For as long as I’ve lived-as long as I’ve been aware-I’ve had spots at the extremities of my body. I always tried to forget they were there but my mother would pull me back to a consciousness of them with her worry. We didn’t know any better.
As a child, in the early 00’s, being exposed to beauty parlours and hair salons, I got a basic description of beauty. It was about bone straight long hair (if not from your head, then extensions). It was about the things you wore (hello kitty and baby phat were all the rave in my childhood). Then it was skin, healthy, spotless skin. I didn’t have that. I have Papular Utricaria, but neither my mother nor I knew what it was at the time. All we knew was it left papules on my body that sometimes later dried to black spots and that it heightened after insect bites, after a change in environment or during the rainy season. But fuck it, I was in love with the rain as a child. I would go out and play in the rain only to come back in the evening scratching my skin out, because those papules were itchy. My mother’s friends would always say the same things, I would outgrow my spots.
Doctors said the same things. As a child, it was that i’d outgrow my spots. As a preteen, it became I would outgrow my spots… but here are some creams and tablets. I never cared, but I cared that my mother cared. So I tried to make some lifestyle changes. I wore leggings, which are now a staple in my wardrobe. I also used Dettol and antibacterials and mosquito repellents as she said I should, as the doctors prescribed. I used Dettol religiously, as though i could dight away the spots. It didn’t help that I was lazy, that up until 14 I only bathed once a day, that I was a weekend washer and scavenged the dirty cloth basket for a decent smelling t-shirt once in a while. But I really thought the Dettol was doing me good, Dettol and hot water.
I remember one time, when I was six and we still lived in my father’s 3 bedroom bungalow, and I shared a room with my siblings and aunty Mary. I closed my eyes before sleep, and I prayed “God please, if I wake up, let my spots disappear”. They obviously didn’t. I distanced myself from them until I couldn’t anymore, in junior secondary school. Back then, I was a fat girl with spotty dark skin and short relaxed hair. It was the perfect formula for a misanthrope. And that I was. I separated myself from fashion, make up, people. It didn’t help that my siblings called me names, or that my classmates called me names. Or that I was the only female I knew with an utricaria and I wasn’t sure what it was.
I never got the answers I needed until this year when I finally visited a dermatologist. I got to find out that its a common skin condition, very common. I also found out that with hypersensitivity of skin, Dettols and antibacterials only make the outward manifestations (papules and dark spots) worse. All I needed was a change of soap, advantan or an antihistamine and a mosquito net. Obviously, I would never wear a mini skirt in my life, but I skip that rule once in a while. I was relieved at the thought of saying goodbye to my spots but then I realised all the time gone into consciously thinking about not thinking about my spots. From praying them away at age six, to watching the way people stared at my legs at age 12 to seeing them fade away now.
I think about the money gone into creams and herbal medicine (I actually bathed with quail eggs once). I think of the time, the leggings!! And I cannot remember a time in those years, when I wasn’t conscious of myself and my looks despite my trying not to be. But who do I blame for that? The doctor? My mom? My classmates? My siblings? Who do I blame for the pictures I didn’t take? It would be easy to blame my mom, she was buying me leggings when she should’ve been taking me to the dermatologist. She was expressing her worry when she should’ve been giving an encouraging word. But I ultimately made the decision to let my skin rule my teenage years. Now, here I am on the brink of adulthood.
There are many teenage girls (and guys) with Papular Utricaria who because of the outward manifestations have lost their sense of self esteem. Your devil might not even be an Utricaria. It could be an infection, cleft lip, fat lips, gap tooth, flat nose, small nose, bad edges, bow legs, k legs, broken teeth, body odour, mouth odour, etc etc. And yes, there are measures we can take to work out these devils but I want to give an encouraging word where my mother did not. And that is, don’t let it rob you off years of beautiful experiences and memories.
I appreciate my aunty Akudo because she said something important to me. She said its never about what you have, in my case an utricaria. She said, its about your confidence. When you walk with confidence, when you are confident in yourself, the last thing people will care about are the spots on your leg. She would always say, be yourself, free yourself, and be you. And that’s what I want everyone to take from this. Do not be anxious of the little things. Just be yourself. Be you.