by Risha Sinha, opinions editor
graphic by Julie Wang
I have Vitiligo.
That statement would have sent me into an anxiety-filled tailspin a year ago. Having Vitiligo was what I hated most about myself, and admitting to it would have been like admitting defeat.
Today, that statement is a relief: it represents my acceptance of who I am. Today, when people ask me, “What’s wrong with your leg?”, I just tell them there’s nothing wrong with it — it’s just different.
I am a brown person, yet my left thigh has patches of white skin. These splotches are called Vitiligo. Medically, it is an auto-immune disease, a dermatological disorder and a chronic condition.
Vitiligo occurs when the body attacks its melanocytes (melanin-producing cells that cause color in skin) in certain places. Simply put, it’s a fancy reverse freckle. It affects 1% of the world and cannot be cured, but there are steps one can take to lessen its appearance.
My Vitiligo appeared in third grade — a very inopportune time. Until then, I had been very busy hating myself for being brown. Children are cliquey and often cruel. Their innocence presents as ignorance, which leads to intolerance. Suffice to say, my Harry-Potter-quoting, bell-bottom-jeans-wearing, V8-tomato-juice-drinking self was not well tolerated by my classmates from kindergarten to second grade, so I was unbearably lonely.
As an oblivious 7-year-old, I didn’t attribute my lack of friends to my weirdness; I attributed it to the most apparent visual difference between me and the rest of my class: I was brown, and they were not. As such, brownness became the most deplorable thing about me.
When the Vitiligo set in, I was horrified — if I were a superstitious person, I would say it was the physical manifestation of yearning to be white. My being brown was bad enough; being unevenly brown with bright white blemishes was positively damning. I would never socially survive if I was that different.
Suddenly, the sin of expansive brownness paled in comparison to the intrusion of the offensive whiteness creeping across my leg. I hated it with unparalleled passion. Even more so, I hated myself for bearing such wickedness. I wanted it gone, fast.
I don’t remember exactly what happened in the years afterward. Whether that’s from age or because I purposefully blocked it out, I also cannot recall. I remember seeing many different doctors, having a biopsy done in the fourth grade, and eventually starting treatments.
When I returned from the hospital, I remember we were dissecting worms in class, which I found hilarious. After all, I had just been dissected too. In the years after, I used special creams, did UVB-light radiation therapy and underwent two MKTP surgeries. At the end of it, my Vitiligo had decreased a whole lot.
I refused to wear shorts until the summer of eighth grade – a full five years since my Vitiligo appeared. I hated myself beyond belief, and not only was I terrified of what others would think about my leg, but I myself was repulsed by it, so it stayed hidden.
Cut to eighth grade, when enough inspirational quotes had finally permeated my thick skull, and I started to love myself, Vitiligo and all. Suddenly, I regretted all those years of hating myself and trying to fix my leg. As a novice teenager, I blamed my parents for it. Why didn’t they stop me? Why didn’t they sit me down and force me to love myself?
I realized that while I was being carted around from doctor to doctor, feeling like a freak in a circus act, my parents were making sure I had Vitiligo, not cancer. When the time came to choose to go through with the procedures, my parents did what they thought was best: what would make an incredibly sad child happy.
As time passes on, my relationship with my Vitiligo continues to change. It’s an emotional and challenging journey, and although sometimes I need to be reminded, I am incredibly grateful that my parents are there with me.
These days, the only thing that stops me from wearing shorts is the cold. When I wear them, every so often someone will comment that I look like a cow. Well, as the hottest cow of all the cows, I am proud to say: having Vitiligo is a part of who I am. I am not ashamed of it, I do not need pity for it, and I will not hide it.