Stories

Real Talk: Eczema Pride and (Slowly) Learning to Love My Skin

I hate my arms.

I don’t mind the shape of them; they’re certainly not what you would call “toned,” but they’re basically arm-shaped and I have no complaints about that.

I hate my arms because they generally resemble some kind of puffy, pink-and-tan map of somewhere I’d never want to go to. I hate my arms because, ever since I was a child, they have been plagued with eczema—and as far as I can tell, there is no end in sight. My eczema will also sometimes branch out onto my face, neck, back, and legs; I’ve had the same patch of dry flaky skin on the right side of my neck for at least a year.

Please, please, do not comment on this post and tell me what will cure me, because I’ve tried it all. I’ve tried coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, Shikai lotion, baby lotion, Dove soap, Dr. Bronner’s soap, baking soda as soap, cutting out sugar, cutting out dairy, cutting out wheat, cutting out processed food, taking fermented cod liver oil, taking zinc, acupuncture, tanning, and on and on and on. If I hear one more home “remedy,” I am going to curl up in the corner and weep.

Something will work for a week, or a month, and then stop working for no reason. My eczema flares up in any season, for any reason or no reason at all. The absolute only thing that works in getting the redness and itching to go down is topical steroids, like hydrocortisone and triamcinolone. This is dangerous; your skin can become dependent on it, and then get even worse once you’ve stopped using it. But frankly, I don’t know what else to do.

As I write this, I’m currently in the process of trying to wean myself off the latest round of triamcinolone. I used it the last two days, so this morning I held off; tomorrow I’ll probably go back on for another two days, then do every other day for a while, and so on. Even if this works, and I’m able to quit triamcinolone this time without an immediate flare-up, it’s only a matter of time before the next one.

Eczema changes the way I see myself, the way I move, the way I hold myself and dress myself. It makes me feel like a scaly dragon. It makes me feel like staying inside and curling up in bed wearing long sleeves and a blanket of shame.

But…why?

I mean, my arms and body still function just fine when my arms are red and splotchy. Why do I feel so hideous and insecure when I’m having a flare-up? Do I have to feel that way?

Could I choose to love my skin the way it is?

When I Google “skin condition acceptance movement,” the first result that pops up is “fat acceptance movement.” Sure, there are people like Diana Stahl, who stopped treating her psoriasis, or Nora Whelan, who assembled this amazing roundup of skin stories. But as far as I can tell, there is no organized movement on the Internet in the name of accepting our skin conditions.

I’d like to start one.

I’d like to see pictures on Instagram of people with red-and-white peeling patches on their arms and face with hashtags like #eczemapride. I’d like us to actively celebrate the idiosyncrasies of our skin. I’d like to see men and women on the streets rocking tanktops and flaking epidermis. We are, rightly, getting better at saying that bodies of all shapes are beautiful; I’d like us to get better at saying the same for bodies with unconventional wrapping paper.

Today, it is hot, and so I am wearing a halter top, even though a man on the subway two nights ago asked me if I had poison ivy. I’ve found that the more I fight the urge to hide my skin, the less control that urge has over me, even if I still kind of feel like a scaly dragon. I can’t claim to “love the skin I’m in” yet, but I’m working on it.

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