Lebbeii Sibonokuhle Maseko noticed some discolouration on her skin in 2014 but didn’t think much of it. The single mother of three later learned she had vitiligo, a condition in which the pigment cells of the skin, melanocytes, are destroyed in certain areas.
Lebbeii recently talked to The Weight She Carries about learning to accept her changing appearance. This is her story:
My vitiligo began in 2014 after having my second child. I noted faint spots on my arms and legs, but they were not really visible at the time. I never thought much of it at the time because I had a new baby and had just started the job. My family [realized] that something was happening and pressured me into setting an appointment with a dermatologist. I gave excuses not to go but ended up giving in.
The dermatologist informed me that it was vitiligo, and explained everything to me in detail. I was supposed to go for further blood tests but could not afford them. At this point, I was calm and collected [during] the whole situation.
Later on, I researched everything I had been told by the doctor. I joined various support groups on Facebook, which have helped me know that I am not the only one with this condition and that I am part of the 1% of the population living with vitiligo.
In 2016, the spots got more defined and more visible. After that year’s winter, my vitiligo was basically unveiled to the world since I had stopped wearing winter clothes such as boots, slacks and long-sleeved tops. That’s when the stares, wonders and whispers began.
Some people avoid physical contact with me, especially in public transport and in crowded spaces. After realizing this, I came up with a plan to wave and smile at those that stare. Then those that have questioning looks, I tell them not to worry and that it is not contagious. Naturally, I am a free-spirited person, and so I guess that’s why I have dealt with this condition the way I have. That is why I have been chosen to be part of the 1% with the condition.
A lot of people approach me wanting to understand about my skin and I try to explain as best as I can; and at the same time, some come up to me with solutions and remedies to brown my skin. But I have told myself that the spots don’t itch and are not sore and that I have embraced my condition, and so I do not need to brown my skin with anything.
The amazing thing is that I have accepted my condition so much that I even forget I have it until someone stares or points or asks me about it. As for my kids, they actually think it’s cool cause when they see pictures of people with vitiligo, they will say, ‘Ah, this person wants to be like mummy.’ They don’t really see me as different. It’s been an interesting journey, really. Right now, I am at a point where I know all my spots, and for now they have stopped spreading.
My word of advice to someone out there having a difficult time accepting this condition is to be careful of what you put in or on your skin in a bid to try and reverse the vitiligo. The concoctions can cause unknown reactions that can cause harm. Try to be in the company of positive-minded people; join support groups.
Tell yourself you were born to stand out. Treat yourself as an extra-special individual, and in time you will feel that way. We are after all part of the chosen few, and there are support groups like the Official Vitiligo Support Group, which is a global support group. We also have a WhatsApp group where it is just the four of us. We use the platform to share information on vitiligo and encourage one another when one is feeling down.