Published: 03rd May 2021
My classmates called me 'the mask': How 24-year-old Prarthana Jagan overcame vitiligo and is a beacon of skin positivity
We speak to 24-year-old Prarthana Jagan from Bengaluru about her skin condition and how she overcame all her inhibitions to accept herself as it is
"My classmates in school called me 'the mask' because of the thick makeup I put on my face to hide my skin condition," recalls Prarthana Jagan.
The 24-year-old marketing professional has a condition called Vitiligo or Leucoderma that affects close to two to five per cent of the population in India. It is a condition in which the skin loses its pigment cells (melanocytes), resulting in discoloured patches in different areas of the body, including the skin, hair and mucous membranes.
Prarthana saw white spots on her face when she was just 11 years old and her life hasn't been the same after that. "As kids, we don't realise what is happening, the next day you wake up and you think everything will be fine, but that wasn't the case," she recalls. "I went to dermatologists and many of them said that there were various reasons behind children getting white spots on their face - the most common cause being because they are not dewormed properly. I proceeded to take deworming tablets and accept other treatments for those spots but the condition kept worsening. I was misdiagnosed, nobody knew about vitiligo at that point and we didn't pay much attention to what was happening exactly," she adds.
Her condition began spreading and finally she visited another dermatologist two or three weeks after the first spot appeared on the face. "She was the first one who said I have vitiligo. The doctor gave me some ointments and tablets to take, she was the one who told me that there is makeup available that is dermatologically tested and won't irritate the skin. I started wearing makeup when I was only 11 and wore it until 19. Every single day, I would wake up and put on makeup for 30 minutes. Even while running the smallest of errands like going to the nearby grocery shop I had to put it on to hide the skin condition on my face. My friends and relatives didn't know about it initially and people were in shock when they found out, later on," she shares.
Those eight years were extremely tough on her as a child, recalls Prarthana. "As a kid, you don't know how to wear makeup, especially when in school you are the only one allowed to wear it. I had to take numerous letters signed by parents. I was bullied in school because of wearing makeup. I got tormented, my self-confidence was affected by that and I was pushed to a corner that was very difficult for me to come out of," she adds.
The social stigma surrounding such a skin condition, as well as unrealistic beauty standards prevalent in our society till today, are capable of breaking any adult's self-esteem, let alone that of a child. Prarthana wasn't spared either and had to bear the brunt of this for the major part of her teen years.
In 2016, things became worse for the teen who was already struggling with one condition. "After my 12th I went to study a semester at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. That's when I was diagnosed with an ovarian cyst in my fallopian tube and had to get that operated on in an emergency laparoscopy as my condition was worsening. I had to leave my exams, studies behind and come down to Bengaluru to get it done. I was going to miss a year when my mother suggested that I start afresh somewhere in Bengaluru and I ended up joining Ramaiah Institute Of Technology," she explains.
However, life had other plans. "It was supposed to be a two-day stay at the hospital, but I had complications, allergic to medication and had to be under observation for 10 days. I obviously didn't wear makeup at that point. I was shifted from one bed to the other, even hospitals but none of the people around treated me any differently. They still gave me the same kind of attention. This is what gave me the kind of boost to go out without makeup. It made me realise life was more than wearing makeup, insecurities about my skin and how such things don't matter when you are faced with larger problems, such as death or complicated surgery," says Prarthana.
Prarthana came out of the hospital with newfound confidence and made a conscious decision to celebrate her skin. She decided to stop all kinds of treatment for her skin which anyway was only giving her pain. What followed was numerous modelling contracts and immense love and support from her followers online — YouTube and Instagram. Today, Prarthana is a content and digital marketing strategist, has an engineering degree and is pursuing her postgraduation in digital marketing.
She started her YouTube channel that year and began offering tips on the condition and shared how she overcame her issues with vitiligo. "I gradually shifted to Instagram to connect with my audience more. People shared heartbreaking but wonderful stories about how they dealt with similar things in life. Gradually, I began getting modelling assignments. In November 2016, I modelled for Elle Magazine, followed by Grazia 2017. In 2018, I joined Blunt Agency for modelling. Most recently, I was also on the cover of Cosmos. I realised how I could manage all of this while continuing my studies and I have never looked back," she shares.
Finally, Prarthana says that we should look at our lives from a larger perspective and stop giving such a condition so much power over us that we are unable to live a life we wish to. "Amid this time of distress, we are fussing about our skin when people are dying without oxygen. If you look at it from that point of view your problems are actually tiny and intangible compared to the drastic problems that face people right now. How you appear or look shouldn't stop you from achieving what you want in life," she concludes.