Erika Page

@erikapage | contributor
Erika Page is the Founder + Editor of Living Dappled, a vitiligo blog and lifestyle guide for women. After getting vitiligo at the age of 7, the condition took over 100% of her skin.
Erika Page

Reframing Confidence as Someone Living with Vitiligo

Confidence. I have a love-hate relationship with this word. I love the idea of confidence and the powerful, stiletto-wearing CEO who pops into my head when I think of the word. What I don’t love is that the very idea of confidence often makes so many people feel less than. They’ve given up on the idea they could ever be confident, because of pre-conceived notions about what makes someone confident. I was, and often still am, one of those people. As a woman who grew up with vitiligo, I know what it’s like to struggle with self-acceptance, self-esteem and comparison. To me, confidence always looked a certain way – skinny, tan, beautiful, happy, positive, charming and bold. I was none of those things. I was a shy, awkward and gawky girl with spots all over her body. Fast forward a decade or more, and today I’m still sometimes a shy, awkward and gawky girl. But my spots are gone since vitiligo took over my skin. And my confidence is in an entirely different place. In that decade, I’ve met the girls who are those things I thought you needed to be confident. And guess what? Standing here today, I have more confidence than any of them. And that’s simply because I reworked my perspective and understanding of what confidence really means. Confidence isn’t conditional Gosh, I believed this for so many years. If only I were prettier, I would be confident. If only I were cooler, I would be confident. If only I didn’t have spots, I would be confident. Listen closely to what I’m going to say next: this is a lie. Confidence is not conditional upon any qualifications. In fact, I’m willing to bet there are people out there who have the qualifications we seek who are still struggling with insecurity. You can be confident today, exactly as you are and who you are. Thinking you can’t is an excuse holding you back. Try finding one thing you love about yourself you can celebrate today – and go all in. Confidence takes practice How easily we dismiss confidence as something unachievable. You may think, “That’s something other people have, that’s not me.” Hello, this is your confidence calling! Confidence isn’t something you whip up overnight. It’s something that takes practice. Remember learning how to ride a bike? No one masters riding a bike without practice. The same applies to your new skin. You might not feel confident in your skin, but give it a chance and you might learn to feel confident. For me, confidence comes in baby steps. Wearing less makeup and then going makeup-free to the grocery store one night led to me feeling good about going to the gym without makeup on a regular basis. Take one small step towards confidence and see how it feels. Confidence doesn’t always feel confident For most of my life, I thought I wasn’t confident because I didn’t feel confident. But that wasn’t the case – I just wasn’t giving myself credit for having that confidence. Growing up, I would wear shorts and dresses even though the stares I would get made me uncomfortable. It was just too hot to wear anything else. From time to time, people would comment on how confident I was despite my skin – and I was always shocked. They didn’t know I had spent an hour panicking and crying before I left the house. I wasn’t confident – I just didn’t feel like I had another choice. Until someone recently reminded me I did have a choice. I could have chosen to wear pants. I also could have chosen to stay home. But I made the choice to wear my shorts anyway, and that took confidence. No, I didn’t necessarily feel confident. But each time I wore shorts, I felt better about wearing shorts in the future. In other words, choosing the idea of confidence and acting on it inspired true feelings of confidence. Confidence involves only one opinion – yours I think the thing I’ve gotten wrong about confidence for so many years is I’ve looked externally for it. In other words, I turned to others for it. If I was surrounded by friends, if people said hi to me, if I got compliments – then I had confidence. But this way of seeking it is fleeting, because the moment someone doesn’t say exactly the right thing, you begin to spiral inside. Here’s the thing: it isn’t about how others feel about you. Confidence is about how you feel about yourself. Confidence is contagious Have you ever noticed this? I had a gorgeous, life-of-the-party friend in college who just breathed confidence – and I loved that about her. As a spotted, uncomfortable twenty-something, I was the complete opposite. And yet, when we spent time together, I started standing a little straighter, being a little bolder and loving myself a little more. Spending time around this confident friend made me feel more confident. Her confidence was contagious. Who are the people in your life? Are they confident? Can you start spending time around people who are more confident? I wonder how intentionally putting confident souls around you might change your life. Confidence doesn’t have to start with your skin Growing up, I thought I had to focus on loving my skin in order to find confidence in my skin. Yet I struggled and failed to love my skin, time and time again. Then I decided to launch a blog about vitiligo and turn it into a business. It was the scariest thing I have ever done, and yet today I am a successful blogger with the confidence to tell a story. In other words, stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new I had never done before gave me confidence. My confidence in who I am grew – and the skin I’m in. If you’re struggling to find confidence, find even one way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and watch the benefits spill over into other areas of your life. Confidence is a choice Here’s the thing: you can choose confidence. Before you argue, hear me out. It is a choice because it can be created and manufactured by taking actions that build confidence. You can choose to wear your shorts even though people will stare. You can choose to swim in a bikini even though you might look different. By making those choices, you are deciding to flex your confidence muscle and build the life you want. By default, that’s confidence. Eventually you might even feel it too.

Erika Page

Finding Body Confidence With Vitiligo

Standing in front of the mirror today, I hardly recognize the girl I was as a child. The blonde hair and tan skin are gone, replaced by white strands of hair and ghostly white skin. At least, that’s what I really look like today. But the world only sees my dark brown hair dye and tanner – because that’s all I let them see. Vitiligo, a skin disease that causes loss of pigment, has taken 100% of my skin color and now part of my hair color. I don’t expect you to understand how that feels – because the chances of this happening are less than .01 percent. In other words, it’s unimaginable. And yet, it happened to me. And after 20 years, I’m still trying to mentally grasp that change. It can be hard to know “who you are” when your body is changing into something you don’t want it to be. Over the years, I’ve learned, often the hard way, how to focus on who I am instead of what I look like. Here’s how I found – and continue to find – the girl underneath my skin. Celebrate often Celebrating my life and the things that happen in it are a way to positively reflect on who I am. When I look in the mirror, I see the girl with vitiligo. But when I look inside, I see the girl who loves her husband and family, works hard for the things she’s passionate about and puts intention into the life around her. That’s who I am, and celebrating those things reminds me of that fact. For a few years, I kept a happiness journal, writing three things each day I was happy about or grateful for – my mini celebrations. Today, my husband and I have “red plate nights” where we celebrate each other’s accomplishments – big or small – with a red plate for dinner. And each time I’m feeling low, I sit down and make a list of all the things I have to celebrate in my life. These are the things that make up who I am and are worth far more than a glance in the mirror. Avoid comparison Comparison can be detrimental to your sense of self – and yet it so easily creeps in and alters your state of mind. I used to frequently compare myself to the girls around me, to models on Instagram and even to my imaginary self without vitiligo. Crowds were particularly tricky – I was quick to start watching the people around me, and comparison would easily follow. In every way, I fell short of what I thought a “perfect” girl looked like. And yet, no amount of comparison was going to change who I am. Today I take care to avoid mindlessly scrolling through social. I also try to focus on having an attitude of gratitude and put a lot of intention into taking care of my body to make self-love a priority – and toss comparison aside. Live in the moment Have you ever missed out on something because you couldn’t get out of your head? I certainly have. Living with vitiligo can make you feel like the ugliest person in the room – and the stares only reinforce your worst fear. Add this continuous stream of anxiety-ridden, self-conscious thoughts to any social activity and you wonder how you function. That was me. However, while I was consumed by anxiety, life was passing me by, moment by moment. Life’s milestones, big or small, can be interrupted by your life with vitiligo – or you can choose to live in them. It’s not always easy to quell the anxiety and focus on the moment at hand, but these are the minutes and memories you won’t get back. How do you live in the moment? That’s something I’m still working on myself, but I believe that the intention to do so is a place to start. Do the things you love I often find that when I’m doing the things I love, time flies the fastest – without me even noticing. These are the things that make me feel most alive – and have become things that are part of my identity. Two of my favorites? Being a blogger and a wife. Nothing passes the time like writing for Living Dappled or spending an afternoon with my husband. Pouring my time and energy into the things I love reminds me of who I am and why I matter. Face your fears — one step at a time As a child, I loved to swim. And yet as vitiligo slowly took over my body, I found myself avoiding the water at all costs. I didn’t need to feel any more insecure than I already did – and nothing made me feel worse about my body than a bathing suit. As my vitiligo took over my body, I started to wear tanner – and eventually made my way back to the beach. At first, I would panic about my tanner being less than perfect. But over the years, I’ve learned to enjoy the moment and let “how I look” go as much as possible. It took baby steps – and lots of encouragement – to get back into the water. But I’m so glad I did because it was part of who I am. Photo by Shawna Simmons

Erika Page

What It’s Really Like to Live With Vitiligo

It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like to live with vitiligo. And even when I do, it’s not always understood. Perhaps that’s why I’ve heard so many others with the condition say you only truly understand vitiligo if you have it. Vitiligo is a physical disease – you lose your pigment, which creates white spots on your skin that can burn more easily in the sun. Yet what’s not so obvious is the emotional and mental distress that can come with vitiligo because of declining self-confidence, social stigmatization and depression. And that part of living with vitiligo is largely invisible – or at least, only as visible as you let it be. This is my attempt to provide a window into what it’s really like to live with vitiligo. It’s not meant to be a pity party, and I’m not speaking for everyone with vitiligo. This is just my story, told in the hope that the world might have a little more insight into the everyday life of someone living with vitiligo. You Constantly Worry About What’s Going to Happen Next There are a lot of unknowns in life – where you’ll go to college, what kind of job and career you’ll have, if you’ll ever find true love. But when you live with vitiligo, there is an even-more-unnerving unknown because you don’t know what you will look like in one month, one year or 10 years. Most people take that part for granted. Yet I’ve spent my life worrying about what color I will be. Today, I’ve lost 100% of my skin color, going from tan to spotted to fully pale. And even still, there are signs there is more to come. My hair started to lose its color in college, but the white strands are appearing more aggressively, and the color in my eyebrows is starting to turn white. Will I lose that too? You Overanalyze Your Closet – Because Clothes Are Your Only Chance at Crafting a First Impression For most of my life, it’s been obvious I have vitiligo. While it started on my back, it quickly spread to my knees, elbows and hands and has continued to expand from there. I couldn’t control my skin and because of that, I couldn’t control a big part of how people see me. But I could control my wardrobe – and that’s why I turned to my closet. My family knows I’ve always been weirdly obsessive over my clothing choices. While it was certainly vanity in the sense that I was worried about how I look, it was also more than that. Clothes became my outlet of expressing myself. It was my only chance to give someone an impression other than seeing “the girl with weird spots.” You Feel Anxious When Meeting New People What’s the first thing that happens when you meet new people? You shake hands. What if your hands are covered in white spots? Believe it or not, some people won’t want to shake your hand. Or, if they do, you feel the need to explain the spots on your hand. Can you imagine being in that situation? Can you imagine feeling the need to explain the way you look – as if it’s a problem, as if you are apologizing for yourself? The situation can be awkward at best. It can also unleash a flood of emotions that come with vitiligo – a quick reminder you aren’t “normal” and you don’t fit in. You Feel Alone and Misunderstood My husband gets anxious every time he finds one white hair on his head, and yet the other day, when I told him I realized that I could still lose the color in my lips, his reply was this: “You’ve lost everything else, what’s the difference?” Now, I will pause here to say that my husband is one of the most good-hearted, caring people I know, and he loves me more than you can imagine. So while his lighthearted comment caught me by surprise, it was also familiar – because this is exactly the type of misunderstanding I’ve experienced time and again with vitiligo. And it’s the same story I hear so often from others living with vitiligo. While I’m filled with pain and fear, the other person can’t actually grasp the weight of what I’m feeling. And when your own partner, best friend and family can’t understand the pain you’re feeling, how could anyone else? You Spend More Money on Makeup and Tanners Than You’d Like to Admit Tanners. Spray tans. Foundations. More foundations. I don’t know how much I’ve spent on cosmetics and products to cover my skin over the course of my life, but it’s more than I’d like to admit. At one point, spray tans were a part of my budget right next to car payments, Netflix and utilities. I would drive to the local salon to get a spray tan every Thursday night so the tan was fresh for the weekend. Today I use a self-tanner at home and apply it almost once a day for touch-ups. Sure, I could choose not to cover my skin, and I also recognize that plenty of people without vitiligo spend the same type of money on these products. The point is that for many, this is part of living with vitiligo – and a bad spray tan or foundation can make or break your day. You Worry About Getting Makeup on Everything Right along with spending money on makeup is the issue of getting foundation or tanner on everything you wear – or touch. I used to have “tanning sheets” to sleep in because the tanner would come off on the sheets while I slept. I always bring my own towel to hotels – it’s dark gray – because I worry about getting my makeup on the pristine, white towels. I typically don’t wear white clothing or shirts with collars because makeup will rub off on it. And last but not least – I always hold my face away from my husband when I hug him, so my makeup doesn’t rub off on his shirt. He always teases me for being “the most awkward hugger in the world,” and we laugh and go about our day. You Seek Shade Everywhere You Go Even with strong sunscreen, outdoor activities can be difficult when you live with vitiligo. I’m in the season of life when I get invited to multiple weddings a year – it’s a beautiful, joyous time of celebration, and I couldn’t be happier for those finding love. Yet every time I get an invitation, my first question is this: Will there be shade at the ceremony? Unfortunately, the current trend is to have wedding ceremonies in fields, without any type of shade or cover. So naturally, I’m the girl in the back row, hiding under an umbrella and counting the minutes until the ceremony is over – and hoping the photographer can cut my big bulky umbrella out of the pictures. You Occasionally Have Panic Attacks For a few years, I was having panic attacks twice a year – at the beginning and end of the summer, just like clockwork. Winter had become my “safe space,” a time to cover up head to toe and largely be “normal” again – free from staring eyes, curious questions and even my own anxiety. So when summer came around and I had to leave the house for the first time in shorts or a dress or anything more revealing, I would lose it. There was usually a trigger – like a crowded event or the first beach day of the year. It would start with anxiety, and despite the efforts to calm myself, the panic would rise until I was sobbing on the floor, spiraling back into the questions that have haunted my mind for two decades – Why me? Will it ever stop? Is this really my life now? After a while, the sobbing would stop, I would wipe away my tears and find the strength to get up and face the day. The rest of the summer, although consistently anxious, I could have a good attitude – until episode two. Eventually, the stress would reach another boiling point towards the end of summer when everything took a toll and I was just emotionally exhausted. In this case, the trigger could be small – one more stare, one wrong statement or just looking in the mirror and I would lose it all over again. You Wonder, “Why Me?” I’m the oldest of four children in my family – and the only one with vitiligo. Why me? Why did I have to get this disease when my sisters and brother are blessed with beautiful skin? Only 1 percent of the world’s population has vitiligo. It turns out, I finally won the lottery – but it isn’t the lottery you want to win. You only get one life – and vitiligo has taken over mine. I’ll never get to go back and re-experience high school or college without vitiligo. I often wonder how my life would have been different. Would I have more friends? Would I do things differently? You Experience Skin Envy – Especially in the Summer I hear people talk about summer vacations, pool days and beach trips with such excitement – and I wish I could feel that. Instead, all I feel is anxiety. The feeling has gotten better over time. In fact, this year is one of the first I’ve felt excited about summer. But I’m also 100% depigmented, and life is easier when you don’t have spots. But for years, just the mention of pool days, bikinis or beach vacations would make me anxious. I was jealous of other girls who would gush about their upcoming trip and their newest swimsuit. Instagram was – and sometimes still is – hard to look at in the summer as my feed fills with poolside bikini photos. You Wonder If Anyone Will Ever Fall in Love With You I met my husband a few years ago, and we tied the knot this past September surrounded by friends and family. He knew me just at the tail-end of my spots, as vitiligo was taking over the last of my natural skin color, and it’s never bothered him. In fact, my spots never bothered any of the guys I dated. But that didn’t stop me from worrying about it. There are enough things to obsess over on a first date, let alone the fact that you have white spots all over your body. And in today’s world of online dating, when you don’t meet in person, it can be unnerving to try to figure out how to bring it up. You Deal With People Staring – Every Time You Leave the House Can you imagine being stared at everywhere you go? And I mean everywhere. There was a period when I couldn’t leave the house without being stared at – blatantly. Despite the kind words of my friends and family, the stares were not because I was beautiful. It was mostly curiosity, and I understood that. But curiosity or judgment, the looks were not only a rude reminder I was “different” but it often cut straight to my confidence, taking a piece every time. I think most people can relate to not liking the way they look. But I’m willing to bet that most people don’t have to deal with people peering at them like they’re a circus exhibit every time they leave the house. That kind of reaction would take an emotional toll on anyone. You Field Intrusive and Rude Questions I’ve always been amazed at what people would say to me when I had spots. Some of my favorites were questions about whether I was in a fire or car accident. How do you react to that? Do they have any idea how that can make someone feel? You just said I look like I was in an accident. Perhaps the most entertaining is when people are convinced there is a cure for it and I just need the right medicine. I’ve lived with vitiligo for 20-some years – I think I know something about the disease. You Dream About the Day It Might All Go Away For 20-some years, I was obsessed with the idea that my vitiligo would disappear one day. Obviously, that was a ridiculous thought – my vitiligo was incrementally taking over my body. Not to mention, vitiligo doesn’t have a cure and I wasn’t pursuing treatments. And yet, I was so miserable that all I could think about was this fantasy of one day being able to walk outside and not be stared at. Turns out, my spots did finally go away – they just took over my body.

Erika Page

What It’s Like to Lose 100% of Your Skin Color

Standing in front of the mirror today, I hardly recognize the girl I was as a child. The long, blonde hair and tan skin are gone, replaced by white strands of hair and ghostly white skin. At least, that’s what I really look like today. But the world only sees my dark brown hair dye and tanner — because that’s all I let them see. Vitiligo has taken 100% of my skin color and now part of my hair. I don’t expect you to understand how that feels, because the chances of this happening are less than .01%. In other words, it’s unimaginable. And yet, it happened to me. And after 20 years, I’m still trying to mentally grasp that change. Here’s what it’s like to lose 100% of your skin color — and then some. 1. You’re invisible again — and thankful for it. No stares. No comments. No questions. The first time I put on full tanner and walked down the street, I was shocked — and thrilled — to find that I was invisible. When you live with vitiligo, you are constantly stared at sometimes with comments and pointing fingers to go with it. It’s exhausting and intimidating to live this way. Inside, you’re going through a mental tug of war; telling yourself you’re beautiful, while being constantly reminded that you look “weird” by every set of staring eyes. To be invisible is a welcomed relief that can’t even be put into words. 2. You still feel like you have spots — at first. After living with spots for 20 years, the feeling of having spots doesn’t go away…at least at first. No one else could see the spots, but I still felt like I had them. I still looked at my skin like they were there. I still panicked at the thought of wearing shorts. To me, I was one big canvas of spots all patched together. They had just been there, and I knew they could come back. It took another few years for this constant anxiety about someone seeing my skin to go away. Today, I still get anxious about it from time to time, but I know it’s only psychological and do my best to let it go. 3. You carry an invisible burden. For most people with vitiligo, your spots tell a story. They let people know that you’re dealing with a skin condition. Today I’m still struggling to accept this condition, and wrap my head around the fact that my skin has completely changed colors. Yet coworkers and friends that I’ve met within the past few years are surprised to find this out. They wouldn’t know — and couldn’t know —unless I told them. On the one hand, having this level of privacy is a beautiful gift. On the other hand, it’s interesting to hear people make assumptions about my life that are laughable to me because they can’t know the 20-year history I carry under my tanner and hair dye. 4. You don’t recognize the girl in the mirror. The girl in the mirror isn’t me — it’s the result of what an incurable disease has done to me. And that’s hard to accept. I’m often asked why I wear tanner if my spots are gone; why don’t I just let myself be pale? First, I’m quick to explain that “being pale” and having no pigment can look quite different. Yet, I see their point. To them, it probably seems like an easy decision. But it’s one thing to be born with pale skin and just know that that’s who you are. It’s another to wake up every day for 20 years and watch a disease take over your skin color, one little patch at a time. I understand this is a new me, logically. And yet emotionally, some small part of me is holding on to the old me.

Erika Page

Feeling Beautiful After Receiving Compliments With Vitiligo

“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.