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    Everyday Life

    Schools Visit With Changing Faces

    Last week, two fantastic primary schools welcomed me as a speaker representing the charity, Changing Faces. Coinciding with Anti Bullying Week (13th – 17th November), I was asked to speak during their weekly school assemblies about my experiences as someone living with a visible skin difference.

    Given my own school days are long behind me, being back at school gave me an overwhelming nostalgic feeling. Walking down the corridor, glancing over the school walls plastered with children’s drawings made me instantly smile. As did the hopscotch on the floor as I walked across the playground and the polished floor that looked as though it had shined over the weekend, ready for another school week. There was even the distinctive school smell…..a heady blend of musty schoolbooks, mixed with the wooden smell of the bookcases that lined the corridors. It was so nice to be back…..

    The night before, I had been repetitively reminding myself that there was no need to be nervous, after all, two days prior I’d presented at The Vitiligo Society Annual Open Day (separate post!) and in a way, presenting to a group of cute school kids in years, 3, 4 and 5, shouldn’t have been two daunting. I was fine as I waited in reception for the head teacher….still fine when I was greeted by the PE teacher in the assembly hall where I was due to present. But, as I guessed, my nerves started to fail me as the kids started to trickle in, class by class, filling the room like it was a conference that had reached full house!

    By 10am all the kids were sitting quietly, cross-legged, on the floor looking a little intrigued by my presence. After the Deputy Head introduced me, I was handed the mic to start. The children were incredibly enthusiastic within minutes. Before I gave them an overview of who I was, I briefly explained who Changing Faces were and their role as a charity who supports people with indifferences. Before I began with my own story as someone with Vitiligo, I asked how many of them had heard of the condition. I was very surprised when more than half raised their hands. Good start!

    As I spoke about my journey and how having a skin condition affected me when I was around there age, they were keen to ask questions and share how it might feel to be different. Keen to interact, I asked their views on how it feels to have a visible mark, to which they gave impressive answers such as; it can make you feel unique and beautiful, makes you feel different and on the flip side how it can make you feel sad when people stare and ask intrusive questions.

    After presenting, I gave the children an opportunity to ask questions….and of course my slight fear was that they’d be silence! But it was great to see their hands shoot up! I was asked questions such as ‘Did I have treatment’? ‘Was I born with Vitiligo’?, and ‘Is is the same as a birthmark?’…..all of which were very common questions.

    Later that week, I made my way to a second school for a mid afternoon assembly. Fresh from lunch, I presented to a slightly smaller group of year 6 children which was a completely different experience. I gave exactly the same presentation however, this time I was conscious that one of the kids actually had Vitiligo. When I asked if they’d heard of the condition less hands went up, which I was surprised by especially as they were older. They listened intently and shared their views about what it was like to be different, but their responses were interestingly different. They highlighted that you would likely feel isolated, sad, embarrassed, uncomfortable and cautious of potential bullying and staring. All of which are very true, but they didn’t suggest that you may feel unique, beautiful with an embracement for being different, like the previous school.

    After presenting in two very different schools, I reflected on how the children in each of the schools responded. I personally felt as though children in higher primary school years are more conscious of there peers….less likely to put their hands up to share their ideas in fear of giving the wrong answer or possibly a negative reaction from others. Whilst in the younger years, their enthusiasm, interest and ability to share their own personal experiences, was refreshing. They were open to answering questions and quietly discussing some of the other themes that arose throughout.

    For me, aside from it being an ordinary working week, it was a fantastic and personally educating, new experience! Afterall, they are a future generation in the making and I’d like to think diversity and the acceptance of others regardless of appearance, is fully embraced by the time they reach my age….

    Everyday Life

    Celebrating A Year of Being Just Us!

    This time a year ago Christmas had already crept into my mind. I was pondering over what presents to buy family because I didn’t want to do my usual and rush around two days before, and I was giving thought to how I would spend twixmas because once again I was finishing the year as a single woman! I was also dreading the end of October when the clocks would go back and another cold and dark winter would officially kick in.

    It was also the same time that my blog, Being Just Us was born. At the time, I’d been writing blog posts for the past 6 months in draft mode because I was apprehensive about revealing my skin in photos and opening up about the thoughts and feelings I’d been storing for the past 10 years. Writing my first post, ‘About Me’, followed by ‘Life with Vitiligo; The Early Years’ made me realise just how important my story and journey was to me. It became my new writing outlet (as opposed to scribbling in endless notebooks!) and I was excited by the prospect of it being public….one day, when I was comfortable.

    Looking back, I wasn’t certain I’d see a year, which I hate to admit as it meant I doubted keeping it up. Working full time, volunteering as a mentor and managing my social life, family life and all the other various things that filter into life, I was convinced I’d end up neglecting Being Just Us, after all, the only person it would impact is me.

    So this post is about looking back. Looking back over the past year and asking myself ‘What have I achieved and will ‘Being Just Us’ see another year after this one….’

    A lot has happened in 12 months. Some things I knew about…others I didn’t. Since allowing myself to feel comfortable within my skin, i’ve always felt like growth is a life long journey with no end date.….and its only now I realise that. I am still conscious of my skin, however these days it doesn’t act as a ‘barrier’ to anything I want to do. This year, I enjoyed short breaks in Madrid and Valencia and loved that I was leaving Britain for much sunnier climates. I felt completely unfazed by how hot it would be, because I was more excited about wearing my new ‘summer wardrobe’ that consisted of dresses in nude shades, midi dresses and my favourite blushing pink pleated skirt with a thigh high slit up the side! It was a 2012 buy that I wore for the first time in 2016!

    I know longer need people to ‘validate’ my look. I recall on so many occasions checking with friends or with my Mum, asking if ‘my legs looked okay’ in my denim shorts. On their ‘say so’ I’d instantly feel relieved and ready to leave the hotel (it was always whilst on holiday!). Now, I get ready, glance at my own self in the mirror, check my hair and leave because I know the only person who should validate how I look, is me.

    In relation to being a spokesperson for Vitiligo, the opportunities have been constant. Earlier this year, I became a Trustee at the Vitiligo Society. A charity, which I became a member of in 1986 because my Mum wanted me to be part of a ‘community’ of people that had what I had. So to now be an influencer in how the society operates is an honour. I’m a real people person, so being the Social Media and Community lead, is the absolute ideal role for me! As part of my role, I get to manage all our social networking platforms (I grew The Vitiligo Society Instagram page from scratch!), interact with support groups and individuals and I also liaise frequently with magazines and TV production companies who are creating opportunities for Vitiligo to be in mainstream media. I joined the Society at an exciting time as they are currently going through digital change. We recently introduced a guided meditation app for those with skin conditions, have relaunched the annual open day which takes place on Saturday 11th October and we are soon to go live with a new story telling platform, The Vit Life. Working at the society does take up considerable time, but its time I love investing.

    I’ve also worked closely with two other amazing charities who strongly support those who have an ‘altered appearance’. Changing Faces, who campaign for face equality, and the British Skin Foundation, who invest time into research for various skin conditions. This year Changing Faces turned 25 and to celebrate they created a coffee table book which I was fortunate enough to be asked to feature in. Entitled ‘Faces of Equality’ (you can purchase a copy here), it was a great way to showcase and interview the various faces of Face Equality. I also recently attended a training session that would prepare me for speaking in schools about being body confident and living a fulfilled life, irrespective of what you look like. Addressing children has always been my goal, so to finally be in a position where I can speak out is an incredibly important step in my journey.

    In May, I recorded a segment with Dean Edwards, celebrity chef and Masterchef runner up! It was recorded for the Lorraine show on ITV and not only did Dean pop round to bake a heavenly banana cake, but we got to chat about life with Vitiligo and how its been for each of us growing up. It was incredibly inspiring to converse with Dean. The conversation felt so natural…especially when we started comparing our patchy hands….the only difference being my cherry coloured nails!

    Also in May, I was interviewed by women’s luxury lifestyle magazine, Phoenix. It was probably one of the best interviews I’d given because I was able to talk ‘freely’ without having my words misconstrued to mean something else. The photos that accompanied the interview were elegant, dark and really captured my Vitiligo in a beautiful light.

    Whilst I don’t want this post to be a CV of what I’ve achieved over the past 12 months, its great to have been given the opportunity to get involved in so many great projects and most importantly, that Vitiligo has gained a platform which has allowed many of us to raise awareness in such a public way. Even now, three years after my first live interview on London Live, sharing my story still forms part of my own self-acceptance and further cements my ability to love the person I am as a woman with Vitiligo.

    2017 year hasn’t finished yet, and there is still more to come which I’m sure I will share as they take place. I love that I have a diary that I can fill with schools talks, interviews and opportunities to share my journey…..and I hope this time next year, when I write exactly the same blog post marking year 2, I’ll have even more positive achievements to share….. just bigger…

    Before I leave, I’d just like to thank all those that have read any of my posts, left a comment or even scanned through for a few seconds. I thank you from the heart 🙂

    Photo: Kaye Ford @ Fordtography