6. 11. 2020

English version | The Skin I Live In

by Ana Saldanha


It’s that living organism which houses every little dot that connect with each other and form constellations; where our marks, for better or worse, draw the maps that chart our stories; where lines enclose joys and sorrows; where the fingerprints of every touch, and every skin to skin encounter of our lifetime, can be found. The skin is what we are.

The gracious passage of time

Jean Woods, 83. She became a widow after being married for 56 years and losing the love of her life forced her to look for love elsewhere. It was in Fashion that she found freedom and it was her age that gave her courage – a kind of courage typical of those who realize that embarrassments usually live in your head. In 2013 she received an invitation to participate in the documentary Fabulous Fashionistas, on Channel 4, which brought together six women over 70 who were incredibly passionate about Fashion. Along with the documentary, she also accepted some publicity propositions, but it was on Instagram that she managed to build a following of 17 thousand people constantly on the lookout for inspiration on her not-so-grandma-like sense of style – how could it, when some of her favorite brands are Topshop and Urban Outfitters? Jean has a renewed outlook on life precisely because when life pulled the rug from underneath her feet, she had to learn to overcome new challenges and to absorb the wisdom that came along with them. This is why we had a brief chat with Jean about the beauty of aging.

“I’m completely at peace with the fact that I’m aging”, she starts by saying. “I believe I’m a lucky woman”, she confesses. Jean then proceeds to tell us she works at a charity institution twice a week and that she runs 6,5 kilometers every day, despite her two knee surgeries. Yes, we were all jealous and crying in procrastination. There are no secrets to delay the passage of time. This doesn’t stop us from sometimes feeling an urge to trick the dismay or from indulging in the idea that as the years go by, we should step back and let ourselves be erased, becoming more and more transparent. “I’m 82 years old and I feel young, I have a young heart.”, Jean shares. On her Instagram page, where her bio simply reads “Fashionista”, she also shares pictures of her walks, hikes and travels, a love she shares with her two (marathonist) sons. “When the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, I want to travel again and wander, which is something I like to do every year – a few years ago I did the Trail of Santiago, to Santiago de Compostela, and it was wonderful.”

On her chat with Vogue on the subject of beauty, she shares how she never had trouble with her skin. “When I was a kid, all I used to wash my face was water and soap, but when I entered my twenties, I started using a cleanser balm – even though there weren’t many options back then… Now I make it my mission to always remove my makeup and apply moisturizer every night (nothing too pricey though).” Happy in her own skin, the shield she’s been holding for the last 80 years, Jean doesn’t think about retouching it, although she doesn’t condemn those who do, because with age also comes the tranquility of not caring about what goes on in other people’s faces. Her connection with youth is pretty well kept and alive. You can see it on her haircut, white with a sharp fringe she cuts herself; on her lipstick shades, between red and burgundy; on her smile from ear to ear and candid posture. These are the trademarks of Jean Woods, 83 years old, and eager to live forever.

The skin map

“At a certain point, I thought: no, I’m done, if this is happening to me, I won’t hide it, these spots are now a part of my skin and I’ll accept them as a part of myself too.” The spots Margarida Jorge Silva, 37, is referring too, are called vitiligo, a condition of unknown causes that affects the skin’s pigmentation, generating light patches due to the loss of melanocytes on skin or hair. It’s estimated that 1% of the world’s population is affected by this disease. Patches can appear on every part of the body and at any age. The most common form of vitiligo is non-segmental, which affects the whole body, normally beginning to appear on people’s hands, feet or face. In Margarida’s case, it was when she was 27 that a tiny spot on her hand firstly appeared. With no precedents on her family, she thought it was a simple consequence of a small wound. It was only when the spots started spreading to other parts of her hands that she decided to book a doctor’s appointment, where the correct diagnosis was found. “I was so frightened by the possibility of having my body filled with patches, that idea really scared me. In the beginning, I did some treatments, went to Germany for a super innovative treatment that had positive results in almost every case and what happened was that I didn’t improve at all, my blotches kept growing and spreading”, she shared with Vogue.

There’s no cure and its causes are still unknown, but Margarida made the connection between the appearance of the disease with a period of her life when she didn’t have much time to listen to her body. “Looking back, I realized how vitiligo, the patches, came along exactly when my life was filled with stress, it’s as if my body was reacting to that lifestyle. My doctor in Germany told me there could be a genetic component, as well as an environmental one, where stress plays a major role. The thing is, besides myself, there’s one other person in my family, a cousin on my mother’s side, that also has vitiligo and it only manifested during his adulthood, when he was 60, during a very stressful time in his life. Coincidence or not, both of us have it, we’re related, and it appeared in times of great stress in both our lives”, she explains. Margarida also refers that, although the issue didn’t present itself during her childhood or adolescence, the eagerness to blend into the crowd still came upon her: “I didn’t want to be looked at differently. And I noticed people would stare at my face a lot. I didn’t want to be noticed, it was something that bothered me. And often I felt like I needed to explain what those spots were.”

The rupture moment was when she realized those looks weren’t filled with criticism or weirdness, that she didn’t have to educate those who observed her with curious eyes. “I understood that once when someone was constantly staring back at me and said ‘Excuse me for saying this, but those patches around your eyes look great on you.’ And I thought, ok, maybe people aren’t staring because they’re judging like I thought they were, maybe they’re just looking because I’m different, they’re curious and they enjoy it…”, she affirms. On her skin, the contrast between the lighter and dark map out irregular shapes and drawings. But her skin was not the only thing that changed. With vitiligo came also a lesson. “It taught me that we must be very attentive to our body, that everything that happens to it is a reflection of what’s going on with us and with our interaction with the world. We must put ourselves first in our daily routines. I think it has turned me into a more tolerant person with others and their differences.” She confesses that if tomorrow somebody were to discover a treatment that could revert the issue and erase all her blotches, she wouldn’t go through with it. “I’m very grateful for my little patches for all they’ve done and continue to do for me. I enjoy them and I believe they make me even more unique. They’re part of me already”, she says in between laughter.

Dots of Light

Catarina Duarte is 23 years old and her face is covered with little dots, freckles that could draw constellations. She can’t even remember the sole, short period of time when the spots that cover her face weren’t a part of herself. “Curiously enough, when I was born, I had no freckles, they started appearing throughout the years and I believe they reached their peak when I was about five years old, maybe”, she begins to say. “When I was younger, I hated having freckles. When we’re kids it’s not funny to be different, you just want to fit in… My mom always says that I’d go to school and come back asking her to be like one of the other clean face kids and stuff like that”, she explains, with a mellow smile. If in children’s eyes everything that is different is not normal, Catarina’s normality was made of people with spotted faces like hers. “I come from a family where, from both my mother’s and father’s side, everyone has freckles. My dad has 14 brothers and all of them have freckles. Meaning, whenever I attend family lunches, my normality is to be around people with freckles…”

As a kid, she wanted to be an actress and a model, and her self-confidence started growing since people would come up to her on the street to ask her about her freckles, that caught the eye of whoever walked pass her. “That opened my eyes a little and made me understand that this individuality isn’t as ugly as I thought it was. The thing is that, simultaneously, in school, I still had that different look going on, I was the girl that didn’t have a boyfriend and that guys didn’t really fancy”, she explains. “When I was 14, I enrolled in a Central Models contest, because I always dreamt about becoming a model, and at the time I got recruited. I realized that there were people in the Industry who were interested in my peculiarities. And nowadays I am aware that if it weren’t for my freckles, I probably wouldn’t have had half the opportunities I’ve had throughout my life in photoshoots or commercials. That made me change my mind a little bit.”

Catarina studied communication and it shows through her lightness and good mood. “My grandma has always had freckles and suffered way more than me. She reached the point of melting mother-pearl with lemon and rubbing it on her face in an attempt to wash the freckles out, back then she would try every home recipe in the book… It was a different time and today she often talks about how much she regrets it and tells me how my freckles are beautiful.” But amongst the joy and (renewed) love with which Catarina talks of her little dots, there are also less happy stories that make her voice shake and interrupt her speech. “I remember a situation… I was about 16, I was at that phase when I had started accepting my freckles, enjoying them even, and using them in my favor. I was in this theater play and while getting my makeup done, I noticed the girl was going really heavily in my face makeup, so much so that one of the younger girls there asked the makeup artist about it, ‘But are you covering her freckles?’ and the makeup artist answered ‘No, unfortunately, we have no time, but I have to do something about it’. And I recall just wanting to cry. It was such a difficult moment for me. She was someone who did makeup for TV shows and actresses, I saw her as someone who knew a lot about everything beauty-wise… And listening to someone like that saying that unfortunately, she couldn’t cover up your freckles… It was shocking. I spent days without wanting to leave the house”, she recalls, as her voice trembled with sadness – before we considered the possibility that that same makeup artist is probably dotting her clients’ faces with fake freckles as we speak.

The time Catarina refers to seems so distant now, given that today freckles are a huge trend. There are even specific products to help people draw them on. “When I was 18 years old, freckles started to be in fashion, Topshop started selling freckle pencils and we started seeing that there was a demand for it, people were even tattooing them on their faces. Of course, that helped me, because it felt like it was being more represented and because there were people who desperately wanted what I already had naturally, so it helped indirectly. To promote those types of pencils there was a lot of publicity featuring people with freckles and it started becoming more normal… I feel like it was something that helped me overcome a complex I had, and I never felt upset due to how the people that used to make fun of me now want freckles too. I don’t look at those people with despise, I believe everyone should feel good in their own skin, whether it is completely natural, or with the help of things that make them feel better.”

Translated from the original article from Vogue Portugal's The Beauty of Imperfection issue, published November 2020.
Full credits and story on the print issue.