Self Portrait - Hand Masters
Growing up, my hands were always my favourite feature. It seemed like no other part of my body conformed to the narrow beauty standards imposed by the media in the '90s. My lips weren't the "right" size, my curves were considered too curvy, and my hair was obviously not straight enough. It was a constant struggle to feel accepted.
But as I entered my mid-teens, something shifted within me. I began to ignore those beauty standards and realised that I was never going to fit in. I made a decision to love myself and embrace the fact that I was different from the people around me. It was a liberating choice.
However, little did I know that my journey towards self-acceptance would take an unexpected turn. A couple of years later, fear gripped me. I started noticing white patches appearing on my wrist. I didn't know what was happening, or maybe I did know and I didn't want to accept that I had vitiligo as I worried about how it would affect me.
The media has long been criticised for its limited representation of beauty and lack of diversity. Fortunately, there has been a positive shift in recent years, with the inclusion of models with vitiligo in fashion campaigns, runways, and editorials. This step towards representation is encouraging, but it also brings additional pressure on individuals with vitiligo to accurately represent their condition and community. Balancing the expectations of the public and our own personal experiences requires self-care strategies.
Strangers often compliment me, saying things like, "You look cool," "I love your skin," or "You are beautiful." And most days, I say to myself, "Of course I am." But there are also days when I struggle. The emotional impact of vitiligo hits me the hardest when I've grown accustomed to a skin pattern and have embraced it, only for it to change again. Vitiligo is constantly evolving, and I have to adapt to these changes, whether I like it or not. It's during those moments that I have to learn to love myself all over again. It's a process that takes time, and yet people often expect instant self-acceptance.
"How would I feel if my hands became completely white?" It's a question that has generated many different answers throughout my journey. But my current answer revolves around the versatility and significance of my hands. They play a vital role in how I interact with the world—they allow me to express myself, create, communicate, and engage with others. In recent years, I have reversed the question: "How would I feel if my hands became black?" The thought of my hands returning to their original colour brings a sense of sadness, as vitiligo has become an integral part of who I am.
In my ongoing series, Hand Masters, I document my hands at their current stage of discolouration, completely white. Through this exploration, I delve into my emotions and examine the shape, colour, texture, and symmetry of vitiligo. Despite my initial fear, I have channeled my emotions into art that celebrates the rebirth of my ever-changing self. I perceive and objectify my hands as flowers, a centrepiece symbolising a cleansing of my emotional state, accomplishment, growth, individuality, uniqueness, and, of course, beauty. I choose blouses with big sleeves that create the illusion of my arms being placed delicately in a vase, further accentuating the Dutch floral theme.
Through this artistic expression, I strive to showcase the beauty that lies within vitiligo. This series serves as a reminder that a skin condition is a testament of resilience and what can be found in embracing our unique journeys.