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How I feel about my vitiligo

Ever heard of vitiligo? Here, Layla, shares her story about the skin condition

It started off quite small: a patch on my belly on holiday when I was fifteen. But as my tan spread, pale white patches started to appear all over my neck, chest and stomach. After several baths frantically scrubbing and eventually trips to the doctor, it turned out I had vitiligo, a condition where skin loses its pigment. Convinced as I was that I was the ONLY person in the world with splotchy skin, turns out 1% of people in the world have it too.

Even though I knew my skin wasn’t the same as everyone else’s, I convinced myself it wasn’t THAT bad. But when I was in India on holiday and someone chased my dad down the road to ask what exactly happened to my neck, it made me so self-conscious that when I returned to London, I vowed to spend every day before school finding different ways to hide it.

Luckily, I went to a non-uniform school, so was able to conceal it well but changing before and after P.E. was a different ballgame altogether. Because I’d be so embarrassed about changing, I used to sneak away to the loos, so no one would realise the changes to my skin. But it was after school or at weekends when it was harder. Instead of being excited that there were loads of parties and birthdays, I dreaded them instead. Summer, once my favourite season by far, was now THE ENEMY. BBQs, festivals, birthdays, your nan’s annual garden party, you name it, I would hide my skin in long-sleeved clothes even in scorching temperatures.

I felt like I’d become a shrinking violet – instead of being the chatty person I once was, I’d spend most of the time worrying my clothes had given away tell-tale marks. And if anyone cute chatted to me, I would run away in the other direction. How would anyone fancy me now I had white patches underneath my polo neck? I remember going to Brighton one weekend and spending the entire time in the tent hiding away even though everyone else was frolicking in the water.

Sometimes, it would be easier to miss social events instead of spending the whole time worried people were going to ask what was on my neck and why I was wearing long-sleeved clothes. OK, so flicking through MySpace (yup really, that was the Instagram of the day) pics gave me so much FOMO but at least I would be spared the constant anxiety and toilet breaks.

But here’s what I learnt: you can’t run away forever. At this point, I had two options: I could hole myself in my room not seeing a soul but that would have meant on missing MORE stuff and losing friendships as my BFFs thought I was deliberately avoiding them. OR I could face up to it and just y’know LIVE. And that’s exactly what I chose. OK, so I didn’t run out in a bikini straight away but instead of dreading parties, I decided to focus on the good stuff (or the triple Fs as I like to call them): food, fun and my friends.

And here’s the thing: your friends don’t actually care WHAT you look like. They only care if you are into dissecting exactly what Steph’s cute older brother meant when he said ‘if you say so’ last weekend.

As for my vitiligo, the white patches did eventually go with a cream, but in a way, I have so much to thank it for. I was forced to go outside my comfort zone, something that helped me later when I decided to study abroad halfway across the world at university. And it also helped with my confidence in home territory too – once you’ve worn a short-sleeved T-shirt with white patches without caring TOO much, you’re pretty much capable of doing anything. Asking the scary French teacher for an extension on homework? Check. Asking that crush for his number? Check.

It’s great nowadays that there are so many people out there who own their vitiligo with pride – take Winnie Harlow for one. I wish I’d had someone like her to look up to when I was battling my skin issues. Instead of her hiding away, she wears her skin with confidence. We need to celebrate our differences – whether it’s freckles, vitiligo or bushy brows.

Although my vitiligo does flare up occasionally (take that brownish patch on my stomach that looks like a birthmark that’s never gone), it no longer scares me. Instead, I’ve realised that you can’t change the way you look so the first step is accepting yourself and being at peace. And the biggest takeaway I took was if anyone shames at you for your appearance, you don’t need to surround yourself with them.

Oh, and FYI, it’s totally not cool to ask strangers what happened to their skin – you’ll just make them *even* more self-conscious…

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