This story is part of a series on body neutrality, where we shine the spotlight on five women on the journey towards self-acceptance.
Monica Saranya Selva De Roy, 27, lives with vitiligo.
“I was ‘blessed’ with vitiligo when I was around the age of 12. It first started around my eyes, and then some spots started appearing around my hips. Before long, it spread like wildfire. When it was diagnosed, I felt like it was the end of the world for me. I didn’t know of a single other person in school, at home, or in my neighbourhood who had it. There also wasn’t anyone like me on TV. It felt like a disease that needed to be covered up and never spoken about. My insecurities were endless. I’d often stand in front of the mirror and cry for a really, really long time.
When I first started undergoing treatment, which consisted of UV treatments and steroid creams, my skin specialist gave me some concealer to cover up the patches. I started wearing a truckload of makeup. I now know how wrong that was, and I have been taking every opportunity to voice out how wrong it was to have been guided in that direction.
While I had some self-generated insecurities about my face and skin, most of it was external – I received a lot of mixed messages from people. I’ve had people compliment my patches, ask me to remove my glasses so they can take a closer look at them, and say things like, ‘It really looks OK because you’re fair’. My condition has been laughed at, questioned, treated like an exhibition, and ‘diagnosed’ by aunties who didn’t know two things about it.
I stopped wearing makeup somewhere in my 20s. It was after an impromptu sleepover, and I had to go to work without a spot of makeup the next morning. I remember everything about that morning, and can still feel every bit of emotion I was feeling before entering my office – I was rehearsing responses to my skin condition in my head, and was not looking forward to the questions. But no one said a thing, and that day changed my life forever: I realised that I was a much bigger critic than anyone else in my adult life.
Over the years, I’ve had several moments when I’ve genuinely embraced my skin, and by that, I mean when it’s not made into a spectacle or overly celebrated on social media, when it’s not like I’ve put a picture up on Instagram that garners hundreds of likes and comments. In those moments, I look at my face in the mirror, alone in the room, and genuinely like it. I like the spots. I feel that I can work with them. To me, they look cute.
That’s not to say I don’t still have moments when the patches make me feel different, or make me question who I am. They usually surface when I’m, say, trying to recreate a natural, ‘no makeup’ makeup look, and realise that something like that cannot be achieved with my skin. Those moments make me feel awkward in my skin, but they’re short-lived.
Once you’ve reached a point where you see what your body does for you, not what it looks like, you’re very close to getting to the top of the world. This mindset alone is going to push you to eat better, sleep better, exercise a bit every day, do things you enjoy, wear better fitting clothes, and dress to impress no one else but yourself.”
PHOTOGRAPHY Vee Chin
STYLING Debby Kwong
ART DIRECTION Adeline Eng
HAIR Ann Lin
MAKEUP Lolent Lee & Eunice Wong
This story first appeared in the July 2021 issue of Her World.