New Delhi: Vitiligo is a skin disorder that causes depigmentation, which is loss of skin colour. People suffering from Vitiligo often become the centre of attention. They try to avoid the unwanted attention but that doesn’t help all the time. Unfortunately, there is no cure for vitiligo and thus, these people have to live with it forever and dealing with all the eyes they get everywhere is a different struggle altogether.
Mehak, 28, a businesswoman, freelance SEO writer and resident of a small town in Pakistan's Punjab was diagnosed with vitiligo when she was only 12. She initially took it as an injury scar. One day she just woke up and had a bright spot around her eye and a tiny spot on her right knee.
Mehak said, “As someone with vitiligo, the most challenging situation of my life was going through never-ending treatment that my family forced on me. I was a teen, a brown kid and I must mention that you can't really retaliate when your parents want something for you so I had to go through the treatments and they were tough and stupid. I must mention that some of them were not even what science approves and pretty awful. I was always whining and even crying while going through some of them.”
Her parents kept on finding a cure, they tried everything from Allopathy to Homeopathy, even visiting Darbars to hugging beggars, from applying someone's saliva on her spots to itchy herbs, she finally lost herself as a teen and got tired of it all.
Her mother was the first person who got concerned with the brightness of her eye spot. Later after some days, she took her to the doctor where they got her tested and then diagnosed her with vitiligo. Mehak said, “I still remember my mother’s face, how worried, uncertain, and upset she was to hear the diagnosis as it was something very huge. I didn't know about vitiligo back then and I never bothered until my mother made a big deal about it after my diagnosis.”
Mehak loved herself and never cared about what others say about her, she never bothered about what others think of her and keeps on doing what makes her happy. She said, “I never bothered if I had vitiligo or teenage acne, if I was fair enough or not, if I had a perfect figure and hair or not and lot of other things under the ‘traditional beauty standards’ because, for me, a person’s true essence and value is not determined by the appearance. I believed and still believe that I am much more than a skin condition. Some spots can’t stop me from achieving things in my life or determine how worthy I am.”
The biggest battle for her which she still continues to fight is breaking the stereotypes. Though we are moving ahead with time with more advancements and knowledge, people still believe that vitiligo is contagious. She said, “People still believe I’m cursed or I got it by drinking milk over fish and all of these myths. I think the hardest part of the self-acceptance journey is to fight with never-ending unsolicited advice and suggestions you get from people who don't bother to understand medical science.”
Despite all the challenges, Mehak never let herself feel down. She feels great about her skin and also thinks that vitiligo has served a huge part in her personality and made her who she is today. She became Pakistan's first vitiligo ambassador.
“Living and growing up in Pakistan as a vitiligo teen, I never found someone who was making vitiligo normal. I never saw anyone making people aware of what it is, why it happens, are the myths correct or not, how can we overcome our insecurities, how can we love ourselves, how can we accept our spots. A country so big and not even a single person preaching about a skin condition that 2 per cent of the world’s population have? Strange, no? And that was it! When I grew up fighting all those stares, unsolicited advice, awful remarks, and struggles you have to go through being a brown vitiligo kid, I decided I have to do something about it and that’s when I started my platform,” she said.
She also added, “Initially, my platform was focussed on making people aware of this skin condition and now I make them learn how they can accept themselves and love them more than ever. I represent Pakistan at international vitiligo campaigns, projects, interviews, and podcasts and that feeling is beyond everything that I am the first person in this country representing a “unique” population to the whole world. LET THAT SINK IN!”
She creates awareness by creating videos in a fun way on her Instagram. Through her content, she aims to make people learn how to be kind and empathetic towards people with skin conditions, which she thinks is an accomplishment worth an Oscar. She gets inspired by people who are going through so much in their lives but continuing to live with a smile.
She said, “People are physically disabled, they are fighting cancer or Covid or some serious illness and all we care about is a skin condition that hurts nobody. Sounds very ungrateful! So, I look upon others. I try to feel what they are going through and that becomes my biggest inspiration that there is so much to live on than vitiligo. There are so many things to be thankful for. There are so many reasons to make our lives valuable. There are so many blessings to love ourselves.”
She concluded, “I think my vitiligo made me that confident. What people think is a weakness became my most powerful weapon to be such a confident person. For the past 16 years, vitiligo is continuously teaching me new aspects of life that no one would have taught me better.”