Saturday, October 17, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Fashion of Vitiligo

That title sounds flippant. I don't at all mean it to be. Vitiligo is a very sad illness, and its effect on the happiness of Michael Jackson was far-reaching and profound. But it occurs to me, oddly enough, just how much of Michael Jackson's fashion statements and sartorial preferences down the years can, definitely or just possibly, be attributed to his struggles with Vitiligo.

The most striking of these is the suggestion that the skin colour patchiness first manifested itself in one hand earlier than the other - requiring Michael Jackson to cover the blotches only on that one hand. That single white glove is probably Michael Jackson's single most iconic fashion statement, and it's highly intriguing to imagine that it descends from his illness. Additionally, much of Michael Jackson's make-up decisions during the Thriller era, which had profound implications for how men embraced make-up and femininity from there on, apparently were down to covering up the unever skin tone. As the disease progressed, Michael Jackson might have taken to wearing the more elaborate military-style outfits because of just how little skin they showed. I don't really want to say much here about Michael Jackson's history of plastic surgery except to say that by now it's pretty well understood that the lightening of skin tone we see on Michael Jackson over the years is, at least in the beginning, a reaction to the Vitiligo. Given the reality of a constantly-spreading blotchy skin appearance and the options of either constant application of darkening make-up or a permanent lightening surgery, it's clear why Michael Jackson chose what he did. It might have been better if he'd been more open about it, but I think Michael Jackson was always inrigued by the 'mysterious' facets of his public image, and I think he was just ashamed to go public as having an illness. Sad but true.

Anyway, is it not interesting to think about how much of what we associate with the public image of Michael Jackson, how many of his sartorial decisions that appeared to be the rather strikingly unique results of a creative mind were actually relatively mundane attempts to hide a disease?

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