Have you heard of vitaligo? It is the skin depigmentation condition Michael Jackson used to struggle with, along with 40 – 50 million other people (1 – 2% of the planet’s population).
One of them is 19-year-old Mariah Perkins. Since being diagnosed when she was 11, the condition has had a profound effect on Mariah’s life. Losing skin color at the onset of her teens did nothing good for her self-confidence. She has never had a boyfriend and has spent the better part of a decade concealing the patches of depigmentated skin with thick layers of makeup.
Eight years ago Mariah spotted a tiny, white dot on her finger. Only a few months later white patches started appearing on her arms, around her nose and eyes. It was then that she got diagnosed with the mysterious disease, the cause of which is still uncertain.
“Emotionally, it was hard. At first I was in denial and didn’t think about it too much,” Mariah says, “but when my teens hit, I just wanted to fit in, so it was a struggle being different from other people. I never felt pretty or cute.”
She admits that she never dated anyone in her life due to fear of rejection.
“I’ve never had a proper boyfriend and I’m 19,” she says. “I’d like to meet someone who accepts me the way I am – someone I feel comfortable with without my make-up on. I can’t change my skin, so the person would have to love it and be supportive.”
The whitening has continued ever since and at some point Mariah started spending 45 minutes applying makeup to her face before she would appear in front of anyone. In her early teens she felt uneasy at often being the only person in class wearing makeup, but she just couldn’t imagine showing her skin.
But once she enrolled in a university programme, things slowly started changing. Mariah studies Sociology & Criminal Justice at the University of Baltimore and she says that the more relaxed, less rigid atmosphere of a university campus played a huge part in her feeling confident enough to start wearing less makeup and showing her own skin.
“I thought it would be scary, but it was easier than being in secondary school,” explains Mariah. “I made lots of friends, and they all told me I didn’t need to wear make-up at all. At university people seem to be more accepting and positive.”
Although it was a gradual process, Mariah soon felt confident enough with her new friends to almost completely ditch makeup. Nowadays she only applies it when she’s at her part-time job post. The emergence of America’s Next Top Model star Winnie Harlow who has vitiligo and who Mariah looks up to as a role model was another major boost.
Mariah only wishes someone like Winnie had appeared in her life earlier, when she was in her most vulnerable years. But awareness about vitiligo, although still fledgling, is growing slowely but surely.
Meanwhile, Mariah continues to study hard, while enjoying life and hoping to one day work for the FBI. Who knows, maybe she will be the first person with vitiligo at the head of the Bureau?