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Posted by Aastha Mishra

By and large, when asked, don’t we stringently outstretch the idea that vitiligo is unambiguously a medical condition? Well, one would fleetly respond saying, yes! This thought is legitimately well founded. Vitiligo is an incessant skin condition in which smooth white spots/patches appear on the skin of the partaker. This forthwith underlines the medical definition of the infirmity. However, it is vital to be mindful of some girdling existential and phenomenological questions that inhabit within this acquired skin condition.

If we categorically speak about the concept of self-consciousness emotionality, it could be propounded that the self-conscious emotional foreboding of the disorder on the subject amasses a dual connotation; first, as generally framed and convicted, self-conscious emotionality implies a sense of awareness about one self; one’s body, behaviour, traits, activities, etc. And second, with distinct reference to the phenomenological nuance of self-consciousness, it also accentuates the world-conscious length and breadth of it. This world-conscious aspect of human emotionality involves the design of pre-reflective engagement with the world.

Also read: Vitiligo: How A Person’s Identity Is Reduced To A Skin Condition

Jean Paul Sartre (2002), who is one of the most eminent phenomenologists, exhaustively explores this world-engagement facet of human emotions. As far as the notion of world-consciousness is concerned, in his view, this entails the world-directedness dimension of emotions. Simply situated, world-directedness means when a subject cognitively feels/ experiences any emotion, in cognition (mental activity), they are also aware of something in the external world. Thus, when an individual experiences an emotion, they are conscious of something in the outside world. 

Living with Vitiligo: Feminist Phenomenological Overtones

In a feminist pneuma, we may postulate that female subjects who are racked with the strain of vitiligo perhaps ferret out the world-conscious position conceivably identified with experiences of negative self-conscious emotions, like shame, embarrassment, disgust, fear, etcetera. First hand self-conscious encounters of these emotions among women encompass the phenomenological world-conscious deportment, taking note of the social engagements women perpetually execute, succour and aggrandise. Their emotional journeys are directed towards something in the outside world; the people, the norms, the patterns and the entire external environment. 

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In a feminist pneuma, we may postulate that female subjects who are racked with the strain of vitiligo perhaps ferret out the world-conscious position conceivably identified with experiences of negative self-conscious emotions, like shame, embarrassment, disgust, fear, etcetera.

In this milieu, can’t we dexterously expostulate that women with vitiligo were everlastingly made to feel negative emotions and ultimately believe that their sense of being and worth, both are insistent on the world-conscious state of their existence? Besides, isn’t it unerring to perpetuate that the exacted medical state of vitiligo has phenomenological significance, over and above? A synergetic answer to these questions could be a prompt yes! 

Towards Consciousness-raising

We are well-seasoned with the emotional, psychological and social tolls bred by the disease. These are assuredly the distressing, miserable and wistful offshoots of vitiligo. This facet makes us learn and posit that living with this skin condition presupposes deficiency, fragility, pain and resentment. However, in recent times, with the appearance, stimulation and active employment of various social media platforms, the phenomenon of vitiligo has certainly secured a revived and constructive configuration. One of the gaping yields has been the revival and escalation of feminist consciousness-raising. Kathie Sarachild defines consciousness-raising as a radical weapon for women. In a nutshell, according to her, consciousness raising involves the act of self-expression, sharing of bitter experiences, evaluating feelings, cross examining them, having interactions and eventually, creating awareness. She categorically borrowed the phrase from Anne Forer, about which Forer states:

“In the Old Left, they used to say that the workers don’t know they’re oppressed, so we have to raise their consciousness. One night at a meeting I said, ‘Would everybody please give me an example from their own life on how they experienced oppression as a woman? I need to hear it to raise my own consciousness.’ Kathie was sitting behind me and the words rang in her mind. From then on she sort of made it an institution and called it consciousness-raising.”

Lately, social media consciousness-raising has become an actively amplifying and emotionally stirring sight. In the context of vitiligo, we would encounter noteworthy representative cases in which individuals with vitiligo take a crack at bartering the customary down casted profile of vitiligo with a new-fangled elated picture of it.

Lately, social media consciousness-raising has become an actively amplifying and emotionally stirring sight. In the context of vitiligo, we would encounter noteworthy representative cases in which individuals with vitiligo take a crack at bartering the customary down casted profile of vitiligo with a new-fangled elated picture of it. Through social media engagement, women in India are evidently observed to be vigorously participating in feminist consciousness-raising enterprises through blogging and vlogging. Cyberspaces are being efficiently and radically used to depict the proposed shift from the detrimental approximation of the condition to a more prolific and optimistic portrait of it. Thus, in the midst of these manifold schemes reclines active addressal of the garden variety stigmas that encircle vitiligo. 

Also read: How South Asian Women With Vitiligo Have It Harder

Opening Up and Voicing Out: Riya Agrawal Narrates

What sweeping and insurgent messages do women’s virtual engagement in consciousness-raising transmit? These messages orbit around the re-consideration and re-construction of the aesthetical, psycho-social, socio-cultural and existential reverberations affixed to the condition. Riya Agrawal (Rhea Agrawal), a 22-year-old vitiligo influencer talks about the tendered shift from being an object of self-conscious negative emotional experiences to becoming a subject of change through the enterprise of consciousness-raising. She states:

“I always wanted to be loud and proud about my skin condition. I yearn for change and I gradually understood that for change to happen, creation of a vision is rudimentary and this vision even enjoins performance and communication. With my social media handle, I consciously chose to raise awareness about Vitiligo. Yes, I was subjected to shaming, but, self-acceptance and self-celebration is all that I have with me, for me, presently.”

Photo Credit: Riya Agarwal, Official Instagram Profile

When asked about her underlying intent and target, she highlighted about the role of consciousness-raising:

“My fundamental aim is to foster consciousness expansion. I know there are inestimable women (or individuals in general) who are confronted with many profound emotional charges in view of the aesthetical prejudices that orbit around the skin condition. Hence, I wish to share my personal stories and raise public consciousness. I feel, virtual feminist consciousness-raising schemes have the capacity to examine stereotypes, challenge them and repress them. It is time for us to recover from being negatively self-conscious about oneself to becoming an agent of feminist consciousness-raising.”

Photo Credit: Riya Agarwal, Official Instagram Profile

Thus, if we intricately review the case of vitiligo, it is perceptible that there has been an escalating cruise wherein the subjects have undergone a move from being passive objects of negative self-consciousness emotionality to becoming active subjects of change. 

This World Vitiligo Day, let us ask ourselves: “Vitiligo is an emotionally sapping disease in itself, why spiral the ordeal with socio-cultural denunciation?” 

References

Brownmiller, S. (1999). In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution. 

Sarachild, K.  (1973). Consciousness-raising: A Radical Weapon. Feminist Revolution, pp. 144-150.1973-consciousness-raising-radical-weapon-k-sarachild-redstockings.pdf (wordpress.com)

Sartre, J.P. (2002). Sketch for a Theory of Emotions. Translated by Philip Mairet. London: Routledge. 


A dedicated, detailed and capable doctoral candidate at Centre for Philosophy, School of Social Sciences- I, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Creative and engaging research scholar articulate in communicating complex ideas to others with sublime verbal and written analytical and critical skills. Research engagement includes and is not limited to the areas of Feminist Philosophy, Care Ethics and Philosophy of Emotions. Also, an entry level college professor aiming at working with and for students to extend information, stimulate thinking and encourage learning.  

Featured image source: istockphoto.com

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