By Melissa M., as told to Keri Wiginton
I was 8 years old when I started getting these little white speckles on my knees. I really didn’t think anything of it at first. But then, the spots grew to the size of a half-dollar. Things progressed pretty quickly after that.
My mother took me to a doctor who diagnosed me with vitiligo. Even though I was only a child, he didn’t show me much sympathy. Instead, he told me there weren’t any treatments and dismissed my questions. It was a horrific experience that scared me away from dermatologists for decades.
Childhood was tough on me in lots of ways. But I’ve gone through therapy and found some really amazing friends since then. It’s because of that strong support system that I’ve come out the other side of vitiligo celebrating my skin.
But it took me some time to get here.
How Life Changed After My Diagnosis
I hid the white spots on my arms and legs for a while. I wore long pants and long-sleeved shirts year-round. And even though my parents barely had enough money to make ends meet, they found a way to pay for coverup and concealer.
My mom and I would wake up super early. Then, we’d use makeup to cover the vitiligo on my face and neck as much as possible. She wanted me to have some sense of normalcy, but that process got to be too expensive.
I started rocking my spots in about seventh or eighth grade. It wasn’t easy. That’s partly because, along with vitiligo, I was on the heavier side. And I was a biracial kid living in Vermont. I stuck out like a sore thumb and got bullied all the time.
Before vitiligo, I was a confident child who made friends easily. I tried to keep that up as I headed towards high school. But it’s hard to be social when people are laughing, spitting, and drawing on you.
Some kids thought they were doing me a favor by coloring my white spots with brown marker. Others tried to wipe the vitiligo off my body. Then, there were the people who didn’t want to sit next to me because they thought they might catch something.
All that took a toll on my mental health. But I’ve gone through a lot of personal growth since I was a kid. Now I feel perfect in my skin and have nothing to hide. It’s liberating.
Learning to Love My Spots
Things started to change in my late 20s and early 30s. People started asking me sincere questions and weren’t put off by my skin. Some would tell me my vitiligo was beautiful and the contrast in pigment only highlighted my features.
At first, I thought they were poking at me. Because I’d been made fun of for so long and never celebrated my skin, it felt strange for someone else to do it. But now, I
feel like they must’ve been placed in my life to help me unlock pieces of myself. And now, I’m wide open.
I owe some of this growing confidence to my most recent partner. They’ve really helped me come out of my shell even further.
For example, I’ve started wearing clothes that show off my spots and doing photo shoots. Sometimes, the makeup artist will try to cover up what they think are flaws. But I’ll have to stop them and say I actually want to enhance my vitiligo.
I’ve also started posting more about vitiligo awareness on Instagram. The response has been incredible. I’ve had people tell me I’m gorgeous, and that I should shout about my skin from the rooftops. I have yet to have a single nasty comment or message sent to me. That’s huge.
In the future, I’m sure I’ll come across people who won’t like what I’m doing. But the fact that I’ve had so much support in such a short time tells me I’m in the right place doing the right thing at the right time.
It makes my heart sing that there’s so much visibility around vitiligo now. And I want to be part of that movement. I want that one person or kid to see me and think, “Oh my gosh, I have that! She’s not ashamed of her skin, so why should I be?”
Adjusting to Life with Vitiligo
I’ve lived with a chronic skin condition for so long that I can forget I have it. But some everyday things are a challenge for me. For example, I can get a second- or third-degree sunburn just from going outside.
It’s harder for me to spend time in the sun because I have less pigment protecting parts of my skin. And regular sunblock doesn’t work all that well for me. But if I do go out, I need to reapply it every 30 minutes. Then I need to let it dry. That can turn a fun day at the beach into a frustrating one.
Vitiligo also makes my eyes sensitive to light. And I have white patches in my hair. If I ever dye it, those spots end up losing color pretty fast.
And I definitely still get looked at when I’m out in public. I’m a momma to 19-year-old twin boys, and they tend to notice the stares more than I do. They’ll point it out because they get upset. But I usually just smile, wave, or say hello to the onlookers.
Sometimes, I’ll hear a child ask their mom about my skin. I may turn around and get down on their level, while of course keeping my distance. And I’ll tell them I was born with two colors instead of one, and isn’t that cool? That’s not exactly how vitiligo works. But often, they’ll turn back and admire their own skin. The stigma is gone at that point. They know there’s no reason to be afraid.
But I still catch people looking at me with disgust. And sometimes, I’ll walk up to them and say, this is vitiligo. Would you like me to spell it for you? Because if you’re going to stare for that long, you must have questions. If I tell you what it is, then you can do your own research.
Melissa M., 40, is a vitiligo advocate. She’s lived with the condition for 32 years. You’ll find her rocking her spots under the handle @TheSpottedBeauty on Instagram. She lives in central North Carolina.
Header Image: Vittorio Gravino / Getty Images
Inset Image: Chris Clark / CM Clark Photography
Melissa M., vitiligo advocate, central North Carolina.