Why People with Vitiligo are Joining The Body Positive Movement

One of the most-troubling consequences of vitiligo is the effect it can have on one’s emotional health and self-esteem. Appearing as white patches on the skin, which result when pigment-producing cells in the body are destroyed, vitiligo can negatively affect a person’s body image and quality of life. (24722/' target='_blank' rel='noopener noreferrer' >1,2)

Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in Eagan, Minnesota, and a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, says it can be particularly distressing to develop the condition at a young age, when individuals are also developing self-esteem and forming their identities. For one of his teenage patients, the experience was very traumatic, Dr. Crutchfield says.

“He said oftentimes he would go to the store and people would refuse to put change in his hand because they were afraid to touch him. If he was in a relationship, people would end the relationship thinking he had a disease they could catch. It’s very emotionally charged,” Crutchfield says.

Adding to the troubling element of vitiligo is the fact that there’s no way to stop it from spreading or recurring. And there’s no way to tell how much of the skin will be affected. (2) That wait-and-see element can add to the distress.

But an increasing number of stories show encouraging news about vitiligo and body image. Individuals with the skin condition are becoming more vocal about accepting and loving their skin and their bodies as is.

But she says she didn’t always have such an optimistic outlook.

Overcoming Challenges Small Step by Small Step Helped

By the time Soto reached her late teens, she’d changed her mindset. “I remember one day I was sitting in my room crying to myself and I thought, ‘I don’t want to live like this for the rest of my life,’” she says. “No one’s going to help me unless I help myself.”

Overhauling her self-esteem didn’t happen overnight. “It wasn’t like one day I decided, ‘Oh, I’m going to love myself,’ and it happened,” she says. “It took so much time.”

To push her in the right direction, Soto gave herself mini challenges. One day, she decided she’d wear shorts and ignore any stares she got from others. “I would do little things like that to make myself embrace it more,” she says.

People With Vitiligo Are Speaking Up — But That Hasn’t Always Been the Case

Soto says it was hard not to have anyone to relate to when she was learning to live with vitiligo. “I didn’t have that public figure or somebody I could look up to and think, ‘Wow, this is exactly what I’m going through,’” she says.

Things have thankfully improved in that area. Several public figures with vitiligo are now in the spotlight, including:

Soto thinks the impact these women have had on raising vitiligo awareness is a wonderful thing. “I think it’s the best thing ever,” she says. “Anyone who’s telling people with vitiligo that it’s okay — I’m all for it. I will root for you 100 percent because I think it’s so needed.”

That doesn’t mean Soto is confident and comfortable in her skin all the time. “I’m still a work in progress,” she says. “There are days when I’m okay, and there are days when I don’t have such a great day.”

Experts agree that vitiligo affects more than the skin and can be devastating to one’s emotional health. Some people find it helpful to talk about their experience with others, including with mental health experts. (6)

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