Great vitiligo coverage - in every sense of the word
I was delighted to see fledgling entrepreneur Polly Gotschi on the hugely popular prime-time BBC TV show #Dragons'Den earlier this week. Her simple and heartfelt business pitch for investment in her Vitiliglow camouflage make-up highlighted the practical and psychological issues facing #vitiligo sufferers in a very public way. In the face of this high-pressure situation Gotschi did not - to her immense credit - feign commercial expertise that she clearly didn't have. She was engagingly open and understated in her presentation and her passion for her business mission was obvious to all.
She won the warmth and approval of every one of the dragons - and how many others can claim to have achieved that? Not only did she get two dragons to make her an offer and eventually secured backing from one of them to the tune of £40K, but she also championed the cause of the estimated 1% of the population who suffer with vitiligo. For many viewers I am sure it will have been the first time they had ever heard of this pigmentation disorder. So to see such positive and high-profile exposure for it is very encouraging indeed.
My feeling, as I watched the usually hard-nosed dragons' positive reactions to Polly's presentation, was that every one of them bought in to it, even though only two actually made her an offer. But what they bought into, it seemed to me, was not necessarily the make-up but the person behind it. And the mini bidding war that ensued between Touker Suleyman and Sarah Willingham appeared to be driven as much by a keen desire to work with Gotschi because of her sincerity, passion and personal charm as because of her product.
The other thing I felt watching the programme was a strong, personal sense of kinship with Polly Gotschi. She talked about how she spends a lot of her time blogging, corresponding with other vitiligo sufferers and offering advice; and the dragons were quick to spot the fact that she has a strong social conscience. She is obviously a lovely person to start with but, added to that, she conveys a compassion and desire to help improve the quality of life for people with vitiligo that I identify with completely. It was exactly this that motivated me to share my own vitiligo story five years ago and to write my blog each week and it is the reason I offer support to others and research treatments and products for vitiligo on an ongoing basis.
In fact, this same desire to help and share is something that characterises a lot of vitiligo sufferers. I chat and email on a daily basis with vitiligo friends all over the world and have noticed that, whilst some are angry and bitter about their condition, most have developed tremendous empathy with each other as a result of their own experiences. I'm sure this heightened sense of fellow-feeling is not unique to vitiligo (for example, it is famously evident among cancer sufferers and cancer survivors too). But there seems to be a law-of-compensation kind of thing that occurs when people learn to live with what is, for many, a severely disfiguring and confidence-robbing condition. It brings them face-to-face with all sorts of fundamental questions like “how do we perceive others?”, “why do we judge people based on how they look?”, “what matters about a person – their spirit or their skin colour?” And facing these sorts of questions on a daily basis tends to make you a lot more tolerant and compassionate than you would ever have been without your vitiligo. This is why the forums and support groups are full of people like Polly who want to help and are happy to take time to encourage others and share their own experiences. Ironically, many (though by no means all) people with vitiligo feel ugly or at least fear that others will see them this way. But I have found more beauty of spirit (and often breathtaking physical beauty too) among my vitiligo friends than you could hope to find via all the modelling agencies on the planet!
In some ways, living with a skin condition that attracts attention and the risk of judgement, rejection or ridicule can be a lot like walking into a dragons' den every day of your life. But the more public exposure vitiligo receives, the easier it becomes to confront those dragons. So, well done the BBC for selecting Polly for the programme and well done, Polly, for slaying your dragon with such courage and charm.
My name is Caroline.