They were curious about my skin at first – or they didn’t care at all.
Wonder and curiosity – it’s the reaction you expect when people see your skin for the first time. And most of my friends were curious about my skin the first time they met me – but not all of them. One person told me, “I didn’t really think about it.” Another said she noticed my spots but didn’t think about it because “it’s just skin.” These answers took me by surprise. To me, it’s never been “just skin.” My skin has changed my entire life. It’s influenced where I go, what I do and how I dress. But to my friends it is “just skin” – just another part of who I am. It was hard for me to even imagine that anyone could approach my skin with that mindset.
Now they barely notice my vitiligo.
I think about my skin all the time – every morning when I wake up, every night as I climb into bed and almost every minute in-between. Yet my friends said that they barely notice my skin today. “I tend to forget about your spots so when people ask me about your skin, it takes me a second to realize what they are talking about,” was one person’s response. And another said, “I don’t even notice your skin anymore. I think it’s something that is easy to forget about, especially as people get to know you better and spend more time with you.” Having lived with spots for 20 years, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think about my spots. It was odd to hear that people were able to forget about my skin – that they had to be reminded that I even had spots.
They think I should embrace my spots.
Like any good friend, the people in my life want me to be happy – even with my skin. Here’s the advice they gave me when I asked what they would tell me about living with vitiligo: Your skin is a part of you, it does not define you. Don’t let your skin hold you back. Everybody in the world has unique characteristics and that’s a good thing. It makes you unique, so don’t conceal it – embrace it.
In the end, I was glad I asked my friends about my skin. At first, I almost found their nonchalant perspective on my skin offensive. My skin has changed my life and is one of the most painful challenges I’ve had to face – and still face every day. Yet they don’t see my skin, they just see me. And that’s the lesson that I walked away with. Your friends don’t see a girl with vitiligo – they see a best friend. And they want you just the way you are.
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.