Growing up, I had a very happy childhood and came from a loving Sikh family home. However, when I turned 21 my life drastically took a turn for the worst and everything started to change. In 1999, after completing a university placement year in Spain, I began to notice a white patch on my left arm. This patch began to grow and rapidly started to spread across my body. In 2000, I was diagnosed with a skin disorder called Vitiligo (an autoimmune skin condition which attacks pigmentation in my skin, turning it white). I did not realise then, how this condition was going to strip me of my identity, my cultural heritage and my confidence. The three very important factors that determined who I was.
During the initial years, this had a devastating impact on my life and entirely changed me as a person. I used to be very self-assured and confident in my early 20's. However, I could see how Vitiligo was starting to destroy me and I was no longer the person I was when I was at university. I began to seek treatments to help the Vitiligo from spreading by undertaking a number of treatments through the NHS and privately. Over 10 years, I practically tried and tested everything on the market. I would listen to the community 'suggesting' various remedies to my parents in the hope that the white patches would just go away and I would be cured. I even undertook a steroid treatment which involved travelling two hours each way from home and being injected all over my body. It was tiresome, painful, emotionally draining and heart-wrenching, but I was so desperate to be cured.
My immediate family were supportive but I knew my Vitiligo had a massive impact on them too. How would my parents deal with the comments, the negativity and the stares from the community? I had no choice but to cover up my skin with make-up which would take me hours to apply. I would then hide behind long sleeves, hoping no one would see my skin or stare and make any comments about it. I spent years living like a recluse in my own skin and hid behind make-up for fear of being judged by society and the Asian community. Looking back at my life, I was almost a prisoner inside my own body.
However, this all changed with two important milestones in my life!
I married the love of my life who knew me before the Vitiligo began to spread and he has supported and accepted me throughout this very difficult time. And in 2010, I fell pregnant with my daughter and soon after I had my son. I started to wonder how much energy I had trying all these treatments and realised I no longer had the motivation to continue. I started to channel the energy I had into my children and knew, I no longer wanted to keep chasing for the 'one' treatment that would give me my skin colour back. Over the years, I slowly started to accept the new me.
In 2018, I was fortunately asked to take part in the documentary called 'Misfits Like Us' which aired on BBC 1. I appeared on the documentary with a sleeveless top and this was a huge step in terms of my body confidence and publicly raising awareness of the condition. I also knew that appearing on TV was going to be a huge challenge for my family, as no one had ever seen my Vitiligo exposed. I was extremely nervous but after the first day's shoot, I realised I was gaining the confidence I needed quite rapidly. I kept wondering how my extended family would react and what they would say? Inside I was trying to come to terms with how I would manage their reactions. In the same year, I was also invited to conduct radio interviews on BBC Asian Network and BBC 3 where I opened up the live discussions of 'breaking down barriers' and raising awareness within the Asian communities on accepting visible differences.
Since the documentary aired, my confidence has continued to grow and I cannot believe where I am today. I work as a secondary school teacher at an all girls' school and have been teaching for 12 years. I am actively raising awareness of body image and have just finished conducting school assemblies to address body image and the negative impact social media can play on individuals. I support students in my school to learn how to overcome their personal battles of 'fitting in' to society's stereotypes.
I want to break the typical stereotype of what is classified as ‘beautiful’ especially within the Asian community. Our society is changing and our Asian culture has to move with the wonderful diversity that is portrayed around us today. I have been sharing my story on Instagram and supporting many people with skin conditions by offering positive guidance on overcoming difficulties of acceptance. I just wish there had been a platform like this when I was diagnosed in 2000. I now hold my head up high at family functions without make up. If people have an issue with my skin, I have learned to accept they are the ones who need to change their perceptions.
Guest blog by:
I am Joti and I was brought up as a Sikh in London. I pursued my passion for learning languages and currently work as Head of Spanish at a secondary school. I am also a mum of two, married and also passionate about working in the media to spread and raise awareness of vitiligo by challenging stereotypes and breaking down barriers in society and within the Asian community.