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The Power of a Compliment in My Life With Vitiligo

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“Your skin is beautiful.” Four words spoken to me by a stranger in the grocery store one evening. For her, it was a passing comment. For me, it was like the world came to a halt around me as the past 20-plus years of living with vitiligo flashed before my eyes. I was stunned. Was she talking to me? She had put her hand on my arm as she said it, so she must have been. My heart started to glow. Did she really mean it? Could someone see me and think my skin is beautiful?

She couldn’t see my spots. In fact, all she could see was my fake tanner, which covers my completely depigmented skin. I don’t even technically have spots – I’m just ghostly pale at this point. And yet that didn’t matter to me. This stranger thought my skin – the skin I had hated my entire life – was beautiful. I wanted to cry. I wanted to jump up and down. I was still in shock, standing in the middle of the grocery store aisle trying to understand what had just happened.

I lived with spots from the age of 7 to my mid-20s. At some point after college, the vitiligo took over entirely, leaving my skin a blank canvas once again. I started wearing tanner to give my skin some color. To everyone else, I was “normal” again, yet I felt anything but. A little tanner didn’t erase two decades of inner turmoil and emotional pain.

I spent most of my life hating my skin. Yes, hate. It’s a powerful word, and I had powerful emotions to back it up. I hated the way this condition was changing my life. I hated that I would never get to go to high school as “normal” kid. I hated that every person who met me had to wonder what was wrong with me. I hated looking in the mirror. I hated everything I wore – because it couldn’t change what I looked like. I hated my skin.

There was no way to explain my 20-year history and the significant pain that came with it to this stranger. She would never know the weight that those words held for me – even after I tracked her down and tried to explain it, words gushing out in excitement.

To her, the moment was insignificant. A fleeting comment made on a whim to a random girl she would never see again. To me, it was a comment that would become a part of the fabric of my life – four words forever etched into my memory.

I had never thought of my skin as beautiful. And with four simple words, a stranger opened my eyes to a possibility I never thought existed.

Photo by Rachael Laurin Photography.

Originally published: June 13, 2019
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