WATCH: Michael Jackson's 1993 Oprah Interview On His Skin Disorder Vitiligo
ARTICLES AND BOOKS BY WRITER BEN AROGUNDADE
Black....Then White: Michael Jackson And Bleaching - The Truth About The Singer's Skin Disorder, Vitiligo
A FACE TOO FAR - THE MICHAEL MONTAGE; The late Michael Jackson's visual transformation from African-faced child to European-featured adult was both startling and disturbing. Was he bleaching his skin, or did he suffer from the skin disease, vitiligo? The fact is, his autopsy confirmed that he indeed did have the skin condition, and that he used pale make-up to even out his skin tone after large areas of his body had lost their pigment.
THE SUDDEN AND TRAGIC DEATH of Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009, finally answered the question that many had been asking for over two decades. Was the singer bleaching his face and body, or did he suffer from the skin condition, vitiligo?
The answer is, both. In fact, the autopsy confirmed what Jackson himself had maintained from the very beginning — that he indeed suffered from vitiligo, and had not, as many claimed, deliberately bleached his skin because he was unhappy being black.
VITILIGO EXPLAINED Vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder that causes a loss of pigment on sections of the skin. This de-pigmentation is not uniform, but manifests itself in blotches and patches on the body, particularly around the face and hands. It occurs when melanocytes — the cells responsible for skin pigment — die or cease functioning. The condition is not specific to those of African descent, but is simply more visible as a result of their darker pigment. Michael Jackson was alleged to have inherited the skin condition from his father’s side of the family.
JACKSON'S SKIN FADES Jackson, whose album “Thriller” has sold over 70 million copies, first learned he had the vitiligo skin disease back in 1986, barely four years after the release of the album. At this point, with the disorder in its infancy, Jackson's make-up artist Karen Faye used brown make-up to conceal what were then only small bleached patches. At the same time he began to cover up his skin for public appearances, wearing long sleeves and adopting his trademark gloves to hide patches on his hands and wrists. But over time the vitiligo became more aggressive, increasingly covering larger areas of his body, particularly his chest, abdomen, face and arms. “Michael is now almost completely devoid of colour,” confirmed Faye at the time. He was forced to take a drastic decision that would have deep racial overtones — to even out his skin tone to white — an easier task than wearing brown make-up all over his body, which would have been harder to apply in an even tone. In a bizarre Kafka-esque twist, Jackson was forced, aesthetically, to become a “white man”. Jackson used skin bleaching creams to achieve this. Detectives who searched his home after his death found 19 tubes of hydroquinone and 18 tubes of Benoquin, both commonly used for whitening skin.
MICHAEL JACKSON - BLACK OR WHITE? In the years leading up to his death, despite testimony from the singer’s friends and family, dermatologist Arnold Klein, Karen Faye, and from Jackson himself during the famous televised interview with Oprah on February 10 1993, many refused to believe that he suffered from the skin disease, and questioned why it had taken him a decade to reveal it, when he could have put paid to the rumours much earlier. Accusations of him not wanting to be black emerged, not simply from his pale skin tone, but also from the fact that he had traded in his Afro curls for long straight hair, and had undergone cosmetic surgery to create a European-style nose. He seemed determined to de-Africanise himself.
SKIN DIS-EASE Looking back, Jackson's mistake was not to show his skin condition to the world. Exposing his vitiligo for all to see would have sent out a powerful message of positivity to the two per cent of the world's population that suffer from the condition — that they should not feel outcast or be hidden away. Instead, what we are left with is Jackson's desperate desire to cover up his vitiligo with make up and clothing, suggesting that he was ashamed of the condition that had claimed him.