By Alyce Collins
THIS ATHLETE was so embarrassed of her psoriasis that she saw FIVE dermatologists and was even told to try CHEMOTHERAPY to get rid of her condition which she is now embracing after being told her ‘cheetah skin’ looked cool and even ‘SEXY’.
Student athlete Sophia Chen (20) from Colorado, USA, first developed psoriasis on her chest when she was 16, but at the time she thought it was just a bug bite or a spot. Within a month, the psoriasis had spread to her face and Sophia began covering her face with makeup because she felt ashamed of her skin.
Sophia went to see five dermatologists about the issue, which was diagnosed as guttate psoriasis, all over her body. Some dermatologists recommended that Sophia try using tanning beds to heal her skin, while others suggested chemotherapy to fight the psoriasis. Both options baffled and concerned Sophia, leaving her feeling lost and still without treatment.
Sophia got into the habit of waking up at six am every morning to give herself time to cover up her psoriasis with concealer, foundation and powder, even if she was just playing football.
Eventually, in 2015, Sophia saw a doctor who looked at the food triggers which might have been affecting her skin. Initially, Sophia cut out dairy, gluten and alcohol before later turning to veganism in 2016 to heal her skin.
Sophia still follows a vegan diet but hasn’t seen her psoriasis disappear completely. However, since moving to the University of Albany, Sophia’s roommate noticed how much time she spent trying to cover up her spots and told her that she should embrace her unique look.
Now, Sophia loves her ‘cheetah skin’ and she hopes to show others not to hide their true selves out of fear of what others might think.
“I first got my psoriasis when I was 16 and at first, I thought that it was a spot or bug bite, so it didn’t concern me much,” said Sophia.
“Only about a month after I noticed it on my chest, the psoriasis had spread all over my body, including my face. I became so discouraged. I’d never had acne, I always had perfect skin, so I felt the need to cover it up.
“I cried almost every day, which really broke my mother’s heart. At the time, I had no confidence and some days I didn’t even want to go to school because of it.
“Initially, I tried steroid creams which one of the doctors prescribed me. It was exhausting to apply it on every little spot on my body, it was extremely tedious work and it didn’t really do anything to help me.
“I went to five dermatologists but pretty much all of them told me there was no cure for me. Some told me that I could use sun beds, which was something that I would never try because of its serious risks.
“Another told me I could try a version of chemotherapy which was extremely frightening, but I remember thinking I kind of wanted to try it because I was so desperate.
“Every morning before school, I would wake up at six am to strategically cover up my spots. I never went a day without makeup, even if I was only playing football.
“It took a lot of concealer, foundation, and powder to cover the spots and make it last throughout a long day of school and sport. It was tiring and excessive, but I wouldn’t step out of the house without it.
“For the next six months, I wore long sleeves at all times as well as piling on foundation and concealer over the lesions on my face until I saw a doctor who suggested it could be related to my food.
“Straight away, I cut out gluten, alcohol, and dairy which were the main triggers for my skin. Making these changes really helped but when I started university there weren’t many vegan options, so it came back.”
It was only when her university roommate asked Sophia why she spent so much time covering up her skin that Sophia realised other people weren’t going to be as critical as she assumed.
Following that, Sophia gradually stopped covering her psoriasis patches and people commented that they thought her skin was ‘cool’ because it made her look like a ‘cheetah’ or her patches looked like constellations.
“My roommate loved how unique it was and she told me that I looked like a cheetah. Also, at the time, Winnie Harlow, the model with vitiligo, was becoming extremely popular and my skin looked similar to hers,” said Sophia.
“Some people would say ‘do you have vitiligo? That’s so cool, your skin is beautiful.’ The more I heard it, the more I started to believe it.
“One of my friends said they look like constellations on my skin. Another guy I met said that my spots were ‘sexy’.
“Now, I absolutely love my skin. It sure can get annoying when it’s itchy, but when it’s not, I love it. Especially when it starts to heal, and it turns my tanned skin white – I love the look of it.
“I want to show others that they don’t need to hide behind anything, and they can truly embrace themselves for who they are, no matter what they are dealing with.
“We were each made unique and that is what makes us beautiful. When I was younger, I was always trying to fit in according to societal standards, but in the end, it broke my confidence and it was exhausting. My life is filled with bliss now that I can accept and love my body the way it is.”
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