Vitiligo: More than skin deep
An interesting story on CNN’s website this morning tells of a television news anchor, Lee Thomas, who is dealing with vitiligo, a disease that destroys the pigment of the skin. This anchor has revealed his condition in order to help others who are going through the same thing, something the director of the National Vitiligo Foundation describes as a disease that attacks the soul and psyche.
Another (and much more famous) vitiligo sufferer, Michael Jackson, has often been the subject of choice for late-night jokesters, many insinuating that the change in his skin color was intentional. Most people wouldn’t put anything past a celebrity that would drastically alter his nose and exhibit bizarre behavior, but perhaps we should ponder what role vitiligo might have played in his obvious issues with self-esteem.
When Michael tearfully announced the reason for his changing skin color during an interview with Oprah in 1993, it was evident that the issue was quite painful. After explaining that he used makeup to even out the skin tone, he was asked why he doesn’t use brown makeup. Jackson claimed that most of his skin is already white, so using that much brown makeup was not an option. This was backed up by a statement from Karen Faye, his longtime makeup artist.
It started happening relatively early, he even was trying to hide it from me..he tried to hide it for quite awhile. He’d always try to cover it with makeup and even out his skin tone until it got so extensive. It’s all over his body. We were always trying to hide it and cover it for the longest time until he just had to tell Oprah and tell the world, ‘Listen I’m not trying to be white, I have a skin disease.’
In the beginning I tried to cover the light spots to match the darker part of his skin, but then it became so extensive that we had to go with the lighter part of his skin because his whole body was reacting…he’d have to be in complete full body makeup, every inch of his body. So it was easier to make the transition to him being to the lighter shade that he is.
Skeptics immediately pounced on Jackson, spreading rumors of skin-bleaching products and internalized racism. Many claimed that Michael no longer wanted to be black. Some said that he so despised his father that he altered his very race. Others said that he became unidentifiable sexually and racially so that he could appeal to a broader audience. Despite the naysayers, Michael continued to proclaim pride in his heritage.
I’m a black American, I am proud of my race. I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity.
We tried to control it and using make-up evens it out because it makes blotches on my skin. I have to even out my skin. But you know what’s funny, why is that so important? That’s not important to me.
I’m a great fan of art. I love Michaelangelo, if I had a chance to talk to him or read about him I would want to know what inspired him to become who he is, the anatomy of his craftsmanship, not about who he went out with last night… I mean that’s what is important to me.
I have seen plenty of pictures that would seem to prove that Michael does indeed suffer from this affliction. The following photos were taken a few years ago when Jackson reportedly suffered a life-threatening brown recluse spider bite. Although the wound is the most prominent feature in the photographs, they also reveal that his legs have undergone a dramatic change in skin color.
The following photographs were taken during the filming of Michael’s short film “They Don’t Care About Us”, and they clearly show blotches on his chest and arms.
When one considers the emotional turmoil that such a condition might have on a person that lives in the spotlight, the gloves, surgical masks, and long wigs begin to make a bit more sense. Below are photos of Michael on a recent shopping excursion, wrapped head to toe and covering his skin with adhesive bandages. This man seems so uncomfortable in his own skin that he’s become a tragic shadow of his former self.
As for the news anchor I mentioned earlier, he’s decided to stop wearing makeup when he’s off camera, and believes that vitiligo has actually had a positive impact on his life.
Having this disease forces me to focus on what I am: kind, caring, honest. There are people who have diseases that will kill them.
Read more about vitiligo here.