Date: 06/26/2023

By: Ema Hodgkinson

I like to think I’m a perfectly pink person. While I was younger, when people would approach me to so graciously let me know that I was sunburnt, I would go on a tangent about how it was in fact a skin disorder. I had it down to a script. “Actually, I have a skin disorder called ‘ichthyosis’. My skin is very pink and flakey as if I have a sunburn because I lack the ability to sweat, so heat gets trapped in me easier”. Every. Damn. Time. Every time someone mentioned my skin I would revert to that dumbed down script my mom taught me to repeat. Whether they were asking if I just got back from vacation or if I was a burn victim, I would channel the inner Disney child actor part of my brain and perform my little monologue. I loved to make the adults seem stupid and talk down at them from my astounding height of 4 feet. Once I finished enlightening them and making them feel foolish, they would often immediately turn to obsessive apologies and try to make any connection to my situation as a way to validate what they just said to a literal child. “Oh, I’m so sorry honey. You know, my uncle actually had rosacea and my daughter has very bad eczema during the winter… So I totally get it”. Why people felt the need to interrupt whatever my young self was doing at that moment (probably twirling and singing Barbie songs) to interrogate me on my appearance, I will never understand.

I had a run in with a 5 year old boy once. I was 7 and he approached me from behind, completely revoking me of having the upper hand in the altercation. He made his comment- “You’re so red, like an alien freak! Don’t touch me!”, and I made mine- ,”Piss off buddy, you don’t want this”. But it’s different when kids comment on it because kids don’t usually know any better. Kids… they say the darndest things. Nowadays at my ripe age of 18, I don’t care when little kids make comments or stare a little too long at me with wondrous eyes. I understand that they’ve never seen anything quite as spectacular as me. Sometimes their parents will calm them and hold them back from saying something because they know how inappropriate that would be, but other times the parents are just as bad as their children. When adults make comments and ask obsessive questions, part of me wonders why they want to know so badly. It’s crazy to me that adults at their stage of (im)maturity have to stop their menial tasks and interrupt my errands with a sly, “Oh my, how you're sunburned. You know, aloe vera really helps with sunburns”. No. I had no idea about that secret aloe vera life hack, thank you so much.

At this point in my existence, when anyone makes a comment I laugh, giggle, smile, nod and move on. I don’t waste my breath on educating people with the technical terms and descriptions of what I actually have, but if I’m feeling especially goofy, I make up a crazy story about how I got lost on an island during a vacation and had to wait hours until the next boat came out to get me, heating up under the sun of paradise, making giant S.O.S signs made of rocks and sticks.  Depending on the season, I sometimes say that I had gone on a family skiing trip. “Yeah, I guess I hit the slopes on a blue bird a bit too gnarly and got a heck of a snow burn”. But, whatever I say, I can’t seem to please their expectations, it’s like they want me to tell them what it’s like being thrown in the sun.

I’ve learned through the years that it doesn’t matter what people think happened to me; they could think I’m an adventurous teenager who has no regard for skin health or protection from UV rays, or they could think I’ve had an unfortunate life ever since the fire that took everything. Whatever they believe, I know that I’m doing the best I can and that their opinion on how I look will not, and does not determine who I am. A very cliche moral to this story, but true none the less. I try not to let the frequent comments get to me, but some days I’ll be riding high and then some cashier has the power to shoot me down and ruin the rest of my day. Is it selfish to want no one to wonder, ask questions, or mention my skin to me at all? I really don’t care if they talk about it behind my back, it’s not like I’ll ever know… but I wish that people had a bit more decorum and understanding. However, it happens at least once a day, everyday, since I was born… so I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

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