Dating can feel like a lot of pressure when it comes to vitiligo because we find ourselves questioning so many things before we’ve even exchanged numbers with someone; how will they respond to our skin, will the sight of our skin be a potential turn off or worst of all, the fear of rejection because of how visually striking it is for some of us.
As we celebrate February 14 and honour the love we feel for our partners, family and friends, I couldn’t help but reflect on my own dating history and the feelings of anxiety that would often come with engaging with someone I was potentially interested in. For many years I felt so anxious about having to explain my skin, that I simply avoided relationships and instead kept guys in the ‘friends’ zone because it was easier. I recall plenty of awkward moments as I tried to avoid conversations around explaining my skin whilst worrying about whether their eyes would wander towards my hands, which, besides being impossible to disguise, were porcelain white in colour!
Avoiding relationships wasn’t something I could maintain long term. After all, we are all deserving of finding someone we can connect with and see a potential future with. So how did I overcome dating anxiety? And most importantly, how did I make my skin become a secondary factor to helping me feel more at ease when it came to dating? Here’s how….
Building Skin Confidence Became My Priority
Working on my self confidence became a priority. If I wasn’t confident in who I was with vitiligo, then how could I expect someone else to have confidence in me?
Loving your body first before anyone else is a feeling in its highest form. Projecting an energy that says you are at peace with your skin and letting go of those external worries that often make us anxious can be the foundation to overcoming the negative feelings often associated with vitiligo.
Loving your skin takes time. As the bodies largest organ it is often the first thing we assume people notice about us. I’ve had vitiligo for over 30 years and have spent most of my life loathing every single patch that appeared on my skin…that was until I decided that loving my skin and accepting who I was as a woman with vitiligo, was more empowering than being at war with it.
Reflecting back, I realise that becoming skin confident was down to a combination of factors. Firstly, it was about connecting with the vitiligo community and allowing those who I shared something in common with, to inspire me with their confidence. Once I had discovered the community, I felt as though we were collectively building confidence in each other and showing the world that there was no alternative to loving our skin. Secondly, it required getting comfortable with looking at myself in the mirror and learning to appreciate every patch that was part of who I was. Growing up I tended to avoid looking at myself in the mirror for too long because I wasn’t happy with how I looked. Looking at myself just before a night out when the vitiligo on my face was disguised with makeup made me feel more accepting, but looking in that same mirror when my face was makeup free and my patches were at there most obvious, was often difficult for me. Spending time looking at myself, internally reminding myself that it wasn’t just my skin that made me the person I was, and that there were other parts of my body that deserved to be appreciated, really allowed me to look at myself differently and start appreciating my skin too.
Accepting a compliment
Accepting compliments doesn’t come easy…especially for us Brits! All too often we play them down, question if the person really means those kind words they have projected on you or just simply feel awkward. As part of my own personal growth, I consciously started accepting those things I often got complimented on, whether it be how my hair looked, the colour of my nails or the colour dress I was wearing that complimented my skin. It made a huge difference to my confidence, allowed me to be accepting of how people saw me and helped me to value myself as a whole rather. It also made me realise that people don’t always notice my skin first and that there are other parts of my body that stand out as being attractive and noticeable.
Allow your partner to join you on your journey
I’ve come a long way since 2013, when I made a commitment to myself that I would challenge negative thoughts and work on developing a healthy mindset, however, I still have wobbly moments when I look at my skin and question why I was chosen to be part of the small population of people that has the condition.
Over the years, opening up to partners and even male friends about what I went through, was difficult. It almost felt like a different type of judgement compared to my female friends. However, given the part my skin has played in my life, I wanted them to join me on this journey as it was important that they too, understood what my skin has meant for me.
The best piece of advice I can offer is, don’t shy away from opening up when the time feels right; explaining what it is, how it makes you feel, or how it once made you feel. In recent years, I’ve been keen to start the conversation around what vitiligo is and what it can mean for many of us. Irrespective of how comfortable I am with it now, there was once a time when my skin felt like the ‘elephant in the room’ on a first date, especially if the person was completely unfamiliar with the condition. Now, I love explaining what it is. It normally sparks an interest in them wanting to know more and wanting to understand what it was like growing up with the condition.
Allowing that person in and sharing vulnerable moments from your past or situations where you have felt discomfort, not only makes you human but makes them feel included in who you are as a person. It’s a great way for you to see just how accepting others are without judgement.
I learned to date myself first!
We place so much emphasis on finding the perfect partner that we forget how important it is to be content with ourselves first, and for me, that meant enjoying spending time with myself and enjoying those things I love without feeling the need to have company. This was a real confidence booster and a ‘salute’ to knowing that I don’t have to wait for a partner to enjoy the things I love.
Sometimes we can put off doing the things we love because we are waiting for the right person to come along. But why should we? Love isn’t always about being in love with someone else; it’s about being in love with ourselves first. Nurturing who we are, looking after our own wellbeing, being in tune with our own bodies and not putting things off until ‘later’, and instead welcoming those things into our life that bring us joy. One of the things I love doing when time allows is spa breaks, however, there was once a time when I only felt comfortable going with someone else because they felt like my ally when I was in a swimsuit in front of those I didn’t know. Now, I enjoy solo spa breaks and taking time out with myself to read a book, listen to music, whilst enjoying a few peaceful, uninterrupted moments in my own company….
My final piece of advice? Being in love is a beautiful feeling…however, there is no better feeling than being in love with yourself first before you receive love from someone else.