Summer isn't the only time of year we bare our skin...
The patchy pigment loss that vitiligo sufferers contend with on a daily basis affects some people more profoundly than others. The severity of the condition, as well as the #psychological mind-set of the individual, are both obvious factors that tend to feature in #quality-of-life research.
What may not be quite as obvious is the fact that the negative impact of vitiligo (or #leukoderma) can be quite seasonal.
As a young child, I loved the summer holidays. Like most kids, I looked forward to being off school, enjoying warm, lazy days, picnics, swimming and climbing trees with my other tomboy friends. I can remember one summer, when I was only about 11 or 12, wanting to have the sort of cut-off cotton top that was in vogue at the time. My mother, perhaps not surprisingly, didn’t feel it was appropriate for a girl of my age to go around showing off her bare midriff to all and sundry! But the reason I was so keen on the idea of adopting this fashion was because I was already aware that vitiligo was progressive and I could see the very early tell-tale signs that my waist would be next on the list of body parts to lose pigment. So it was a case of “let’s flaunt it while there is still time!”
As the pigment loss spread, the summer months became more of a trial to me than a pleasure and I used to greet the first cold weather of autumn with relief because it meant I could cover up the offending patches with warm clothing and not have to worry about camouflaging them with cosmetics or avoiding social situations that involved revealing my skin to the gaze of others.
Once I reached my teens and 20’s though, even the winter months – especially the December party season - presented me with anxieties because I longed to wear the slinky, skimpy LBDs that my friends were wearing. Self-tans were my best friend then. But applying them effectively became more and more of a tedious exercise in colouring-in-without-going-over-the-lines and put a major damper on what should have been a simple, carefree pleasure – going out socialising and dancing. Like a lot of young women, I had a keen interest in fashion and would have loved to wear outfits that showed a bit of flesh here and there. But, by the time most of my body and face were affected by vitiligo, even #MichaelJackson’s costume designers would have struggled to create garments that only allowed for glimpses of normal skin!
Since men are generally less obsessed with fashion (a sweeping statement, I know!) than women and less likely to want to show off their arms, legs or any other expanses of skin (unless on the beach or playing sport) it is not surprising that anxiety levels among men with vitiligo are lower on average. Concerns over “bearing all” also diminish with age, reflecting the fact that older people generally find themselves in fewer social situations where they would feel peer pressure to expose their skin and presumably this also reflects the fact that older people are probably more philosophical about the whole issue of personal appearance than younger ones. My own experience definitely bears this out: even before I started to repigment (at the age of about 50) I had become a lot mellower about having vitiligo.
Now, in my mid-50’s and almost completely repigmented, I am no longer an age or a shape that lends itself to skimpy outfits (God forbid!) but I don’t mind at all that my recovery came too late for me to have the carefree relationship with fashion that I would have liked as a young woman. I believe I have become wiser as a result and I am just extremely grateful that I can now wear pretty much whatever I want without having to go through the old mental tick-list (does it have sleeves… how long is the skirt… how high is the neckline, etc.?) or spend hours applying camouflage to the jigsaw puzzle that was once my skin.
So, here we are in December once again and the party season is in full swing. Enjoy it - even if your LBD does have to have full-length sleeves and tanning your legs seems to take an age! However widespread your vitiligo is, whatever your age or gender, and whatever your current feelings about your white patches are, take it from one who knows - it is always too soon to despair because you don't know what improvements the next day, or next year, can bring.
I wish you a very happy festive season, peace of mind, and the hope of healthier skin in the New Year :)
My name is Caroline.