Photo by Stephanie Zhang

Most days, senior Jwala Rejimon goes about her day as most other CHS students do by taking a quick glimpse in the mirror while getting ready for school, walking from class to class and participating in extracurricular activities. There are times after school, though, when she tans herself under an intense lamp to even out her skin tone. However, this tanning is not for vanity—Rejimon has a skin disease called vitiligo.

“(Vitiligo) basically destroys the pigmentation in your skin cells. Some people just have it,” Rejimon said.

This condition is likely genetic, as her father also has vitiligo. According to a November 2014 article from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the true cause of vitiligo is unknown, though it may be an autoimmune disease that can form at any age.

Rejimon said she first began to notice her skin condition when she was around 5 years old.

She said, “When I was really young, like five or six, I didn’t really know that I was any different. So, I only noticed when other people started asking me what it was. So I was like, ‘Oh, it’s just, you know, I’ve always just kind of had it.’”

According to Rejimon, having the condition as a child was not particularly troubling as she was not completely aware of her situation. She said she had been taking medication from a young age, but only truly began to notice the differences between herself and other children as she got older.

“As I got older, I realized, ‘Oh, okay. Not everyone has this.’ And…people in this country don’t really react badly at all,” she said. “Nowadays, people just sometimes…ask questions and sometimes they may just kind of glance for a while.”

Freshman Abigael Mullens faced similar situations in middle school with a skin condition she used to have on her back: acne.

“It started when I was in the sixth grade, I think, and it just progressively got worse,” Mullens said. Part of the cause, she said, was likely her participation in swimming, particularly due to the chlorine in the water.

To Mullens, it was uncomfortable seeing her condition in comparison to others.

Describing a situation she encountered, she said, “It would be before swim practice, and I would see it on my back and be like, ‘Ugh.’ And then I would go to swim practice, and people would, like, point it out, and I would be like, ‘I know. It’s really bad.’”

However, acne is a common skin disease. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin problem in the United States and affects 40 to 50 million Americans every year, many of whom are teenagers. Mullens said her take on the reasons behind the stigma of having acne is that people want to avoid imperfection.

Senior Jwala Rejimon
Photo by Stephanie Zhang

She said, “We don’t want to feel imperfect, and that acne kind (of) makes people feel imperfect.”

Rejimon said adapting to a skin condition that makes her different from others has never been easy. In middle school and at the beginning of high school, she felt especially conscious of her physical difference from most other students.

“(I) was really self-conscious about what I would wear, and I really hated people asking me questions—even (with people) looking, I would get really self-conscious,” Rejimon said.

Both Mullens and Rejimon sought treatment for their conditions from medical professionals.

For Mullens, she said a doctor prescribed her Epiduo, an acne medication, and certain pills to remove the scars. These prescriptions allowed her to feel more confident. Rather than having to avoid wearing T-shirts that were low in the back and wearing her hair down to cover her acne, she said it made her “feel a lot better because (she) knew that it would go away.”

In Rejimon’s case, she said she has tried several medications and treatments; however, she said, “the hard thing is that there’s no actual cure for it…because it’s autoimmune.”

“(I) was really self-conscious about what I would wear, and I really hated people asking me questions—even (with people) looking, I would get really self-conscious.”

Senior Jwala Rejimon

Currently, Rejimon’s tanning sessions are a part of a treatment she and her parents found on the Internet called light therapy. According to Rejimon, the therapy consists of applying a special oil to her affected skin areas and sitting in front of a lamp, which works to tan the spots of the skin covered by the oil.

However, Rejimon said she does not enjoy going through her various medical curatives.

“I really neglect my medicines. I don’t know why. Most people would want to take them to get better, but I feel like if I don’t take my medicine, I can pretend to be a normal person. And, you know, out of sight, out of mind,” she said.

Such feelings have led to difficulties for Rejimon in her home country of India and in dancing, one of her passions.

“(In) India, people are very much more (conservative). They look down upon (vitiligo), so I have to be more careful about what I wear…in India,” Rejimon said.

She said some of the challenges brought upon by conservative Indian opinions are seen in her participation with Indian cultural dance. She must often perform on stage in front of an audience, some of whom may hold these conservative views.

“I recently did a big dance performance, and Indians in general, especially old-fashioned Indians, tend to look down upon (my skin spots), so I had my parents (who) were discussing whether or not I should…use makeup to cover up the spots,” Rejimon said.

Rejimon said she has made efforts to accept her condition, trying to move beyond other opinions, and she believes “one day (she’ll) be able to be as confident as anyone else.”

For those who are suffering from similar skin conditions as hers, as well as those who are not, Rejimon said, “Cosmetic beauty is not the only standard of beauty, and the cliché line, that beauty lies within, is only really cliché because there’s some truth to it. So, I just think that, although it may be hard, and I’m still struggling with this, it’s good to convince yourself (to not) worry so much about your appearances and what people perceive you as just because you may look different—in the end, people are more accepting than you think they are.”

Graphic by Matthew Han and Akshar Patel

 Graphic by Matthew Han and Akshar Patel

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Ellen Peng