Sitting down with Erika Page, you likely wouldn’t know she has vitiligo. Her pale skin even looks slightly tan in the right light, giving no hint of a skin condition. But give her a few minutes to share her story and you’ll learn that she’s sported spots – of all shapes and sizes – for most of her life.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Erika Page is a creative communications consultant living south of Washington, D.C. and is the founder and editor behind Living Dappled.
Let’s get right to it – how come you don’t have spots?
I’m actually covered head to toe, so, no, I don’t have spots, but that’s only because my skin is entirely filled with vitiligo. I lived with spots for the majority of my life though – my first spots appeared when I was 7 and it took almost 20 years to become completely covered.
Do you like being pale better than having spots?
Yes and no – I miss my natural skin color. When I had tan skin with some white spots, I found it easy to be confident. Halfway through college, my spots started to cover the majority of my body and my confidence plummeted. I think being entirely pale is easier than being spotted because I can use tanner to make my skin darker and people barely notice. But now I freak out about having “bad tan days!” I would still rather have my natural color back with some spots though.
When and where did your vitiligo first appear?
According to my mom, my vitiligo first appeared on my back, along my spine. The first spots that I could see were on my knees and elbows, and they continued to spread from there. My grandmother has vitiligo so my mom was familiar with the condition, and the doctor confirmed it.
Did you seek treatment?
When the spots first appeared, we used a topical steroid cream, but the spots spread faster than the cream could work. We met with doctors about other treatments, but with the risks of the side effects, I decided not to pursue them. It really didn’t bother me at the time, and I’ve never decided to go back for treatment.
Have you always been open to talking about your skin?
No, in fact this is the first time I’ve had the courage to open up about my experiences with vitiligo. I’ve let a few people close to me in on some of my feelings, but until now, I’d never wanted or felt the need to talk about it – it had never crossed my mind.
What was it like growing up with vitiligo?
That’s not a short answer – I went through a lot of stages with my skin. My mom says that when I younger, she asked me if I would want to wake up the next day and have all of my spots be gone. To which I replied, “If that did happen, I don’t think I would change. Only the way people see me would change.” Now that’s confidence.
High school was harder for me. I had “see spot run” printed on the back of my cross country T-shirt, but even while I was able to joke about it, I think it really hurt me emotionally. I couldn’t understand why I had vitiligo. I was really shy and thought that people wouldn’t want to be friends with me because of my skin. I remember crying myself to sleep almost every night. By my senior year of high school, I had started to open up and realize that I could be confident and outgoing, and that other people didn’t care about my skin like I did.
Going to college was a fresh start for me – I came out of my shell and decided to be open and bubbly. I remember people telling me how much they admired my confidence. I had fun with my spots – my friends would outline them with gel markers and I loved finding new shapes on my skin. For the most part, I wore shorts and dresses and didn’t care what people thought of me.
Toward the end of college, when I had more spots than regular skin, it got a lot harder for me. I started hiding my skin, felt really uncomfortable in shorts and stopped wearing bathing suits. That lasted a few years, and now I’m entirely covered and wear tanner so that I don’t look as pale.
Do you feel normal when you wear tanner?
That’s an interesting question. You would think the answer would be “yes,” because I just look like a pale person now and when I wear tanner, you might not even know that I have a condition at all. But I spent 20 years hating my body, feeling embarrassed to show my skin, being stared at and wanting to hide myself. That feeling doesn’t just go away overnight, or even in a couple of years. When I look at my skin, I still “see” the spots and feel all of that pain, even though the spots are “gone.” I’ve had to learn to trust that I look normal with tanner on and that it’s all in my head at this point.
Were you ever bullied and if so, how did you handle it?
This is hard to believe, but I was never bullied – at least not that I can remember. I consider myself beyond blessed, especially when I hear the stories of other girls with vitiligo and how they were bullied. I was quiet and shy growing up, so I imagine I would have been an easy target. But I was also quick to make fun of my own spots, so it’s possible that took away the potential for bullying.
How did you come up with the idea for this blog?
When I still had spots, a few people approached me and shared how impressed they were with my confidence despite my skin. They each knew someone who really struggled with vitiligo and were surprised to see me wearing shorts and smiling. That made me think that maybe I had something to share with people. Then as I started reading about vitiligo online, I realized that a lot of people are talking about how to treat it, but not many people are talking about how to live with it – especially in a positive, inspiring way. I wanted to create a space for that.
What do you struggle with most today?
Loving my skin. I wish that I could completely let go and love my pale skin – that’s my biggest challenge.
What’s your advice for other girls with vitiligo?
Understand that you can love yourself, and that loving yourself will make you happy, and then pursue that every single day with everything you have. It’s going to take courage and you’re going to have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but you can get there. And you’ll never look back once you’re there.