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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Collinson

The challenge of looking different but not “different enough”

How unmalicious people regularly insult my chronic health condition.

I regularly wake up feeling and looking like I have the worst sunburn you can imagine despite being a pasty Brit who probably hasn’t seen the sun in months. I have that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I stare into the bathroom mirror and picture the day ahead of not only feeling awful but the embarrassment of having to face the world when you are feeling so cripplingly self-conscious.

I walk out the door and like clockwork the comments begin:

“Wow you are so red”

“Someones been out in the sun”

“You look like a lobster”

Now we’re not in school anymore, I know these comments are meant as simply a bit of friendly banter. For the vast majority of people being red after a holiday or a hard workout isn’t anything to be particularly embarrassed about. However in my situation my skin is red almost all the time, due to my chronic skin condition which I’ve battled my whole life. Something which is painful, embarrassing and mentally exhausting and it’s something I’m deeply insecure about. 

If we’re being honest, being red in the face is most certainly not a beauty standard and looks very unusual which is why it is teased in the first place. It is also something that I have deep scars from from school as I was made to feel like a freak. Again a one off situation is nothing to get upset about but living with it day in day out, the strange looks, the nasty comments, you can’t help but dread just about every human interaction. Even if the comments don’t come, the anticipation of them is almost as bad. 

I feel that (for the most part) we live in a fairly civilised society and people can usually go about their life without fear of being openly mocked about their deepest insecurities. I’m sure it happens but it’s rare to see openly in public someone being mocked for being overweight, being too tall, too short, or god forbid for being in a wheelchair for example. And if it does happen there's a simplicity to the situation in that the person making the comment is an awful human being and I’d like to believe they would be shouted down. There’s a generally agreed upon set of characteristics which are off limits to comment about and unfortunately skin conditions didn’t seem to make the list. 

However in mine and many others situation unfortunately, we have to deal with relentless soul crushing comments constantly. It’s almost easier when my skin is flaring horrendously as it then becomes obvious that there is something seriously wrong with me and the comments stop. 

Then there’s the impossible question of how we handle these situations and please if anyone has a solution to this let me know! Someone unintentionally says something hurtful, essentially mocking the health condition I’m suffering with. In that scenario I’m so hurt and embarrassed all I want is to gloss over it but then there’s the fear that they will do it again. The alternative is to make them aware that I have a condition to which they are mortified and apologise profusely which also makes me uncomfortable. I think the best way forward is to make them aware but it isn’t a conversation I particularly look forward to having time and time again.

I’m trying to completely reframe these situations in my mind to be positive and look forward to them as I can use them as a teaching opportunity and avoid the embarrassment of the next person. This is certainly the plan anyway but the reality is with scars as deep as I have I know this will take a long time.

Almost everyone is deeply insecure about something and people need to behave more tactfully when making personal comments about people's appearance. My wife for example is a gym bunny and a lot of people think there can’t be anything she’s particularly insecure about physically. This is certainly not the case but people will think it's okay to make comments that she finds insulting. I heard a podcast recently with Richard Osmon and he spoke of his insecurities of being too tall. Now to some men this seems strange as height is often seen as a desirable trait for a man however this highlights this important issue. In this podcast he also said a very important quote “If you see somebody is different, they do not need to be told”, this hit the nail on the head for me. As if somebody is different, unless they’re one of these genuinely amazing enlightened people who can be truly confident in their difference, there’s a huge chance they’re insecure about it and bringing attention to it does nothing but reinforce their insecurity.  

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