Riya Agrawal on living with vitiligo: Self-acceptance is the beginning and end of feeling empowered

"Vitiligo is normal". With this belief in mind, Riya Agrawal never anticipated how society would perceive her for being "different". But the skin positivity influencer is now on a mission to bust myths related to the condition.
Riya Agrawal
Riya Agrawal on breaking barriers and living with vitiligo. Image courtesy: Instagram|Rhea Agarwal
Arushi Bidhuri Updated: 23 Jul 2024, 11:43 am IST
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Society has a set feminine beauty ideal. Over the decades, glossy magazine covers and carefully crafted social media feeds have idolized an unrealistic singular image of perfection that rarely exists. Thankfully, the wind is changing as we stand at the precipice of a new era, where people are being real on social media and standing against the once-dominant narrative of perfection. Of many diverse voices that are celebrating authenticity and self-acceptance, one voice trying to make a change is Riya Agrawal.

Hailing from Raipur, Riya Agrawal uses her social media to be vocal about her condition – vitiligo. From becoming a self-conscious person who was bullied to becoming a voice of change, the 25-year-old has come a long way. Wearing her condition as a badge of honour and becoming a beacon of hope for countless people, she is a true inspiration.

Riya Agarwal
Riya Agrawal on embracing her skin condition and accepting herself for who she is. Image courtesy: Instagram| Rhea Agrawal

“Vitiligo was never ‘not’ a normal condition:” Riya Agrawal

From the tender age of 3 years, Agrawal bore the physical marks of vitiligo, an autoimmune skin condition that causes your skin to lose its colour or pigment. It is believed to happen due to a lack of pigment called melanin in the skin, as per the data by National Health Services.

In an interview to Health Shots, Riya revealed that the condition runs in her family. This made her believe that it was nothing new and totally normal to see patches on the skin. She never perceived it as something “not” normal until she was treated differently during her college days. “It never came as a shock to me or my family because both my parents have it too. The journey with vitiligo has been quite amazing. There have been ups and downs but I have learned a lot along the way,” says Riya.

Riya Agrawal on getting familiar with the harsh reality of society

Even though you fight your insecurities and stand tall, there are times when you come face to face with the fact that society is not as accepting as you think. Despite her confidence and self-accepting nature, she fell prey to the harsh reality of societal judgment. The turning point for Riya came when she went to college. Hurtful comments and inexplicable stares made her realise that the people around her did not accept her condition as “normal”.

“I expected people to be mature, more understanding, and educated but I was picked on for having vitiligo. Some comments were hurtful and that was the time that it hit me that there is a lack of awareness to an extent where people are okay making such comments at a mature age,” she recounts. But nothing could stop her. Not letting the bullies take her down, she took these incidents as a way to find a voice and address the lack of vitiligo awareness.

“I was always vocal about vitiligo and used to write poems and articles for my school magazine. But I was waiting for that perfect time to go out and share my thoughts and express my feelings. After the events in college, I realised that there would never be a perfect time ever. I had to start with whatever information I had, with whatever insecurities I had. That’s when I decided to be more vocal and make my spread as much awareness as I could awareness through Instagram,” she adds.

Support from loved ones helps you beat the odds: Riya Agrawal

Riya started her journey to become an advocate for the condition – all of which would not have been possible without the love and support of her family and friends. She began her journey on Instagram to make people understand the fundamentals of vitiligo. “It is very important to have people around you that encourage you to be better. Vitiligo, for me, was not very different because I have been raised to believe that it is perfectly normal. My parents have always supported me. They made sure I had a strong conviction as a kid and I had the right answers to everybody’s questions. As for my friends, they have never made me feel left out or something is wrong or something is different.”

Support from family and friends keeps Riya Agrawal fight everything. Image courtesy: Instagram| Rhea Agrawal

Self-acceptance is key: Riya Agrawal

With a never-ending zeal to create awareness around vitiligo and address myths surrounding it, the content creator recently came up with a 3-part short film titled “Thick Skin”, on her Instagram. The initiative marked the World Vitiligo Day. The film showcases the internal struggle and how someone’s opinion, especially of people closest to you, affects you, and how the real battle is not with society but with your own self. Its core message centers around the universal fact that every person has to find self confidence to be able to fully embrace themselves.

“Self-acceptance is the beginning and the end of feeling truly empowered for everybody,” asserts Riya, and adds: “My short film evolves around challenging the common belief that society is the main source of judgment for those with vitiligo. But a lot of representations and inclusivity campaigns around media are changing the standard of predefined beauty.”

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Believing in who she is and embracing her true self in all its glory, Riya shares, “I have never let anyone tell me I can’t do something or be someone else. That’s how I am breaking barriers each day by being present on social media platforms and being very vocal about things I believe in.”

 

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“Beauty standards have changed, and I wish to see that continue”

Believing that beauty standards are changing, she says, “Societal pressure and stereotypes take generations to change but our generation is evolving and embracing the change. I am also trying to make that shift from that preconceived notion of beauty. The perception of beauty has evolved. We are, on an everyday basis, coming around posts or content pieces that talk about issues that were not talked about.”

“There are no more perfectly displayed people or skin types on social media. People are breaking stereotypes and going beyond boundaries to showcase insecurities and own them. It is heading towards a very positive start,” says Riya, pointing out at innumerable body positivity influencers globally.

This, she believes, is a step towards creating a normalized and safe environment. “I hope to see more such representation in the future. I am not sure if brands are jumping on the inclusivity bandwagon just for the sake of it, but I hope all the brands showing inclusivity are doing it because they mean it and not because it’s the new ‘cool’,” concludes Riya.

Embrace and accept yourself!

Your journey is not defined by the scars you get, but by what you make of it. Even the most beautiful of people have scars, but what counts is your effort to change those scars into a warrior’s mark! Just like Riya, take every step with your head high and kindness in your heart.

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About the Author

Arushi Bidhuri is a journalist with 7 years of experience in writing, editing, and conceptualizing story ideas across different genres, including health and wellness, lifestyle, politics, beauty, fashion, and more. Arushi has a strong connection in the industry that helps her write concise and original stories as she believes in working towards writing pieces that can enlighten people. ...Read More

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