Valarie Molyneax had lived with vitiligo for four years when a life-changing incident made her rethink everything.
It was a quiet morning in her suburban neighborhood in Boston. At 6:30 a.m., Valarie’s husband left for work and she headed to the bathroom to begin her one-hour makeup regiment. Hearing a loud crash, she quickly prayed everything was okay – and went back to her routine. Minutes later, Valarie heard a knock on her front door and the door bell ringing. Opening the door only a crack because her makeup wasn’t complete, she heard her neighbor say the words she feared.
“Your husband has been in a bad accident. You need to come, now.”
Valarie closed the door, turned around, and felt her body slide to the floor, motionless. She had never shown anyone her skin without makeup – not even her family, church friends or mailman. And she couldn’t seem to find the strength now.
Five minutes went by. Ten minutes went by. She heard the wailing sirens of the ambulance and fire engine. All she could think was, “he must be dead,” and “I don’t have on my makeup.” And yet she couldn’t move, bound by the fear of what people might think of the white spots on her body.
An hour later, the neighborhood was quiet again. Valarie called her in-laws and told them the only thing she could: her husband had been in an accident, she didn’t know what had happened, there was an ambulance and firetruck, and she didn’t know where they had taken him.
“I was imprisoned by my makeup,” said Valarie, reflecting on that morning. “That accident was the first trigger for me. I had to do something.”
And slowly but surely, she did, weening herself off makeup. Four years later, at a vitiligo conference in Boston, Valarie was hugging a young woman goodbye when the woman whispered in her ear, “You’re not wearing makeup next year, right?” It was the final straw for Valarie.
Today she is makeup-free and is thankful to have her husband beside her, who has fully recovered from the accident save for a few neck issues.
“Coping with vitiligo is a process,” said Valarie, who admits she still isn’t comfortable enough to go to the beach or pool despite her Caribbean heritage and childhood spent on the islands. “What works for one person will not necessarily work for another.”
Today Valarie is a powerful advocate for vitiligo, dedicating her life to patient support and awareness. As the CEO and Founder of VitFriends, Valarie oversees the largest vitiligo patient support network in the country. She also serves on committees with several vitiligo and health organizations including the Global Vitiligo Foundation, Vitiligo Research Foundation and the National Institute of Health (NIH).
Tireless is the best way to describe her efforts. And yet she often pauses to share her story with others with vitiligo in hopes that it will set them free too.
Today, 16 years later, Valarie encourages new vitiligo patients to “Take it slow, go at your own pace and love yourself in the mirror and away from the mirror.”
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.