Sometimes, I feel like a sham.
But when my friend emailed me the other day with the news that Kim Kardashian had been diagnosed with psoriasis, I felt a little more like a whole person.
You see, at the age of 11, I too was diagnosed with psoriasis, the chronic auto-immune skin disorder that affects more than 7 million people in the U.S. By the time I was 12, the disease covered every part of my body except my face. Around the same time, my friends had all started to discover makeup and short dresses, tank tops and boyfriends.
Yet I was busy discovering things like salicylic acid and coal tar and UV light treatment and therapy. It was a trying experience, to say the least.
But years later, I’ve learned to maintain my psoriasis to the point where it’s only on my legs. On the other hand, the clear, often-luminescent skin on my face is the source of many a random compliment; by most societal standards, I am an attractive, stylish 26-year-old. I’ve simply learned to build my wardrobe around pants, leggings and opaque tights.
Still, underneath all that, I feel like a sham, as though I am misleading people into believing I’m more attractive than I actually am. I’m constantly concerned that, if people were to get a glimpse of the red, scabby marks on my legs, they would think of me with pity instead of admiration. And so I just hardly let anyone in on the secret. This has often meant turning down invitations to the beach, pool parties and even sporting events.
This summer, however, I decided to make a change. I bought shorts. And I’ve been wearing them.
And so when I heard Kim was diagnosed with psoriasis on her legs, it made me feel a sense of solidarity. It made me hope that, hey, if someone as beautiful as Kim Kardashian can go public with her psoriasis, maybe I can, too. Maybe if people know she has it, it won’t garner so much of a disgusted, uneducated, fearful response when people discover I do.
But then, I watched the episode, and my heart sank. The previews sensationalized the “mystery rash” as though it were a flesh-eating disease. And then, upon being told that she’d joined the group of 7 million-plus psoriasis sufferers, Kim seemed to think she was above such a thing. “Psoriasis? I cannot have psoriasis!” she said. “People don’t understand the pressure on me to look perfect.”
Actually, Kim,I understand perfectly. I know what it feels like when people look at your beautiful face and don’t expect to glance down and see sores. I know what it feels like to have people assume, as your sister did, that you caught ringworm and are contagious. I know what it feels like to have an immune system that should be protecting you but instead betrays your outermost self. I know what it feels like to itch and bleed and worry about developing psoriatic arthritis before 30. I know what it feels like to try every diet and treatment known to mankind, from injections to steroids to ointments to homeopathy.
I know what it feels like, and so do about 7 million other people.
We aren’t alone, and neither are we special.
Just the other day, I confided in my ex that I was scared that I’d eventually have to reveal my disease to a future partner. And his response was wise.
“I think about half of people have something that makes them feel that same way,” he said.
And I suppose he’s right.