As told by Leah Antonio to Hallie Levine
I was diagnosed with vitiligo at the age of 26. I have struggled with low self-esteem and self-doubt for years. Now, 15 years later, thanks to the support of my partner, the vitiligo community, and most importantly my two children, I am able to accept the disease and even thrive.
When I first saw the vitiligo spots on my body, I didn’t know the name, but I knew what it was. Both my mom and my aunt have this condition. I went to the dermatologist and he told me there was no cure and that his vitiligo could spread all over my body. I left her office in tears. I’m young, confident, and love to have fun. I love going to the beach and showing off my body in cute little dresses. Now, I am afraid to do it. I feel helpless and traumatized.
To make matters worse, I felt like no one could help me with my self-doubt. Every time I tell people how I feel, they take it lightly and say, “Oh, you’re young and beautiful, you should be glad it’s not cancer.” Of course, they mean it well, but I want people to listen to me and understand how I feel. I refuse to look in the mirror and often cry to sleep at night asking, “Why me?”
It feels like every time I try to express my feelings to someone and make them understand, they slap me in the face. I cried for help, but no one seemed to hear me. When I explained my hesitancy about wearing a swimsuit at the beach, even one of the therapists I once spoke to was dismissive of my feelings. Her response: “What about the overweight people? They always wear bathing suits.”
face my doubts
Over the years, I have been plagued by doubts and insecurities. My vitiligo made me feel unattractive and self-conscious. I isolate myself from any activity that shows my spots. For example, at my bridal shower, I was sweating profusely in long pants when all my guests were wearing cute little sundresses. Then I became a mom. By then, my vitiligo had spread to my legs.At first, I was so self-conscious that I
Refused to take my kids to the beach or pool. But then I felt like the worst mom in the world. I decided then that I wouldn’t let my vitiligo get in the way of raising my kids. The first time I took them to the pool, I was ashamed. I’m sure everyone was staring at me (though in hindsight, they probably weren’t). Then I see my kids having a good time and those feelings go away.
A few months later, my 4-year-old son and I were playing in the playground. I decided to wear cropped pants, which showed my vitiligo. Another kid came up to him and asked what happened to his mother’s leg. My son just looked at him and said simply, “It’s nothing. That’s how God made her.” A few weeks later, I was holding my daughter in bed and she said to me, “Mom, I love your cloud. “It took me a while to realize she was referring to my vitiligo. This made me realize: my child didn’t see my vitiligo. They just saw their mom. If they can accept my body and spots and everything, so can I.
The power of community
My kids weren’t the only ones who helped me overcome my doubts. About 6 years ago, I started researching more about vitiligo online. I discovered the Living Dappled website and it changed my life. I saw pictures of women who looked like me, and I read their stories, which were very similar to my own. A few years later, I got an email saying that Living Dappled was looking for models to take pictures. I signed up – one of the best things I’ve ever done. For the first time in 13 years, I put on a skirt and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, past the crowd. It makes me feel so powerful.
It also helps me get the love of a supportive partner. After the divorce, I didn’t date for years. I am too self-conscious. But a good friend convinced me to go on a blind date. After about 2 weeks, I decided to show him my vitiligo. I told him he needed to watch something, and I took off my pants in the bathroom and walked out bare-legged. He just looked at me and said, “That’s it?” He accepted me, the spots and everything, without a problem.
As a teacher, I always talk to my students about the importance of self-acceptance. It’s easy for all of us to think we have a problem, when it’s actually these little flaws that make us unique and unique. The most powerful thing you can do is tell yourself that you accept yourself despite all your imperfections. If you do enough, you will eventually start to believe it. Once that happens, you’ve come a long way in facing your self-doubt. After all, what really matters is how you see yourself.
I would be lying if I said I totally accept my vitiligo. But it used to define my life, and now it plays a small supporting role. I am a mom, a teacher, and a life partner. My spots are a part of me, not the whole of me.