This is what the British press thinks eczema looks like…

IFHave a look at this picture. This is, apparently, what the British press thinks eczema looks like. No, not Bradley Wiggins, the beautiful woman in bed in a sexy nightie.

It’s a screen grab from an article on the OK Magazine website which claims that you can “Banish eczema for good” with their healthy living tips.

OK? Stopped laughing yet? It gets better. The massive leading picture for the online piece is of Tess Daly who, says OK Magazine, has a daughter with eczema. She, on the other hand, is slim, attractive and has perfect skin.

Compare the OK Magazine image of this woman relaxing in bed in full make-up and a sexy nightie with me ‘relaxing’ in bed when my eczema has been at it’s worst: lying on an old beach towel to make sure I don’t get blood from my broken skin on the sheets,  hands in cotton gloves to stop me scratching, face shimmering with several layers of grease.

Admittedly this is an article from three years ago, but after a bit more digging I discovered that pretty much  across the board eczema is represented by images of slim, white, attractive females with no traces of eczema or even dry skin. Take a look at these examples in the Daily Mail  and even the BBC

If you want to see what eczema really looks like, take a look at a previous blogpost on here or the amazing Jenny Stradling’s blog, I Have Eczema .

The OK article goes on to give an example of some celebrity who described her red patches as ‘ugly’.  So, we have an ‘ugly’ condition illustrated by pictures of beautiful women. Of course, OF COURSE,  illustrating the words with a picture of the Strictly Come Dancing presenter and a beautiful woman in bed is going to get more people looking at the article online, I’m not an idiot. But really, they had their target audience, presumably sufferers of  eczema (?), at “Banish eczema for good.” People with eczema desperately lap up articles which claim to ‘cure eczema’ or reveal the latest miracle potion. And there are six million of us in the UK – that’s a big audience. You don’t need to show us pictures of beautiful women – we’re sold already.

The use of images of beautiful women to illustrate just about any topic is nothing new but, apparently, they are causing more damage to people’s self esteem than ever before. “Body image dissatisfaction in Britain has never been higher, particularly among young people,” says Jo Swinson MP, the chair of an all party group on body image. “The pressure to conform to the impossible body ‘‘ideals’’ we are bombarded with in advertising, magazines and on the catwalk is overwhelming and damaging.” 

The average woman is subjected to around 600 photo-shopped images per day. Take a look at the before and after shots on Beauty Redefined. It’s a real eye-opener – but most of all, it proves that many women are endevouring to aspire to a beauty ideal that simply doesn’t exist.

If you’ve got eczema, you’ll probably already know a lot about low self esteem and body image dissatisfaction anyway. To be honest you will often find yourself comparing your skin unfavourably to the average woman in a supermarket queue let alone an airbrushed-to-within-an-inch-of-her-life model in  a magazine. So, to land on a web page claiming to help you banish your eczema for good which then bombards you with images of beautiful women – well, that’s just cruel isn’t it? Except, what it does do is present a real opportunity to highlight just how ridiculously prevalent and laughable this lazy littering of the unnatural ‘body ideal’ is on websites and in magazines.

I’ve written a couple of blogposts on here about the viscous cycle of feeling bad about your eczema and the resultant worsening of eczema symptoms – most of that being down to the unnecessary shame involved with how we look to others. Now, if an article on eczema can’t even represent the subject with truthful images of the condition then there’s little hope of picture editors deciding to represent real women on the pages of magazines any time soon. So, do yourself a favour – don’t let it get you down, remind yourself of the reality, rise above it, laugh about it, get angry and complain to the publishers if you like  – but above all take it for what it is: lazy and thoughtless.

P.S. Just today this article appeared in the Daily Mail . Spot the pictures of real eczema. Now spot the pictures of thin, white, attractive women with great skin. 


Filed under Eczema confidence

No more hiding, no more shame

Did you know that at one time or another 60% of adults report that they have felt ashamed of the way they look? Yes, you heard correctly, ashamed. I feel ashamed when I’ve let my kids watch three hours of telly on the trot so that I can read the paper, but the way I look? Well, that’s not so much within my control.

If you suffer from eczema, how you look each day is a little bit of a lottery, so to feel shameful about it is about as futile as a hedgehog feeling ashamed of its spikes. But, clearly there are lots of people who suffer from eczema (currently 6 million in the UK)  who do.

IMG00382Apparently, 20% of those with severe psoriasis are on anti-depressant medication and an All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin discovered that many sufferers of skin disease are likely to suffer from mental health problems as a result of their condition.

I wrote my first blog post on Beczema last week – ‘Feel the eczema and do it anyway’ – all about breaking the damaging link between looking good and feeling good. And I had such a warm and positive response from so many, but some have said that they will never get used to their facial eczema and will continue to hate the way they look. That’s totally understandable, especially in the severe cases of facial eczema that don’t get much public exposure, it’s not their fault they feel judged because of their appearance.

This obsession with our appearance has apparently intensified massively in recent years – according to yet another APPG report this time on body image, this is the fault of the media and the fact that we are ‘mis-sold’ an ideal of the perfect body. And people are responding by going under the knife, apparently cosmetic surgery has increased by an incredible 20% since 2008.

Professor Nichola Rumsey, Co-Director of the Centre for Appearance Research, told the enquiry that, “we are increasingly living in an appearance saturated society and that the value individuals place on their appearance is becoming greater and more disproportionate to other aspects of self-concept.”

So, who can blame sufferers of skin disease for wanting to hide away from the world. If folk with lovely stretchy, elastic, non flaky, non red skin are hiding themselves away because they don’t live up to the ideal – then, frankly eczema sufferers have a much better excuse.

Except, by withdrawing from the world, eczema sufferers are stirring up their eczema symptoms and creating a situation for themselves whereby their condition can only get worse.

Two dermatologists from the US, Dr Richard Fried and Dr Fran Cook-Bolden have looked closely at the the ‘Skin-Mind’ connection in the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, and other common skin disorders. They have evidence that, “many patients with skin diseases such as psoriasis, acne, or eczema, actually get worse when they are stressed, when they are under times of depression or anxiety.”

Not surprising to anyone who has had the inevitable flare-ups around exam time, interviews, wedding days! But, while the gradual withdrawal from public life might seem like the most comfortable option, the isolation that sufferers feel contributes significantly to longer term depression.

eczema 1“This self-perpetuating negative interaction between stress and impaired skin function has been well-described,” says Dr Fried, “and often underlies the so-called ‘vicious cycle’ that exists between skin and negative emotional states.”

According to Dr Fried, the patients who make improvements under his care are able to look back and see how their response to the way they looked affected their lives. “Only after patients are improved do they look back and realize how much their psoriasis, eczema, or rosacea has robbed them of their interaction with life,” says Dr Fried.

I know it takes a huge amount of effort to get out there during an eczema flare-up – but every time you win that battle you confirm to yourself that it can be done. You don’t have to ‘rob yourself’ of anything.  Unless your eczema is physically preventing you from ‘interaction with life’ – then you have an opportunity to break that negative cycle. To get out and enjoy yourself,  to crush the bad habits of feeling anxious about the way your skin looks to others.  

I’m not saying it’s easy, far from it. I have to give myself a pep talk before any public events when my eczema is at its worst. For example, this weekend I had a party to go to – a garden party in the middle of the grass-pollen season! Naturally, my skin allergies and resulting eczema showed up right on cue. The skin on my face was angry, red, and unbelievably itchy.

beczemaBut, I put my best foot forward. Put a smile on my face and introduced myself to lots of new people – asked them questions about their lives and totally ignored the elephant in the room (well, the garden).  And it worked. I didn’t allow myself to hide away in a corner like I might have done some years ago or make excuses for the state of my skin, I didn’t let it rule my life. Not only did the satisfaction from winning that particular battle feel amazing – I had a great time.

Professor Nichola Rumsey said, “by focusing too much attention on appearance, other important attributes such as intelligence, kindness and determination were seen to be becoming less important.”

We are in a unique position as eczema sufferers, sometimes we just can’t look good – so focusing on appearance is a bit of a waste of time. Instead, we are free to focus entirely on intelligence, kindness and determination. And all for the good of our health.

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Feel the eczema and do it anyway

Do you want to hear something really sad? This is what one woman told an All Party Parliamentary Group looking into the effects of skin disease on a person’s physical and psychological well-being – “I feel like I am disgusting. I feel unattractive and I have such little confidence in myself as a result of how I look. People stare at my face and it makes me feel completely worthless.” This was a woman with severe acne, but anyone who has suffered from facial eczema will know exactly what she’s talking about.

Getting eczema on your face is awful. It’s sore, it itches, it can make you feel truly terrible. But, I’ve had bad patches on the backs of my knees which have been far worse than the flare-ups on my face and they haven’t made me feel nearly as unhappy as when it’s up there for the world to see. It’s obvious of course, we all want to look nice, presentable, attractive even. But, why should simply not looking nice lead to feelings of worthlessness?

In fact, the situation is so much worse than you would imagine. In April 2013 an All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin published a report on the effects of skin disease on a person’s physical and psychological well-being. Apparently, they wanted to get in there before the massive NHS overhaul and make sure that dermatology isn’t conveniently swept under the carpet. If you suffer from eczema, like I have done for the last 40 years, the findings in the report will come as no surprise. Eczema makes you feel bad and feeling bad makes your eczema worse. How’s about that for catch-22?

But, the report also tells us that skin disease can adversely affect almost every aspect of a person’s life and in some extreme cases can ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide. “Common psychological problems associated with skin disease include feelings of stress, anxiety, anger, depression, shame, social isolation, low self-esteem and embarrassment.”

And, to top it all, the report is pretty conclusive in its findings that general health practitioners not only do not prioritise the treatment of skin disease but actively trivialise it. Apparently, dermatology is not considered a core module in university medical and nursing courses and as a result, according to the report, there is a severe shortage of dermatologists in the UK.

The report goes on, “Until dermatology has been recognised as one of the core fields of primary care, variation in the standard of provision is only likely to get worse.”

I very much doubt that a low-key cross-party report is going to make significant waves any time soon, if at all.  So, if we’re being realistic, we’re on our own. Like anyone else who suffers from eczema, I must have tried and tested every cream, emollient, moisturiser and food supplement going. And I still do – I never give up on the holy grail quest for the miracle cream or magic pill. In fact, sometimes I believe I’ve found it – but then the old flare-ups come back and I’m back to square one.

Topical treatments are all well and good, but if you’re like most eczema sufferers you’ll probably end up reacting to them in the end. When I went for allergy testing it turned out that one of the strongest substance reactions was to hydrocortisone cream, something I had been prescribed by my doctor to treat my eczema for decades. So, the upshot is – we’d better get a bit better at dealing with the reality of living with the disease.

The incredibly unhelpful and damaging link between ‘looking good’ and ‘feeling good’ is as good a place to start as any. Facial eczema sufferers can frankly feel handicapped by an inability to improve their appearance.  Make-up is a no, no for many – the only thing that you can slap on your face is a handful of anodyne grease prescribed by a GP – so when you simply CAN’T look good, what do you do?

Well, the report tells us that people are hiding in their homes because of the state of their skin, retreating from the world. At a basic level, they are failing to contribute to conversations and on a larger scale, they are denying themselves the opportunity to be in a relationship  (worthless and disgusting remember?) and damaging their professional lives by not putting themselves forward for job interviews.

I can absolutely sympathise with this – I have done my fair share of creeping around the edges of life, hiding in the shadows, not drawing attention to myself for fear of anyone looking directly at my face. But, while I know that the psychological effects of looking awful are to be taken very seriously, let’s face it, this problem is something we have totally invented for ourselves as a society.

I have never really been able to wear make-up because of my facial eczema, which actually suits me fine because I’m a bit lazy and I’m not sure I could be bothered with the rigmarole of it all. But, I’m certain that being completely cut out of that cosmetics merry-go-round has done me no harm at all and, perhaps, puts me in a better position to say this.

It takes a lot of effort to be confident. Lots of talking to yourself into things that you find uncomfortable. But, take it from me, the pay-off is huge. I don’t know what my face will look like when I wake up in the morning, some days it’s fine but some days it looks like I’ve been stung by a swarm of bees and been given a chemical peel during the course of the night.  But, one thing I can guarantee is that at least one day out of seven, I’m not going to look good. So, after decades of hiding I have taken a very large and sharp machete to that link between looking/feeling good.

In fact, in true blog style here’s a couple of ‘before and after’ shots:

BEFOREThis is me looking bad and feeling BAD.

AFTERBelieve it or not, my skin was terrible when this photo was taken. Itching madly, skin around my eyes puffing up like a balloon and generally  flaky and sore. Very nearly as bad as it was in the before photo. The difference is – I genuinely don’t feel bad about it. 


Melanie Reid broke her neck and back falling off a horse and writes a column for The Times about her experiences. “There are some things you don’t learn until it’s too late. One is that a woman’s relationship with her own body image is a totally unnecessary war. If I could reclaim even half of [my time], how much better I would have spent it – dancing, running, travelling, kissing, talking, laughing, reading, playing sport.”

So, taking the risk of being horribly trite – ask yourself this. Does your facial eczema prevent you *physically* from doing a single one of the things on that list? No? Then what the hell are you waiting for?



Filed under Eczema confidence