“You would be so much prettier if you didn’t have vitiligo. You should hide the way you look. You will never be liked. You don’t deserve friends. You’re ugly.”
These words cut deep. And that was intentional. Bullies know how to target the most insecure parts of a person and twist the metaphorical knife where it will hurt the most. They know the words that will linger for days, weeks and even months after the fact. They know how to bring your worst fears to light. They know how to torment you.
I was that bully.
I thought I had escaped bullying during my childhood
You hear and read so many stories about bullying and vitiligo. Kids with spots being called “dalmatian” and “cow” and being asked if they glow in the dark. That was never my experience, and I feel simultaneously blessed and bewildered as to how I was so lucky to escape that experience.
Kids never said mean things to me about my skin – at least not to my face. I remember a few people asking questions about my skin, especially adults. Occasionally the questions were unintentionally rude, asking if I was in a bike accident or if I was a burn victim. Those questions always hurt my feelings, but I always felt that the intention was pure – they were just curious.
But bullying? No, I had never been bullied – at least that’s what I had been telling myself for more than a decade. As it turns out, that wasn’t true at all.
I was my own worst bully – and still can be today
As I ended middle school and headed into high school, I slowly turned into my own worst bully. I felt insecure, uncomfortable and isolated. I didn’t know anyone else with vitiligo. All I knew was that I was different – and not in a good way.
I would stand in front of the mirror and stare at my skin, self-hate seeping through my veins. I truly hated my skin. And I let myself know it every chance I got. By the time I was in high school, I didn’t think I deserved friends. I didn’t want to be friends with me – how could anyone else? The self-loathing became a steady drumbeat of negativity in my mind. It was perhaps the most mentally unhealthy I have ever been in my entire life.
Today, more than a decade later, after losing 100% of my pigment to vitiligo and finally giving up an addiction to self-tanner, I feel more confidant and care-free than ever before. That bully still lurks in the shadows, occasionally pulling me down and telling me I’m not good enough. But today I’m realizing that I have a choice – and it’s time for this bully to step aside.
It’s time to stop fueling the bully inside
I’ve never been bullied by other kids – only by myself. And perhaps that’s the worst bully of all. The person that is supposed to love me the most fed me lies for almost a decade about my life. And I believed her – because who else knew me better?
Today I hope to recognize those lies as just that – lies. I can choose to believe them, or I can choose to understand that they come from a place of pain and not from truth. It’s time for me to lean into my own self-worth and push this bully to the side. She doesn’t deserve the attention I’ve given her for far too long.
Have you ever experienced bullying, personally or from others? How do you cope?
Erika Page is a blogger, speaker and self-love advocate with universal vitiligo. After living with vitiligo for two decades, Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.