Mary Kalymnou is the ultimate travel girl – a flight attendant, travel blogger and Instagram influencer sharing her experiences from around the globe. She also lives with vitiligo and recently made the decision to stop hiding her spots – and start embracing them instead.
Hometown: Athens, Greece
Years with vitiligo: 13
LD: You’re A Flight Attendant, Travel Blogger And Instagram Influencer. How Did You Launch Your Career In The Travel Industry?
MK: I started my aviation career in 2006 and my blog in 2013 since I had so much content from my travels as a flight attendant. My blog was named the best travel blog in Greece in 2016 and I have been working with international brands ever since. I believe in written stories and I love sharing my experiences on my blog. Success didn’t come overnight of course, it required – and still requires – a lot of effort and focus on valuable content.
LD: You Also Started A Career Center For Flight Attendants. What Inspired You To Do That?
MK: I started The VIP Excellence in 2016 as a center for flight attendants who aspire to have a career in aviation. There are a lot of women dreaming about a career in the skies but have no idea how to get started. I believe that success should be shared so I am constantly sharing my experience and tips. I offer one-to-one CV writing and interview coaching sessions, as well as themed workshops and VIP flight attendant seminars.
LD: How Many Countries Have You Traveled To And Which Place Is Your Favorite?
MK: I actually don’t like to count the number of countries I have visited. Instead I like to think about the places I have not been yet – and those are only a few in the world after 13 years of non-stop travel. When it comes to a favorite, I love San Francisco as much as I love Tokyo, Muscat and Reykjavik. Every city gives such a different energy that it’s hard to choose just one. But I would say San Francisco keeps a special place in my heart.
LD: In 13 Years Of Travel, You Must Have Some Good Stories. What Comes To Mind?
MK: Absolutely. One Christmas, I was in Saint Lucia when a serious hurricane hit the Caribbean island. All the roads were damaged so the only way to reach the airport was by boat. It wasn’t the best idea to be on the Atlantic Ocean just hours after the hurricane, but we needed to get the jet off the island. The crew and I survived our trip in a fishing boat – and left with interesting stories.
LD: Do People Notice Your Vitiligo When You Travel To Other Countries? What Have Those Interactions Or Experiences Been Like?
MK: I think most people are aware of vitiligo, thanks to the power of social media. I have never had a bad experience with vitiligo. Not every culture is open and accepting of vitiligo, but I have noticed that it’s not about the culture, it’s about the education and your own level of self-esteem. I have seen well-educated people reacting peculiarly to my spots and I have met people from remote cultures who embrace it. I think a lot of it has to do with how we see ourselves in front of the others.
LD: When Did You First Get Vitiligo And How Much Do You Have Today?
MK: I noticed my first spots 13 years ago on my fingertips. I was 23. I didn’t know what is was, so I visited a doctor. He told me that it was vitiligo and insisted I start using a corticosteroid treatment, which was a cream I would apply 3 to 4 times a day on my hand. I stopped the treatment two months later. Today I have vitiligo on my hands, feet, elbows and a little bit under my eyes. I used to be ashamed of my skin and cover my spots for years, but recently stopped.
LD: What Inspired You To Stop Covering Your Vitiligo?
MK:I had been thinking about it for a while. I used to cover the spots on my hands and feet, as those were the most visible. I would apply cover up every day and wouldn’t leave the house without it on – and in my bag just in case. Then one morning while I was in London, I opened my camera and talked to the people who follow me on Instagram about my vitiligo, my struggles and my thoughts on covering it. And that was it. From that moment on, I stopped covering my spots. I realized how much of my beauty I had been hiding and how inauthentic I had been. I was living in fear and shame – but not anymore. I have never loved myself more than I have in the last five months.
LD: What Is Your Life With Vitiligo Like Today?
MK: I live in Greece, one of the world’s sunniest and most beautiful countries, so I never go out without sunscreen. I also follow a more holistic lifestyle because I believe vitiligo starts on the inside. I reduce gluten and sugar, avoid milk products and alcohol, and drink vegetable juices almost every day. I also take daily vitamins and supplements, work out four times a week and try to control my stress levels.
LD: As An Influencer, You Share A Lot Of Pictures On Social Media. Do You Find It Easy To Post Pictures Of Your Vitiligo?
MK: Today, I post my vitiligo journey with great joy and I love connecting with people who have insecurities. But as you know, it wasn’t always that way as I spent years covering my vitiligo. I am a huge social media fan and I think it’s time to use this power for inspiring imperfection. No one is perfect and will never be.
LD: What Advice Do You Have For Other Women Living With Vitiligo?
MK: That they are the most beautiful women out there. I would tell them that embracing our imperfections is not an easy route, so take your time. In the end, finding the courage to love yourself exactly as you are is powerful.
Erika Page is a writer and blogger with universal vitiligo. Based just south of Washington, D.C., Erika founded Living Dappled to create a community of inspiration and hope for girls and women living with vitiligo.