Body of art: This 17-year-old paints her vitiligo patches to battle stigma
Delhi-based student Kartiki Bhatnagar took on bullies who taunted her white skin patches by painting unique designs on them. She also runs a campaign encouraging people to show their midriff.art and culture Updated: Aug 08, 2017 10:57 IST
As someone affected with vitiligo (white patches form on skin due to loss of melanin), Kartiki Bhatnagar (17), a 12th grade student at Delhi Public School, has a lot of experience dealing with taunts. Relatives would often ask her parents about her uneven skin tone and suggest she wear shoes to cover the patches. Even relative strangers would suggest ways to “cure her”.
One day, her friend Shreyas Kishore (18) pointed out how he loved her dual skin tone colour. “That bewildered me. Here I was, loathing my problem and someone wanted to have it. He pointed at my left foot and commented, ‘In fact, that patch actually looks like the Apple logo.’ Later on, Shreyas told me to outline it with a sketch-pen and reluctantly, I agreed,” says Bhatnagar.
This incident spurred Bhatnagar to observe and map each and every spot on her skin. Later, she started doodling and painting them in different ways. “Some of them looked like ghosts, others like mountains during sunrise or during a starry night. My foot could turn from something so mundane to a complete ocean with white islands,” says Bhatnagar, who started sharing her unique designs and experiences on her website (Embracing Life) and coined the term ‘Vitiloger’ for herself. Kishore offered her technical help in handling the website.
Vitiligo is fairly common in India with approximately 0.5-2% of the population affected by it. Bhatnagar developed vitiligo through a thyroid problem. “Vitiligo is not contagious or fatal, but there is no cure and a lot of apprehension about it,” she says. For a decade, she underwent allopathic, Ayurvedic and homeopathic treatment. Finding the experience harrowing, she stopped taking medication.
Apart from vitiligo, Bhatnagar is also running a campaign on Instagram (#Barethemidriff) to de-sexualise the midriff and help people embrace their imperfections. On the Instagram page, Bhatnagar asks people to shoot and send her images of their midriff, with or without a message scribbled on it.
It was inspired by her personal experience in public places: “In the Metro, you brush your hair and almost every man and woman stares at you. You match their gaze and realize your tummy is showing. When that happened to me, it riled me enough to actually do something. I realized that even a body part like the tummy is sexualised, as if so many other things aren’t. Why is that so?”
With 2,000 visitors per day on her site, Bhatnagar is happy that she is making a difference. “I come across people who tell me “Even my nephew has this, I did not know what this was called,” or “I thought this was due to burns but I was wrong.” I am glad my main aim of making people aware of vitiligo is coming to the forefront,” she says.
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