We Are All Works of Art: How a Tattoo Changed My Life

People have a hard time dealing with anomalies, especially when it comes to physical appearances. Most of the time, it manifests in their urge to ‘correct’ that anomaly, which in my case are the large white patches on my leg.

Vitiligo is simply the lack of the pigment melanin – it’s an autoimmune disease of the skin that causes no trouble to me per se since it is a purely cosmetic issue. The only inconvenience has been seeing the constant discomfort of people who happen to glance at my leg, many of whom then proceed to suggest ‘cures’ – usually some exotic herbs, oils or medicines. 

When I was younger and in school, I was asked to wear pants in summer while everyone else wore shorts. All this and much more led to many bouts of low self esteem – how could it not, with my mind constantly being fed the idea that there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed?

My childhood was also the time when my family and I experimented with all kinds of treatments, which included Ayurveda, allopathy and homoeopathy. We travelled across India – to ashrams, to doctors holed up in distant cities offering “absolute solutions”. Many of these solutions were torturous – I was made to ingest substances that would supposedly help me ‘vomit’ the ‘disease’ from my system. Another time, I was made to roast myself in a UV chamber for hours on end.

As I became more and more aware of the pseudoscience we had been dealing with, and that vitiligo has no magic cures like the ones we had been chasing and pumping money into, I firmly spoke to my family and said I didn’t want to continue down the same path anymore.

From then on, I went about life refusing to impose restrictions on who got to see that I had vitiligo. But confidence is a tricky thing, it surges and dims. The insecurities came rushing back with comments and glances, and chafed away at my hard-built self-esteem. The feeling of there being something wrong with me, which is how I had been made to feel all this while, hit me anew when, every once in a while, a stranger would thrust a remedy in my face – not realising that instead of helping with a problem, they were simply compounding it.

For me, I started to think that the white patches on my leg looked like an unfinished piece of art and that maybe I just need to complete it for people to see my leg the way I did. It couldn’t have been more obvious – I needed a splash of ink.

But finding a design wasn’t easy, especially one which would work alongside the existing piece of god-given art I already had on my body. While I stumbled through the rabbit hole that is the internet, and left more confused that ever, I decided to search for an artist who would be able to help me design a tattoo that would fit well with the pre-existing white patches. That’s when I came across an artist in Gurgaon and I was convinced when I met him that he was the right person for the job as the very first design he showed was a galaxy with white starbursts.

After all, what better way is there to compliment something the universe gave me than the universe itself?

After a gruelling two-and-a-half hour session, the tattoo was done. 

And it changed my life.

The suggestions for cures have now become compliments. Concern has become admiration. The new ink has helped me deal with years of internalised pain, and it has become a source of pride for me.

An image of the tattoo recently went viral on social media. And rightly so, there are millions across the world who deal with vitiligo and have had to hear the most hurtful things over their lives. It allowed for the conversation to swivel to the existence of such pain that comes with physical markers like vitiligo and physical scarring from accidents and surgeries – even if only for a moment in time.

My journey has led me to believe that we’re all works of art – some are complete while others are still a work in progress.

Nijansh Verma is the co-founder of SpeakIn and an alumnus of Indian School of Business and IIT Madras

Featured image: Provided by author