When I was in graduate school, one of the office admins came into my lab. As she was talking to me, I noticed that an area around her mouth was slightly light. Her complexion was generally pale, so it was weird that the discoloration stuck out to me. I had known her for years, so I didn’t think it could be vitiligo. But then, I noticed around her neck line that she had an area very pale with redness. I knew it had to be vitiligo. I remember wondering what she was thinking, but I figured this wasn’t the place or time to bring it up.
Every year, I sold her Girl Scout cookies for my niece. Top seller in her brownie troop…2 years undefeated! (But I digress.) I didn’t know if I’d make her uncomfortable by asking. I wondered if she wanted to talk to me about it. As she was looking at me, was she thinking, “Will mine turn out like hers?” Was I the standard for her experience with vitiligo? Was that a good thing or bad thing for her? Did it bring her comfort or did it invoke fear?
I never did talk to her about it. I don’t even know what I would have said back then.
Times have changed. I can’t begin to count the number of times I have been approached by strangers inquiring about my vitiligo – some who also have it and others who just have questions or comments or compliments. I generally welcome the conversations, the affirming smile, or the reciprocated head nod that says…
“I see you, and I’m not afraid to acknowledge you.”