I always thought it was everyday people who perpetuated the need to have beautiful skin. To have it glow, be silky-smooth, and never have a blemish in sight.
But maybe I am wrong. Maybe it starts inside a doctor’s office.
Ever since being diagnosed with Topical Steroid Withdrawal almost eight years ago, it’s as if life has been measured by the appearance, not the pain, of my skin. The pain took over for awhile, but now the tides have shifted.
I am on Dupixent, a strong, injectable medication designed to help battle a multitude of inflammatory skin issues. My skin, even before my withdrawal, has never looked better. This drug has washed away 95% of all the painful issues I was having — itching, burning, scaling, flaking. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror. It’s a miracle to wake up in the morning and not peel myself out of bed, literally.
However, there is still slight redness and dryness around my mouth, as well as a minuscule patch of eczema near the crease of my right elbow. Neither of them burn, itch, or sting. It doesn’t bother me. To me, it’s a massive win. Everyone who has watched me over the years sees it as a win, too.
Despite that win, it was brought to my attention that this need for perfection still exists. That no matter the trauma and history of my disease, I will be met with comments towards my not-so perfect skin.
You see, I had a routine check up with a new doctor. I expressed, right away, that I was on this drug for my severe eczema (or Topical Steroid Withdrawal as I still like to discuss). Without skipping a beat, the doctor still leaned in and made a circle around their lips using their index finger.
“You have some redness around your mouth.”
“Yes, I know. But my skin is a thousand times better than it was before so it doesn’t bother me.”
“And what about everywhere else?” They walked closer to me, eyeing every piece of flesh that was in plain sight. I began to describe my skin, how it was horrible from head to toe, and that I was content with how I looked at the present moment.
“And your arms?” they pressed. I sighed and pulled my right arm out of my sleeve. They grabbed it and ran their fingers over my forearm area.
“Oh, there is a lot of dryness here.” All with a concerned face. I peered down at this very dry arm and saw barely anything. It was as if we were looking at two completely different things.
Again, I reiterated that they were not grasping the magnitude of my condition. So, I pulled out a video. They gasped. They applauded me and said they were so happy that I was finding relief on my drug. But the damage was done.
No matter what eczema patients do, we will always be judged for every ounce of redness, dryness, or small blemish seeping through our skin. It will never be good enough. To digest that the doctor felt my skin was bad enough to comment on in such a way that even a secure person would cringe, is where society has gone astray.
Why can’t we be okay with our appearance? If we aren’t in pain and we aren’t struggling, why does some small piece of red flesh matter?
As I left the room, it sunk in further that her comments weren’t only unnecessary, but dangerous. What if another person, happy with their appearance, was suddenly told that their skin was an issue? That their dry arm could be “saved” by a topical steroid? It turned my stomach. I knew, in my gut, that if I hadn’t been on an already powerful drug, she would have suggested a medication to “make me better.”
This need for perfection is what got me sick in the first place. It’s what makes all of us sick. It ruins our confidence, it leaves us hanging by a thread for every like and heart on a social media post. We crave the validation. We filter it, cover up every wrinkle, rash, and dimple. And when we have a good day, there is always someone to point out that there is something still wrong with our appearance.
If we have doctors willing and ready to prescribe something in order to bandaid even the most insignificant issues, we are creating illness. We aren’t allowing our bodies to thrive and just be.
Of course, with instances like myself, Dupixent feels necessary in order to continue living life. I was in so much physical and mental pain I couldn’t take it anymore. But if I had been treated better earlier on and given proper medication and care, perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am today — syphoned to another drug. It breaks my heart knowing that beautiful, every day people with their slightly dry skin or their little red rash will be told, by a doctor, that it can be fixed. Sometimes, it doesn’t need to be fixed.
It just needs to be loved.
Perfection is a sickness and we are all carrying around bags of deadly prescriptions trying to figure out why we never feel like enough. And we perpetuate the cycle amongst each other.
It’s time to start catering to things other than perfection — things like kindness, and compassion, and genuine connection. To stop worrying about whether or not we have a bit of dry skin and more on who we are in this life.
To everyone who has felt amazing and had their day crushed by an errant comment, I see you. It’s something that will probably happen more than once during our time here on Earth. But I pray that we all learn to think before we speak, to be mindful before we post, and to be more human and gracious towards others. That’s the only cure. It’s the only way we can get better.