A guest article by writer & vlogger, Zainab Danjuma.
Ever since I was little, my skin has always been a topic of discussion. I didn’t matter how much I tried to hide away, people always felt the need to offer their opinion on how best to cure me of my lifelong condition.
I began to get used to the usual comments and questions of “Why’s your skin like that?” “Have you tried coconut oil?”, and the ever infuriating “Stop scratching!”
I would brush it off most of the time but of course, it made me very self conscious about how I looked and how others saw me. I became quite reserved in order to minimise attention in my direction and shy away from meeting new people to avoid having to explain why I was an itchy, scabby mess. This continued well into my teens and although I was struggling with eczema, there was another battle I didn’t even know I was a part of.
Let me introduce myself
I am mixed: my mum is Asian and my dad is African. Genetics has created me with a skin tone that falls somewhere in between theirs, and hair that was neither silky straight, nor tight and coily. As I grew into myself, I was lacking a role model that represented me as a mixed woman. A big problem with having melanated skin and growing up in the 90s is that your face was not represented in the media. Your hair texture is not shown on TV and your complexion was not celebrated. On top of that I was dealing with eczema and that was definitely not represented in the media, so I was lost as to what confidence was, how beauty was portrayed and most of all, I struggled with self acceptance.
I spent so much of my late teens trying to fit into a mould that I could never adjust to: I straightened my hair every day, to the point that it no longer curled. I used steroid creams to keep my skin clear, without a second thought to the possible side effects of long term use: I was told countless times that they were safe and that I would be on them for the rest of my life. I would dread summer, fearing that in the sun I would tan, making my hyper- and hypopigmentation more noticeable.
Eczema on skin of colour
Having eczema can leave you scarred, especially if you are of a darker complexion to start with. I fall into that category.
I love my skin tone, but I loathed my skin condition and what it did to my skin. It’s all coming to light now in 2020, that people with darker skin have always taken a back seat when it comes to being heard and unfortunately this also applies to being in the doctor’s office.
The scarring that developed over years of dealing with eczema was never fully addressed and I alway felt like I was asking too much for asking for different treatment or a second opinion. I felt that I was being compared to a textbook condition when I myself was never a textbook patient.
A simple Google search of the word “eczema” shows the condition mainly displayed on fair skin, appearing as red rashes or blisters. That didn’t represent me. My skin did not turn red with a flare, my skin darkened and I became ashy and grey. Sometimes I lost pigment in areas where I had scratched excessively, and my skin would appear white or bleached. On my worst days, I didn’t feel normal or even human because I never saw anyone like me… So I just kept it to myself, ashamed to show my skin and the real me.
TSW: a new chapter!
But all of that changed in 2017! I started documenting my journey with Eczema and Topical Steroid Withdrawal, unashamedly talking about what it’s really like dealing with eczema on a day to day basis whilst also having darker skin. How it affected my self esteem, relationship and future worries I carry with me constantly. I was only met with encouragement and people telling me they could relate to my struggles, physically and also emotionally.
It’s taken me well into adulthood to finally feel comfortable with my skin condition in a space I had to create for myself. I’m glad to see the change in society around the taboos of skin conditions. I’m glad to see people of colour finding their voice. I’m glad to be part of the shift and I hope that people never have to feel like I did growing up.
Making necessary changes
There are so many ways - big and small - that EVERYONE can feel included in understanding, diagnosing and treating their skin conditions.
- Doctors, consultants and healthcare providers should listen to the patient in front of them rather than follow a textbook that was published years in the past.
- Skin and beauty brands should endorse people of all shades, backgrounds and cultures and shine a light on how conditions present themselves on different skin tones. Let’s see hyperpigmentation in ads, let’s normalise hypopigmentation, let’s not turn our heads at seeing a red rash or ashy skin: it’s common, so why should it be uncomfortable to witness?
- Warriors (let’s not call ourselves sufferers, maybe?) should follow people that closely represent them to further understand their condition. Aim to follow more people with a similar story, triggers or complexion to yourself. You will feel more validated in your symptoms and not have to ask “Why doesn’t my skin look like that? Am I normal?” Yes you are!
- Let’s stop diminishing people’s pain. Playing eczema and other conditions down as “just a rash” gets us nowhere in dealing with the mental struggle we go through every day. Even after the rash has cleared we are self conscious of our scars and texture and have that paranoia in the back of our heads that another flare is just around the corner.
- Considering there are hundreds of causes of dermatitis, and it’s a fact that everybody responds differently to medication, it’s funny how nearly all of us have ended up with the same treatment. Can we change that please?! Thanks.
So here I am, 31 years old and slowly undoing all of the beliefs I had as a child of not believing like I fit in, and not feeling “enough”. My curls are beautiful. I am mixed and I don’t have to “pick a side”. I have a skin condition but it does not define me, I am more than just my skin - and it’s the same for every single eczema sufferer out there. Your journey is unique and it matters!
I want to give a special shout out to Kemi who created a beautiful short documentary called Beneath My Surface, bringing together women of all skin tones to openly share their experiences of dealing with varying skin conditions.
Zainab Danjuma is a vlogger who aims to spread awareness about eczema and the impact it can have on self-esteem. She's now steroid-free and charts her TSW journey online via her YouTube channel and Instagram accounts: @beezeebuzz (personal account) and @TSW_beezeebuzz (skin account)!