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Why I'm Proudly Wearing Shorts This Summer as Someone With Ichthyosis

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Why do we as a society focus so much on hotness?

Society has indoctrinated us into thinking that certain features are more attractive than others. The truth is, beauty is a social construct that often causes never-ending stress for those who do not fit the mold created by society. As we approach “hot girl summer,” I have been reflecting on past summers.

Growing up with ichthyosis, a skin condition that causes dry flaky skin, and not falling into what is considered “beautiful,” I struggled for many years. I often wondered why all representations in the media of those with a visible difference were portrayed as “evil” or “gross” in movies and television. Characters with disabilities were treated as animals or less than. Since this was before the days of social media, I was left with a sense of hopelessness that I could never be loved or that I should be ashamed to be around “normal” people.

These issues become especially hard in the summer when clothing is smaller and tighter. Also, because of my condition, I am at risk for overheating so that is always a major factor in the summer. I often found myself declining invitations from friends to do things because I was uncomfortable being ignored by strangers, or worse looked at like I was disgusting. I worried about being a burden if I needed to seek A/C and water. Besides a few close friends, I was often afraid to even talk about my condition because I did not want other people to feel awkward. I rarely wore shorts or dresses because I did not want to stand out, but the more clothes I wore in warm weather, the higher risk I was at to overheat. When I was 18, I was bullied so badly at college by my suitemates that I moved home after only two months, ultimately dropping out. College became a huge trigger for me, and I did not go back to get my bachelor’s degree until I was 33 and finished my degree at 35.

Why do we fear that which we do not understand? Why can’t we empathize with those who look different than us? How does what I look like affect your life?

As I have gotten older, after years of therapy, I have learned to love myself and my skin. I am no longer afraid. Having ichthyosis is a huge part of me. It has shaped my experiences and given me some incredible opportunities. Reframing my thoughts has opened my life and allowed me to enjoy things, rather than fear them. I am also a parent to a boy with ichthyosis and that is why I speak out in hopes of educating others, so he does not have to go through what I went through. I also want him to be proud of his uniqueness. There is nothing he cannot accomplish, and I hope his skin does not hold him back, the way it held me back for so long.

There are two old sayings that I often think about when considering how we can change society and learn to be more empathic. The first one is “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” meaning beauty is not objective, it’s subjective, and what one may find beautiful may not appeal to another. While this is true, in my opinion, we can go one step further and we can learn to not judge others for what they find beautiful. We should learn to accept people of all shapes, sizes and colors. The second saying I often think about is “beauty is more than skin deep.” Who a person is and what they stand for is so much more important than how they look.

Remember when you were little, your friends were kids who you had things in common with, and it didn’t matter what they looked like? We should all go back to that simpler time. Closed-mindedness and hate are not something we are born with, they are something we are taught. However, we can break the mold of our ancestors and change our thought processes.

So as you’re enjoying this summer, do not judge those who are different. Instead, try to learn from their perspective. Who knows, you might just find a new friend. And if you are one of those people who are afraid that you will be judged by others, wear those shorts or that bathing suit. Live your best life and you will no doubt attract amazing people into your circle.

Originally published: July 12, 2021
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