Embracing vitiligo in a society that stereotypes the condition
Diversity matters, through it, stereotypical perceptions can be positively influenced, in the process, mitigating discrimination. Since time immemorial, human societies have been known for negatively stereotyping diseases and other health conditions. Two skin conditions that have been frequently stereotyped are vitiligo and freckles. Vitiligo, is a loss of pigment and manifests as white patches on the skin which can sometimes be itchy.
However, through representation, especially in beauty and fashion industries, they have become an admirable aesthetic of sort and models who have suffered from these conditions are considered ‘unique’ or ‘rare beauty’. It wasn’t always like that though.
In black communities, vitiligo was and is still stigmatised. Those who suffer from it have either endured stigma inflicted on them or are currently inundated with compliments or flowery affirmations as perceptions toward the condition are mutable. One lady who has experienced this complex, yet victorious metamorphosis is Esihle Adoons
Vitiligo made itself known to Adoons’ body at a tender age of 10. Since it was still a novel condition in black communities back then, Adoons agonised coming to terms with the route her skin was embarking on. “As a kid growing up in rural areas where information about vitiligo was still in the confines of the cities, I was subjected to seclusion,” she says. She recalls that other children refused to play with her as they thought that her condition was contagious.
Adoons reveals that, that seclusion knocked her little world down and crippled her self-esteem— a destruction that took years to rebuild.
“As a child, I felt lonely, was left to my devices and always wondered why I was different from other kids,” she says.
Rural people tend to believe myths about the condition and this makes it difficult for people to accept it. Adoons’ case was no different, as elderly people believed that she was bewitched while others claimed that “she saw a mermaid or a snake.”
Adoons adds that “my primary school life was a huge milestone because I was a spectacle, the pupils always starred at me and scared to play with me,” with teary eyes and shaky voice, she shares.
However, at high school, things took a different direction, worth cherishing. Start a fresh sentence here because she found a little community that was in turn really supportive. “Everybody treated me like a normal person that I am she says.”
To date, it is believed that there’s neither cure nor prevention for vitiligo and medication to manage it cost a leg and arm, but that is not the case. “After depicting signs of vitiligo, I had to go for treatment,” reveals Adoons.
“I responded well at the treatment I got from my first dermatologist but I had to see a new dermatologist when I was starting High School since I moved from Eastern Cape to Free State, she says.”
The change of provinces took a toll on me and the manner in which I responded to the new dermatologist’s treatment made things worse,” shares Adoons.
She adds that, the new ointment and pills that she used to treat the condition introduced her to acne, itchy teary eyes and dry peeling lips.
“After I navigated my way in the new environment with my different skin and the support of my friends; the positivity they dispersed around me helped to realise that I did not have to explain myself to people and vitiligo wasn’t a punishment rather a skin condition that made me a little different from other children,” Adoons shares with a shy smile.
Adoons, gives us a glimpse of how her skin condition improved, “It is almost as though, ultimately embracing my skin condition opened a can of blessings”. She recalls, bumping into a girl with a similar condition in the mall where she mustered the courage to ask what the girl was using for her skin. “She told me that she was using baby oil and I have since applied it after every bath and the results are tremendous and my condition has improved,” reveals Adoons.
She concludes with an encouraging statement that “people, especially kids with vitiligo ought to be conscious that having the condition is not a curse and parents should emotionally support their kids and incessantly remind them that they are normal, beautiful and unique.”
By Vuyokazi Mdlungu