In her true colours

In her true colours

From avoiding being photographed to becoming a social media star, Manisha Malik’s journey of accepting vitiligo tells you how to  embrace yourself

Veenu Singh

Social media is like a two-edged sword. While it may be pushing us to look at beauty in a certain way, demanding perfection in every aspect, social media has also helped in giving a voice to certain people who are trying to break these norms and making people love and accept their imperfections, because perfection is a state of mind rather than a way of being.

These people are fast becoming social media influencers, changing people’s mindset towards the concept of beauty and fitness with their content and trying to bring about a positive change in society.    

Incidentally, there has been a lot of focus on body positivity in the last few years. As per Wikipedia, “Body positivity is a social movement focussed on the acceptance of all bodies, regardless of size, shape, skin tone, gender, and physical abilities, while challenging present-day beauty standards as an undesirable social construct.Proponents focus on the appreciation of the functionality and health of the human body, instead of its physiological appearance.”

While fat shaming is one of the most common forms of body shaming, there are several other instances where people have been bullied, ridiculed and even discriminated for their skin colour or even any kind of skin condition.   

One such skin condition is Vitiligo, commonly described  as white patches  on the skin. Vitiligo is a skin condition that causes your skin to lose its colour or pigment. This causes your skin to appear lighter than your natural skin tone or turn white. This condition occurs when your body’s immune system destroys melanocytes. Melanocytes are skin cells that produce melanin, the chemical that gives skin its colour, or pigmentation.

Although globally only one per cent of the population is affected by it, vitiligo is more visible in brown skin than fair skinned people. And, despite several medicines being available in allopathy, homeopathy and even ayurveda, there doesn’t seem to be any definitive cure for the condition.

Even though Vitiligo affects portions of the skin, mostly on hands, arms, face and feet and doesn’t seem to affect any other functioning of the body, yet, the person affected by it undergoes a lot of trauma and stress due to the constant comments and questioning they have to face from everyone around them.   

But thanks to social media, today, several people affected by vitiligo have used it to not just openly talk about this condition, but also to educate and make others more sensitive towards them. They are the vitiligo warriors and one such warrior is Manisha Malik who has used the power of social media to not just defy all societal expectations by being happy in her skin but is also creating content that is helping other vitiligo sufferers to accept themselves the way they are.

The first signs

She was all of six when her parents noticed the first signs.

“It started as small white patches on parts of the skin and then gradually spread all over,” says 36-year-old Manisha Malik, calmly.

Like any other parents, Manisha’s parents also got worried and tried to get her the best treatment possible. “Growing up, my entire life revolved around vitiligo. I have been to more than 10 doctors, tried everything from grandma’s kitchen remedies to various oils to not eating certain foods to whatever else someone suggested to my parents,” recalls Manisha with a laugh.

Manisha may be able to look back and laugh at those days now, but she confesses it was the most challenging part of her life. Manisha felt vulnerable to the comments that other people made about the colour of her skin – and there were lots of those.

“Initially, the spots were on my neck, but by the time I was in my teenage years, it started showing on my face too. Everyone – from my friends to relatives to even strangers would keep asking me and my parents about it, not understanding the kind of stress we were going through,” says Manisha.

While her parents had to struggle with issues like, “who will marry her with these spots,” Manisha had her own battles to fight. “Teenage years are anyways tough and these spots were adding to the issues. In a way, my struggle was divided into three phases. Firstly, I felt very sad about the whole situation as no one had any clear idea about these spots. I wouldn’t talk to anyone, and would go to sleep hoping that the spots would be gone when I wake up the next day,” reveals Manisha.  

The second phase was all about becoming conscious about her own self and the way she looked. “Every time I stepped out, it seemed as if the whole world was only looking at me. I used to keep myself covered either by wearing full sleeved clothes or even by growing my hair long. And, I hated getting any pictures clicked with friends or family and even hated using any makeup – something that all girls of my age loved!”  

All these comments and constant staring were pushing Manisha to the brink so much so that she started getting angry with anything and everything. “The third phase of my struggle saw me having anger issues all the time. I was ready to snap at everyone as I thought that my face looks so weird and that’s why people were making fun of me,” says an emotional Manisha.  

More to me

Manisha had shared this incident on her YouTube video and she loves recalling it as we speak.

Manisha was travelling in the Delhi Metro, and  saw one girl constantly staring at her. “Having experienced similar situations earlier also, I was sure  she was staring at my patches  and that made me angry. I shouted and asked her what was she staring at? And she smiled back and said, ‘You have lovely curly hair!’ I was speechless and that made me realise that people are not always staring at my imperfections. They may be seeing something good in me too.”

Recalling something similar from school days, Manisha says, “In school everyone was very concerned about their looks and I always stayed away from such conversations for obvious reasons. But then one day, I heard a girl who was supposed to be one of the best looking girls telling a friend that she wished her nose was sharper and she was a bit more tall. I was totally surprised to hear that as I never thought of all these things. My mind was always occupied with vitiligo.”

Then a few days later, she heard a few girls complaining about getting acne on their faces and Manisha realised that she has never had any issue with acne at all. All these slowly made Manisha realise that not everyone is looking to make fun of her, some are actually appreciating the other good things too.   

This realisation gave a huge boost to Manisha’s self-confidence and she started looking at things in a positive way.

Focussing her energies in the right direction

“I was in my mid-20s by then, and I finally realised that not living my life normally due to this skin condition wasn’t worth it. There was no guaranteed cure for it and I was wasting my time and energy in trying to find a way. It was just the colour of my skin that I was trying to change, whereas I needed to focus on so much more. So, I decided to stop seeking treatment and accepted myself the way I was,” she says.

When Manisha told her parents about her decision, they were highly supportive and said that this was something they had always wanted her to realise.

“Having a supportive family is the biggest blessing I could have asked for,” says Manisha. “Despite coming from rural Haryana and from a very patriarchal society, my parents were way more modern and open minded than parents of most of my friends,” adds Manisha.

Commenting about how her father has always protected and motivated her, Manisha says, “Whenever anyone used to meet us and ask what happened to me, my father would explain everything and would always end the conversation by saying, ‘but it’s not hurting her, she just needs to apply sunscreen.’ And I would also think that, yes, this vitiligo is not hurting me in any way then why do I worry so much.”

Embracing herself

The day Manisha accepted her skin was the day she actually felt liberated. “The first thing I did was to start wearing clothes that showed my arms. And soon I also realised that people don’t really care about what you are wearing,” recalls Manisha.

With her mind off vitiligo, Manisha was able to shift her focus on her passion for Indian fashion. Through her Instagram account, Manisha talks about styling Indian clothes in different ways and gives other style tips too.

So how and when did she decide to talk about vitiligo on Instagram?

“That decision wasn’t mine as I was never in favour of sharing any personal information over social media. The decision to let people know about it was taken by my husband, Karl,” reveals Manisha. 

Manisha met Karl in 2014 and they started dating. Karl had no issues with the colour of Manisha’s skin and insisted that she should share her story with the world, but Manisha was not keen on it.

“After meeting Karl and getting comfortable with him, I realised that once people start knowing you, they start seeing through your skin colour and like you for the person you are,” says Manisha.   

Karl in fact could see what Manisha couldn’t see at that time. He was posting his vlogs on social media and decided to make Manisha a part of them. When people, after seeing those vlogs wrote comments asking what’s wrong with his wife’s face, Karl decided to push Manisha.

The kind of partner everyone needs

Finding a person who pushes you to be your best version is a blessing. And Manisha had more than found hers in Karl.

“Karl told me that I know your story, buy they don’t. I wasn’t convinced at all, but he was. And, I was shocked to see the amazing response we got for that video. So many people related to it and I still get letters where people share their most personal struggles with me while dealing with vitiligo. I feel happy that other people at least are able to share their stories through me as there was hardly anyone for me to do the same. And, Karl had said something in the video that everyone had loved. He had said that I look like a painting, and everyone just loved that line,” says Manisha with a smile.

Today, Manisha is in a happy space and totally comfortable with whatever way her skin looks. She has a huge following on social media and enjoys her passion for fashion. “Through my fashion posts, I want to reach out to people with no vitiligo and make them more aware about something like this and the fact that even with a condition like this, people can lead a normal life. Creating awareness is more important for me.”

Today, when she  looks back, she shares, she  doesn’t  feel sad anymore. “I feel happy as every struggle makes you stronger. I am definitely in a much happier state now with no diet restrictions, I don’t follow any medication and even though my skin has a mind of its own, I don’t bother about it anymore,” says the social media star.

Manisha definitely has accepted and is comfortable with her body now, so what advise she would want to give those still facing issues related to body positivity?

“As I say in my YouTube video, no one will take a stand for you until you take a stand for yourself,” Manisha points out. “Your skin doesn’t define you; it’s a part of you. Don’t let fake beauty standards affect you either. No one on earth is perfect. And that’s how we’re supposed to be – imperfect! So rock your imperfections. Show them off because you’re one of a kind,” says this vitiligo warrior before signing off.

Seeing them for who they are

Individuals don’t always know how to behave with people who might deviate from  anything the society considers ‘normal’. It is good to remember some basics and it  would be easy to see individuals for what they are . Here are some basic tips on how to deal with people suffering from vitiligo.

  • Please do NOT stare, they are more than your eyes see
  • Respect their decision to lead their life their way
  • Support them, don’t preach, you don’t know their full story
  • Treat them like any other normal person