Featured image created by: Aesthetics by Nuha (Follow her on Instagram)
As a dark-skinned girl within the Tamil community, you have to face a whole scope of colourism and to add eczema to that, nothing was ever easy.
This battle started when I was just 21 days old, initially as a small rash patch. However, soon it had spread all over my body. Being the first child and the only child with this condition in the family seemed ever so scary to my parents. By the age of two, I was diagnosed with eczema as well as allergies. Things only got progressively worse growing up with eczema and being in a society where we are expected to look perfect, especially when you're a dark-skinned girl. I was always told that once I became of age things would take a turn, so I was always looking forward to it.
Once I became older, things remained somewhat the same. Culturally, a girl is expected to do her Samathiveedu, which involves putting on make-up and wearing a saree. Having to do the Samathiveedu meant you were expected to look good, but of course that was the real challenge for me at that age considering I had active eczema. Heat and make-up are 2 big enemies for someone with eczema, so you could imagine how it all turned out. Although I personally felt I looked the best I could on that special day - it was never good for certain people within society.
When is anything good enough for others?
By the age of 14, I knew my triggers for my flare-up, so I started avoiding them. But things took a massive turn for the worst when my GCSE’s came (Year 11). Stress was a crazy factor, which affected me and without me knowing it took me on a crazy ride in an ambulance. I remember vividly, I had been doing my maths revision work. However, after this point, I do not recall much of what happened later other than having to end up in the hospital before Diwali. Yes, not an ideal way to spend Diwali, while others are lighting up fireworks! My flare-up was incredibly bad, that I had to be admitted in the hospital for over a week, connected to many wires and needles at the age of 15. I was then told I had to see a dermatologist after battling eczema on my own for 15 years.
I met my dermatologist and they had put me on heavy steroid creams that I was on for more than a year and sadly, this didn’t work! As I went for my annual consultation with my dermatologist, I was told that I should undergo phototherapy, and this should benefit me very much as I had a lot of melanin. This treatment involved using UV light in the aim to reduce inflammation and irritation of the skin.
06/09/17.The first day of my phototherapy treatment came, and I have to say, until then I had never felt so small. There were 2 huge machines full of ‘lights’ that emitted UV rays and I was expected to stand in there initially for 30 seconds working up to 15 minutes. The first session itself got me so scared and I was thinking how was I going to do this while having to miss 3 lessons a week for this treatment. However, by the end of my treatment, I was able to face my fear in the hope that it would have a positive impact on me. Little did I know I was putting myself into a massive trap.
How long would it take to reach the light at the end of the tunnel?
18/12/17. My treatment had come to an end. I had gone completely 3 shades darker. My skin got rougher. My world crumbled as my hopes were all demolished. My self-esteem crashed!
I was embarrassed about who I was. Some days I was not able to look at myself in the mirror. Other days I was ashamed of who I was because everyone on social media was portrayed to be perfect and we were expected to look perfect by people in our own society. Nothing improved for me other than the fact that I was going through severe topical steroid withdrawal symptoms...
July 2019. 2 years down the road things remained extremely rocky as I was not able to accept myself. As I finished my A-level exam (Year 13) things were not looking good for me and the only thing left to try at this point was strong steroids.
How much did I have to put my body through to look 'good' enough so I can satisfy everyone?
Having had enough with putting my body through a lot of medication, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I asked my dermatologist for some time, explaining the flare-up was due to exam stress. She agreed and if things didn't turn around by the time we had another appointment, I would have to go on steroid pills.
During the summer vacation, I went to Sri Lanka. Going on vacation was to feel stress-free but some comments thrown at me really made me feel uneasy, yet I was expected to remain quiet. This is when I knew what it felt like to be seen, but not heard. I decided to talk back on certain occasions, which was seen as disrespectful and very appalling. I felt suppressed.
Why can't an 18-year-old girl stand up for herself?
September 2019. I started my undergraduate course at City University of London which felt extremely frightening. Not only was having to find new friends in a new environment a massive factor, but it was the question of acceptance. Having gone through bullying for a majority of my life, what was the guarantee that I was not going to be bullied at uni. Thankfully, I was wrong! I found friends quicker than I expected. Entering university had changed me for the better, as I felt like I belonged and fit in somewhere where my eczema was not a barrier. My confidence rose so much!
October 2019. Things were about to change. I went into the consultation room and my dermatologist looked at me, surprised. I was used to having eyes on me everywhere I go, but I could almost certainly say she was looking at me because of something different.
After a full examination, she said, ‘you do realise what you have done?’
I had no words to give as a response other than a confused stare. She said ‘you proved me (a dermatologist) wrong.You don't need the steroid pills. You have improved so much.Your body is just healing now….. You can be discharged today if you are happy with it’. Hearing that was just so surreal.
18 years and 10 months later, I had won the battle.
The 2 things I changed between July and October were my mindset as well as accepting myself! I surrounded myself with people who genuinely wanted the best for me as well as changing how I saw myself! Positive affirmation was the way forward! No one can love you as much as you can love yourself for who you are!
People whom I have considered as my ‘family’ and ‘friends’ were the people who had hurt me in the name of ‘love’ and ‘banter’.
‘Ean ipidi karuthuthe.’
‘Enna achu? Ipidi mosam ahitha.’
‘I can’t see the difference between your hairline and your skin.’
‘You are so black, what is wrong with your face?’
‘Karupu endalum vadivu thaan.’
These are comments no one should hear! Yet, I became numb to their words. Until today, I have failed to understand why my skin and my body would bother these people? Why does the amount of melanin affect someone's beauty?
If I was able to do that ages ago would I be where I am?
For so long, I was insecure about myself and never able to get out of my comfort zone. I realise I had missed so much. So I decided to attend events as well as dance show audition which was definitely out of my comfort zone yet I thoroughly enjoyed them! FORGET WHAT OTHERS THINK AND LIVE IN THE MOMENT! This was my new mantra.
After having been on an endless number of pills, which messes with you mentally, and a tonne load of creams which affect you physically, nothing is as easy as it seems! This journey was challenging.
No one knows your body better than you! Listen to yourself and not what others think. Flex your scars as those scars tell you where you have come from! Being perfect is just an illusion, satisfy yourself and that's that. Never fail to stand up for yourself. You don't have to impress anyone other than the beautiful human being in the mirror!
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