I hide things. I always have.

It started when I was small with things that were also small. Pretty rocks from the driveway. Bugs and snakes I’d find in the yard and squirrel away in a cardboard box. Then, finally, my mother’s jewelry. Shiny, pretty things I’d spirit from her bedroom and tuck underneath my pillow.

I was in preschool, too young to understand this constituted theft. I just knew I liked them and wanted them for myself. Eventually, my mother would discover something missing and come to reclaim her baubles. I’d hand them back, ashamed, and then do it again without so much as a second thought. This behavior continued until kindergarten when I developed a concept of personal belongings.

Pinpricks of shame covered my face. I’d never been under the illusion I was beautiful, but until that moment, I’d never realized I was ugly.

I kept my penchant for secrecy though. I wasn’t the type of child who came home and talked about my day. I preferred to keep those details to myself, replaying scenes and conversations in my head like a movie.

I wanted to be a movie star. I wrote plays and recorded them on my tape recorder, changing my voice to capture various roles. I dreamed of winning an Oscar. I imagined making my speech in a beautiful gown to thunderous applause. I was certain I’d get a standing ovation.

My stepfather took it upon himself to spare me from the crushing disappointment of pursuing an unattainable goal.

I still remember how he started the conversation: “I hate to be the one to tell you this,” my stepfather said, in a tone that made it clear he didn’t hate it at all. “But you’re never going to be a movie star. Movie stars are beautiful. You’re ugly.”

Pinpricks of shame covered my face. I’d never been under the illusion I was beautiful, but until that moment, I’d never realized I was ugly. Nor had I realized that ugly people couldn’t be movie stars. I immediately wondered what other jobs were barred to ugly people. Also, what other life experiences?

Was I too ugly to get married someday?

The thought plagued me as I grew older. I daydreamed about meeting a blind man who wouldn’t care what I looked like. I fantasized we’d be bound together in a hostage situation and he’d fall in love with my inner beauty while we awaited rescue. This, I’d believed, was the only way I would get married.

I began searching for people uglier than myself whenever I left the house in order to get a glimpse of the life I might lead myself one day. I wanted to know where they lived, who they loved, what they did for a living. I never found one. It was too difficult to compare the ugliness of strangers to myself, whom I saw in the mirror every day.

My face was too round. I had a large mole on my cheek. My nose, well, I wasn’t sure what was wrong with it, but I was certain it was subpar somehow. And then there was my hair, always messy and out of control.

I began hiding my face. I looked down when I spoke, afraid eye contact might encourage people to reciprocate and look back upon my ugliness. It's a habit I continue to this day.

The funny thing is, I never thought my vitiligo was ugly, just different. While I was ashamed of having that difference, I also found it fascinating to look at. I still do.

My face wasn’t the only part of me I hid.

I called the other places “the places I don’t tan.”

Certain spots on my body remained white when the rest of me turned brown from the sun. When people asked about them, I grew painfully embarrassed because I didn’t know what they were or how to answer their questions. I didn’t want my differences highlighted. I wanted to look like everyone else. As I got older, I made every effort to cover them up.

And unlike the mole on my face, covering the places I didn’t tan proved easy. I was naturally fair, which meant I could control its appearance unless I soaked in the sun. The largest spot was on my back, visible only when I was wearing my bathing suit. If I was forced to wear a bathing suit, I would have positioned my back against a chair or a swimming pool wall. I always kept a towel nearby I could use to cover myself .

I’d never heard the word vitiligo until the word was associated with Michael Jackson. But Michael Jackson’s vitiligo didn’t make me feel better or less alone. I heard his vitiligo was the reason he wore makeup and covered his hand with a sequined glove. This reinforced my instinct that vitiligo should be hidden.

The funny thing is, I never thought my vitiligo was ugly, just different. While I was ashamed of having that difference, I also found it fascinating to look at. I still do.

Deep inside, I’m still that little girl who collected snakes, rocks, and my mother’s jewelry because they were different, and back then I understood that different was also beautiful.

I never became a movie star, but I did act on stage for a while. It taught me how to accept being looked at, if only from a distance. And although I don’t think I’ll ever be completely happy with the way I look, I’ve learned to be comfortable with myself. More importantly, I understand my value isn’t contingent on my looks. I bring far more to the table than that. I’m smart, loyal, funny, and a great conversationalist. People like being around me. I like being around me, too. I even manage to get married.

And divorced.

This isn’t to say old insecurities don’t linger.

The other day I got out of the shower and noticed my vitiligo is spreading to my face. I thought my skin was just getting blotchy with age, but upon closer inspection, I’m losing patches of pigment.

My first instinct was to revert to my elementary-school self and hide. I concocted a plan and vowed to wear makeup at all times so my boyfriend wouldn’t find out. Even though we live together. Even though we both work from home. Even though I don’t like wearing makeup every day because it’s expensive and bad for my skin. I just made sure he never saw me without it.

The next morning, I got up and looked in the mirror again. I still didn’t find the vitiligo ugly. And although one could easily say that’s because I’m pale and my vitiligo is subtle, I don’t think vitiligo is ugly on other people, either.

Deep inside, I’m still that little girl who collected snakes, rocks, and my mother’s jewelry because they were different, and back then I understood that different was also beautiful. I lost touch with this truth for far too many years when society's ideas of beauty overtook my own. I assumed society was right. I assumed my stepfather was right, too. But I remember now.

Different is beautiful. Messy-haired girls with round faces, vitiligo, and moles on their cheeks are beautiful, too.

I’ve made up my mind not to hide my vitiligo. Not now, and not when it becomes apparent to the world it's more than blotchy skin. I’ll wear makeup when I feel like it. And I’ll forgo it when I don’t.

When my stepfather used to tell me I was ugly, it was because he didn’t know how to see beauty. As for me, I’ve become someone who sees so much beautiful I don’t even know what ugly is anymore. I only know it isn’t me.

I’m through hiding.


Tamara Gane is a freelance writer in Seattle with work in Healthline, The Washington Post, The Independent, HuffPost Personal, Ozy, Fodor's Travel, and more. You can follow her on Twitter at @tamaragane.