LOVE THE SKIN---YOU'RE IN.
Everyone wants nice skin--free of blemishes---skin that is smooth and even-colored. Knowing that I’m now lumped-together with a group considered “older”----I still want to wear my skin with pride rather than hide it.
Growing up in the fifties, my friends and I were Sun Worshippers. We took every opportunity to lie in the Sun and bake--for hours. Tanned skin was a mark of good health and beauty. It was also proof we were part of the “in” crowd---those who were “Cool” to the ways of the world!
Until I left for college in 1956, I shared Life-Guarding responsibilities with my brother at THE RESERVATION---a private club with the largest swimming pool in Arkansas. My body was fully-exposed to the Sun all day during swimming season which usually began in May and ended in late September. Those were the days before sunscreen and other means of skin protection. Everyone lathered their bodies with baby oil, lots and lots of baby oil, and loved the glamourous look of a colorful tan. No one talked about skin cancers or allergies to the sun. We thought about how healthy and “glowing” we looked--from head to toe.
It was the summer of 1953 when I noticed the little white circle on the side of my right foot. It was the size of a dime and--the deeper my tan--the more obvious the white spot. My doctor told me it was like a birthmark and, because it lacked skin pigment, it naturally stood-out like a spotlight as my skin got darker. When my tan faded, the little white spot became less noticeable. But, my acne improved with all the sun exposure so my foot’s white circle was a small price to pay for a smoother, acne-free face.
Over the years, the Sun chose not to treat me as kindly as it had in my youth. I lost pigmentation on both elbows--then the backs of my hands became “spotty” with loss of pigment. After facing the unrelenting Sun in China, while traveling the Great Wall, I noticed how my neck looked splotchy rather than all-one-color. Everything about a woman’s body changes during Menopause---I’d been warned---but the most noticeable changes showed on my skin.
I’ve studied Vitiligo for years and sought the help and advice of doctors from around the world. I tried medicine designed to re-pigment the affected area--only to suffer serious side-affects that involved my eyes. Splotchy, unpigmented skin may be unsightly but---I refuse to surrender my vision in order to look “more perfect.” Besides, in most every case of re-pigmented skin, the “fix” is only temporary.
Some people have tried having their unpigmented skin “tattooed” to match their regular skin color. Unfortunately, skin color is constantly changing and---too often---the tattooed areas become more glaringly out-of-place, overtime.
I never knew Michael Jackson. I haven't seen specific photos of his alleged skin disorder but…he claimed that Vitiligo was the reason he lightened his skin so dramatically. Whatever the reason, most dermatologists don’t recommend over-all skin lightening as a solution for Vitiligo. Treating the entire body with powerful chemicals to lighten a person’s skin color is extremely risky. I wouldn’t consider it--even if I could afford it!
For years I used a walnut stain called DY-O-DERM to cover my visible Vitiligo spots. It was manufactured in Texas and almost every druggist carried it. The liquid stain was easily applied with a Q Tip and worked beautifully to conceal my unpigmented spots. Because it was a stain, the application didn’t rub off but, instead, wore off.
A Doctor in Memphis, Tennessee prescribed it for me in the early seventies and Dy-O-Derm was a life saver; it hid my secrets----perfectly.
But--nothing lasts forever. Twenty years after finding the perfect cover-up, the Texas Pharmaceutical Company who provided the walnut stain--- closed---quickly ending the life of the walnut stain, forever.
For months I searched for a replacement. I tried everything but nothing came close to solving my problem. My day of reckoning was also the day my problem ended. It became my most-teachable moment:
It was 2006. I’d been hired to teach DC History to boys--- under sixteen years of age---being held in the DC Jail. One of my students, a young black with a defiant attitude, refused to open his history book. Instead, he folded his arms across his chest and turned completely around, facing away from me and the other students. Only then did I notice the tell-tale signs of Vitiligo on the top of his hands and both arms.
Realizing this was a rare opportunity to start a dialogue with the student, I said “Marcus, I bet you didn’t know that the two of us share something extremely-rare. It’s something few people, regardless of skin color--share.” Marcus slowly turned, looked at me, and laughed contemptuously.
I proceeded to discuss Vitiligo. I explained how the skin disorder is inherited and although it seldom causes health issues, the person with vitiligo must have the strength of Hercules to survive the stares and endless questions from strangers.
When I told Marcus it was a disorder that was uniquely-linked to Michael Jackson and how the popular performer had learned to wear it like a badge of courage--Marcus suddenly became interested in what I had to say.
Then, I showed some of my own Vitiligo spots to the class. I assured them Vitiligo was not contagious and--not deadly. I suggested we forget our History assignments for the rest of the week and instead-- I would share photos and facts about Vitiligo and discuss Michael Jackson’s decision to lighten his complete skin color!
By this time, Marcus had become the center of attention--- a real hero. He had developed a certain status---much-like a tattooed celebrity.
The classroom hour ended with everyone admiring Marcus’s Vitiligo spots and before dismissal, the class voted to change Marcus’s last name “Jones” ---to Jackson!
WE SHOULD ALL LOVE OURSELVES AND---LOVE THE SKIN WE’RE IN.