Angela Selvarajah developed eczema and psoriasis from a young age which would often flare up especially around the back of her neck and scalp. She describes her first encounter with vitiligo. “I used to have very long thick hair which my mum often oiled and plaited for me. Around the age of 14, while plaiting my hair, she noticed a white patch at the back of my neck from where psoriasis had started healing. We noticed that wherever my psoriasis or eczema patch healed I had a white patch underneath.”
Angela’s father had the skin disorder as well. Even though his vitiligo was more widespread, Angela never noticed it much as she’d always seen past it. But when she was diagnosed with vitiligo, it was all she could see on herself. The London native pours her heart out “Developing vitiligo at an age where I should’ve been carefree and confident was extremely difficult. The worry of someone seeing my skin scared me more than knowing that being fully covered up all the time would irritate my psoriasis. I felt embarrassed and somewhat ashamed of what I looked like as it spread more around my body.”
This was the time when Angela started using foundation to cover up the patches on her face and fingers as these were the areas she couldn’t hide under clothes. She was told by her doctor that there wasn’t much that could be done. He prescribed steroid creams and tablets for her to try and see if there would be any possible re-pigmentation. This was followed by a trail of unsuccessful treatments “Ayurvedic doctors that traveled down from India every few months charged £400 for a bulk supply of medicine. Sri Lankan herbalists recommended me to stay in a country where I can expose myself to the sun for a long period of time. I also tried Chinese herbal medicine. My GP referred me to the hospital to receive PUVA and Phototherapy. The treatments weren’t as easy or as straightforward as I thought. There were many processes involved as well as having to attend hospital nearly every day. Taking tablets during the treatment made me sensitive to the light. I had to wear sunglasses for the whole day on the days of my treatment to avoid the sunlight. I was always trying to avoid bringing attention to myself, but this was increasingly difficult with having to wear sunglasses throughout the day when it was cold, raining and even snowing.”
Angela says having vitiligo made her feel quite isolated. She had people staring at her and walking away or keeping their distance seeing her vitiligo as contagious. Angela shares some heart-breaking incidents: “Sometimes I felt that even when I may have forgotten about it for a few minutes someone would come along and point it out. Quite often I’d get, “You’ve got the same skin problem as your father haven’t you?”; “Is it all over your body?“; “What are you doing about it?”; “You’re going to be all white soon”; “Have you tried…?”. The one that really got me was, “Oh you poor thing, you’re so brave”. To some extent, this seemed quite patronizing. It wasn’t like I had a choice to be brave.”
During the summer, Angela went on holiday to her parent’s home country, Sri Lanka, for her cousin’s wedding. Nearing the time of her return to England, she found out that certain members of her family were trying to set her up for an arranged marriage: “Marriage is a big part of the Asian community. Growing up, I always thought of how I’d want to meet someone, get to know them, fall in love and get married. But being told that “I should get married before my skin conditions get worse” just knocked every bit of confidence and hope that I had gained right out of me. I was distraught to think of the kind of burden I seemed to be to those around me especially to my parents as they worried so much about me.”
Angela says it took her a long time to get used to living with vitiligo. Even now she is still working towards feeling fully confident in her own skin. What really inspired her through difficult times was the growing awareness in the media about vitiligo and being inspired by individuals like Winnie Harlow. In fact, modeling for Vitiligo Society with no makeup, no sleeves, and no tights was a turning point in Angela’s vitiligo journey: “I had never felt so liberated in all my life! I now knew that I wanted to share more awareness about vitiligo and be able to feel free more often! I put myself forward for another shoot and realized that this was something I really enjoyed. I have since been signed to Zebedee Management as a vitiligo model.”
Angela feels that she has come a long way from when her vitiligo started. She never thought that she would ever expose her skin in public let alone, model and share photos of her with no makeup on social media. “Given the rollercoaster of emotions I have been through from first seeing, hiding, accepting and now exposing my vitiligo, I can’t imagine what or even who I’d be without it. On a bad day, it feels as if I’m losing my identity, but when I really think about it, my vitiligo has become my identity,” the vitiligo crusader signs out.