5 People On Why Their Skin Condition Will Never Define Them

From The Inkey List to Youth To The People, more and more brands are slowly but surely showcasing the beauty in diversity when it comes to skin. Pores, acne scars, wrinkles and facial hair beam from pictures posted to Instagram, making us both relieved and reassured to see ‘real’ skin up close and personal. 
It’s this skin, with all its differences and nuances — not retouched to plastic mannequin-like smoothness — that we have encouraged and honored so passionately here at Refinery29. Since our inception, stretch marks, eczema, vitiligo and pigmentation to name a few skin normalities, have taken pride of place in our beauty, wellness and fashion photography with one clear message: the skin you're in is the skin you’ll have for a lifetime, so why not treat it with the love and respect it deserves? 
With this skin story, we aim to do just that. Ahead, five incredible individuals get real about the special connection they have with their skin, because our relationship with what is said to be the body’s largest organ is certainly one to be celebrated, regardless of how others might perceive it.

Jade McDonnough

"Until very recently, my skin has been a source of embarrassment and shame. Due to the inherent medical racism in dermatology, when my plaques started appearing in childhood, I was misdiagnosed with ringworm several times. There were summers where I only wore jeans. I learned how to effortlessly lie: 'Oh, this? Yeah I just fell off my skateboard.' (I didn’t learn how to skateboard until I was 20).
"When I realized it was psoriasis and nothing else, I did my best to educate myself on what I could do to keep my skin in a decent condition. Something about chronic illness is coming to terms with the realization that it will probably never leave you. But that doesn’t mean you should leave yourself to rot. Now, I’ve taken ownership of my skin. I adorn my body with tattoos, even if it isn’t the best idea medically, because it is a way of controlling how my skin is perceived. I get to be cool for a change.
"I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s perfectly normal to have issues with body image and self-acceptance, though. There are thousands of people with tickets to the same struggle bus, you know? Photos are digitally manipulated, skin is smoothed, complexions are evened and blemishes are deleted. Insecurity and anxiety are intentional byproducts of our capitalist society! My advice for those who are having a hard time is to show up for your younger self. If I had seen a Black person with psoriasis on TV, in a magazine, or even on the street as a child, it would have changed my life. It is a radical act to show up every day as your truest, most honest self. It’s hard, but it’s worth it."

Leo Xander Foo

"I definitely have not always felt comfortable with my skin. When I was growing up, my skin was very soft, smooth, glowy and clear, and I was often complimented. It made me feel very proud. But when I was about 15, my acne became pretty significant. It didn't bother me that much, even though my family were often making comments about how 'bad' it was. That didn't make me feel good, so I started medically treating it. The prescription quickly worked in a few months and my skin was back to its clear and smooth state for two years. Then, about a year ago when I was 18, I started testosterone through hormone replacement therapy.
"Within about four months, I was breaking out a lot due to the hormone changes. I was as patient as I could be as my acne got worse and worse, which is common when starting testosterone — and even though my family and internet trolls made rude comments about it. I tried treating it with prescriptions and over-the-counter medications, but nothing would work. I was told that after about a year on testosterone, my skin should start improving. I've just hit a year this September but I don't really notice any consistent clearing of the acne yet. I've been a mixture of insecure and 'I don't care' regarding my skin.
"Life is full of trade-offs, mean people and things you have no control over. You can choose to beat yourself up over it or let it go. I like to compare situations like this to waiting for the train when you have somewhere important to be, but the train is late. You can choose to stand there waiting all angry, stressed and upset, or you can choose to realize it is out of your control. There's no reason to hurt yourself over it. Getting upset won't make the train come quicker.
"Embracing yourself, remembering how blessed you are and making a list of things you are grateful for about yourself and your life is super helpful to appreciate who you are. This world is hard enough to live in and putting yourself down isn't going to make it any easier. Listen to yourself and follow what makes you happy. Invest your energy into that."

Cherry Jaymes

"I haven’t always felt comfortable in my own skin. It has taken a lot of self-reflection and honesty with myself to get to who I am and what I want to achieve, especially now that I know there is no turning back.
"My advice to those who struggle with their inner beauty and self-love is to pick things you like about yourself and to keep on repeating them. The more you know, the more you’re likely to believe it. Truly fake it 'til you make it. And you’re gonna make this!"

Clarissa Vargas

"I was diagnosed with vitiligo around the age of five, and have no memory of my skin or body before the spots took over. I wasn't always comfortable in my skin, especially when [the spots] were present primarily on my face. I grew up knowing that every time I walked out of the house, I was going to be stared at regardless. This was always stressful, until finally, around the age of 12, I began to embrace myself and my skin for what it was. I understood that there is no definitive 'cure', only coping mechanisms.
"From a young age, I understood that I am a melanated woman living with a condition, which quite literally limits my melanin and pigment. Instead of trying to wrap my head around this concept, I decided to finally embrace what comes with it. I came to understand that I am not just my skin; I am so much more than this. My skin makes me a rare piece of art, and I've lived just like that: a walking art piece. So what if they stare? That's what you do with good art.
"My face has since naturally re-pigmented, although new spots continue to form on places like my feet, hands, wrists and ankles — places I have never had spots before. Getting to see new spots form and old spots fade can be emotional, especially after growing to love the spots that I've had for years. At 28, my spots are forever evolving, just like me. I am more connected with these white blotches of skin than I ever was before.
"There are days where I think I've overcome a previous insecurity, just to be reminded of it at random times. This brings in feelings of self-consciousness all over again. In these moments, I remind myself of the qualities that I love about myself — both physical and internal. I remember that at my core, I am a good, honorable, loving and thoughtful human, who just wants others to see the beauty which I see in myself. It starts with just that: seeing all the beauty within oneself. Each day, try complimenting yourself on one thing that you are genuinely proud of, whether it's an unconventional physical feature or a quirky characteristic. I promise, the more love you show yourself, the more the universe will follow suit."

Naomi Hadar

"I haven’t always been comfortable in my own skin. Being born with a bilateral cleft lip and palette meant I had to have lots of different surgeries and orthodontic procedures. For years, I felt like my body wasn’t my own due to being poked and prodded at by doctors. My lips and scars also made me stand out in the 'normal' world. At the time, nobody was talking about facial equality, empathy and educating people about craniofacial conditions. It felt like everywhere I went, I was treated as 'other' or less than. People would stare, say awful things or ask invasive questions.  Naturally, it spilled into my self-esteem. Despite always showing a tough exterior, I’d come home thinking, hey, maybe I am as ugly as the kids at school think I am.
"It took me years to learn to love and accept myself. It’s been a battle, but nevertheless, a worthy one. My scars aren’t something to be ashamed of. They are simply physical reminders of how strong I am and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome. My skin is beautiful and valid. Everyone is born beautiful. It is only as we grow older and expectations are thrust upon us that we feel otherwise.
"Beauty standards weren’t created to make us feel good. They were created to divide us, diminish our self-esteem and to convince us to purchase products. You are a human being with intrinsic value, not a commodity to be bought and sold. You aren’t ugly or unattractive because you don’t fit into society’s beauty standards. There is beauty and power in uniqueness.  Roses and sunsets are both distinctly beautiful, but they look nothing alike.  Always remember that.  
"When you have bad days, be sure to practice self-compassion, patience and care. How you feel is completely normal; don’t beat yourself up! Instead, do something kind for yourself. Take a bath, eat your favorite meal or do a hobby you enjoy (I think people are most beautiful when they’re doing what they love). Know that bad days don’t last forever. Self-acceptance, just like most things in life, has its ebbs and flows."

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