I am really enjoying writing this new blog series, How Do I Look? I’m learning so much about different skin conditions and visible differences, and that’s completely down to the honesty and openness of the people I’m interviewing. I’ve been banging the skin positivity drum for a while, starting with my own experiences with rosacea, but every week I am going to be talking to a different inspirational and interesting person, sharing their story and experiences to help and support others.
Today’s interview is with Amara, who has eczema. Amara is a journalist and we first ‘met’ when she interviewed me for a piece on rosacea a few years ago, and we bonded over the lack of media representation of people with anything less than perfect skin. I love following her on instagram as she not only shares candid updates on her skin, as well as the emotional impact it has on her, but she also doesn’t let her skin dictate her amazing outfit choices.
Before we start I wanted to mention that I tried to share some of Amara’s instagram posts that show her eczema in this interview, and the images wouldn’t show the previews because some of the images are blocked on Instagram’s end. This is so frustrating and something that many people have struggled with (e.g. hashtags being blocked, images being hidden behind sensitivity warnings). I appreciate that Instagram tries to protect its users against ‘gore’ or potentially triggering images, but how are we meant to raise awareness or improve visibility of those with skin conditions if instagram is censoring them? It’s incredibly frustrating and I hope that Instagram is working on more intuitive image identification systems.
Tell me a little bit about your eczema…
“I developed eczema when I was 18 and I’m now 25. It started off on my wrists and spread incredibly quickly. I’ve been itching for seven years now! I was diagnosed with atopic eczema at 19 and started using steroid creams which evidently worsened the situation. I decided to quit steroid creams after diagnosing myself with topical steroid addiction and have been down the natural route for the past three years. Dream Cream is the one thing that works insanely well on me – it’s so thick and creamy and calming on the skin. The trouble is I go through one a week! Eczema is an incredibly debilitating condition but talking about it online gives me a chance to vent my frustration.”
What are the common misconceptions, comments, or questions about eczema?
“Doctors often say to just moisturise more and keep hydrated. Some people say ‘steroids will clear it’. But I think a lot of people assume it doesn’t hurt and that it is just a dry patch of skin. Sure, for some people it is but for someone like me with severe eczema, I am itchy for 90% of my day.
A lot of people say “it’s not that bad” but when you’re fidgeting 24/7 and are basically a human snow globe, it’s pretty damn bad. I wish people knew that it doesn’t just affect you physically, it affects you mentally. And yes, I have tried e45…!”
How does your skin make you feel on a day to day basis?
“When it’s flaring I feel dirty because when I scratch I get skin under my fingernails. My bed needs hoovering and I constantly want to smother myself in cream. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.”
What are your thoughts on media visibility of eczema?
“Media visibility is incredibly poor. But I think it’s because there’s just not enough money put into eczema research. There is a psoriasis advert on the tube which I see daily but the guy doesn’t actually have psoriasis. I don’t understand why you would advertise something if the model doesn’t suffer from the condition? I would happily be an eczema model!
I think any skin care campaign could be improved by showing someone with severe version of the condition. Most of the time in adverts we see slightly dry skin, or literally ‘a spot’. No, I want to see severe acne, eczema and psoriasis that makes you want to cry.
When it comes to social media, it can be incredibly inspiring but it can also be a war zone. It completely depends on my mood. I’m all for being ‘real’ but what is ‘real’? On bad days I have to sweep my skin up – I’d love to see Kim Kardashian talk about how she picks at her psoriasis with a tweezer or rubs her skin with a towel until it bleeds.”
How do you deal with bad days?
“I cry, meditate, do a sudoku, masturbate, sleep – whatever will make me feel better.”
If you have consulted the medical community for your eczema, how were those experiences?
“Whenever I try to discuss the dangers of steroid creams, the doctors just brush it off. But there doesn’t seem to be any alternative. I appreciate being invited to various discussions but I often feel like I’m talking to a brick wall. It’s extremely frustrating and anyone going through topical steroid addiction will agree. It’s frightening that babies with severe eczema will be seen by a doctor and the first choice is to put steroids on their skin. Steroids just suppress the problem. There isn’t a second opinion. Eczema is eczema and there is no cure. I feel frustrated and upset that no doctor seems to understand the impact it has on mental health.”
In the past few years there have been more conversations around the link between skin and mental health, what are your thoughts?
“This is incredibly important. I suffer with mental health issues as it is, so my eczema just exacerbates the situation. When all you ever see in the media are celebrities with gorgeous, smooth, healthy skin it is incredibly difficult to be happy with the skin you’re in. Your skin is the body’s largest organ and when your largest organ isn’t looking or behaving as it is supposed to, it is incredibly upsetting.”
Have any positives come out of your eczema?
“Yes – absolutely. Writing is a great outlet for my thoughts and feelings. Studying journalism means I have received commissions from several publishers to write about my eczema and I’m going to be in Cosmopolitan in September – I am SO excited!”
Top tips for living with eczema?
“Meditate. Cream up. Change your bed sheets. Try to make your bedroom a happy place. Distract yourself. Focus on your favourite features. “
You can follow the lovely Amara on INSTAGRAM where she shares her updates on her eczema and also shares her enviable wardrobe!
Read the other posts in the How Do I Look? series here: MICHELLE talking about her scars; SOFIA talking about her acne; NATALIE talking about vitiligo; SUSIE on her Telogen Effluvium (hair loss); AMY on her port wine stain birthmark; GEMMA on psoriasis; GRACE on her scars; and JUDY on her sensitive skin.
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