Update: In a recent People TV interview, Keke Palmer revealed that director Tyler Perry stepped in to help when she was struggling with acne as a teenager. "Tyler Perry pulled my mom aside at the NAACP awards and literally said, 'I would pay for her to go to a dermatologist, to the best dermatologist, to help her with her skin,''" Palmer told the outlet, adding that it had an even greater impact on her overall healthcare journey. "I was so grateful to him for helping me because he had the resources and he was paying it forward... he was giving me that kind of first introduction to doing that personal care and knowing that I don't have to live like that. If there's something I want to improve about myself, there are people that can help me with that."
This story was originally published Dec 2, 2020.
Last night, Keke Palmer posted a selfie to her Instagram. Normally this wouldn't be anything extraordinary, but the singer, actor, and host purposely uploaded a picture of herself without makeup or a filter to show the hyperpigmentation and acne across her forehead and cheeks.
Scrolling through the other photos and videos on her page, Palmer's skin looks "flawless" by Hollywood standards, but last night the star peeled back the layers in the hopes of normalizing her Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormone disorder that can affect the skin, and to shed light on the health and medical inequalities Black women have experienced for decades.
In her caption, Palmer explains that she went through two rounds of Accutane to try to treat her acne, drank water, ate a healthy diet, and still couldn't understand why the inflammation persisted. The answer came when she looked into her family's health history, which she discovered included diabetes, a condition often associated with PCOS. "Unfortunately doctors are people and if you don't 'look the part' they may not think that's your problem. They may not even suggest it if you 'look healthy' whatever that means! I came to a doctor in tears once and all they offered was a measles vaccine...Exactly," she noted in her caption.
Keke's story hits a nerve that's painfully familiar to Black people: the persisting disparities and overall distrust in medical care as a result of systemic racism. After years of medical atrocities being committed against Black people — including the devastating Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1938, in which hundreds of Black patients were left untreated so scientists could study the disease, and the invasive Henrietta Lacks case, which revealed that her malignant cells were used without her consent or compensation to create vaccines — injustices continue to claim Black lives under doctors' care. Black people in America are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white people, according to the CDC. As of June 2020, 24 local and state governments have either considered or officially declared racism a public health crisis.
Black patients have historically been discounted and dismissed when they voice their complaints, and Palmer's story of not looking the part to get proper medical attention is a reminder that not even fame and access do much to change that. "I do not have a medical degree, but I did the research and took what I learned to a doctor that led them to a proper diagnosis," Palmer wrote. "I'm not saying trust web md for everything haha but what I am saying is no one can help us like we can help ourselves."
Palmer went on to encourage others who are struggling with PCOS and skin concerns. "The least harmful thing PCOS can bring is acne," she wrote. "To all the people struggling with this please know you're not alone and that you are still so fucking fine! MY ACNE AINT NEVER STOPPED ME!"
Instead, Palmer says, our focus should be on shifting the narrative, healing generational trauma, calling for justice, and putting our health first, adding that her family's fight out of poverty gave her the opportunities she now has to use her platform for good. "We don't have to accept this," she wrote, before adding, "Now I can really help KEKE! And I love her, so it's ON."