When fashion expert Stacy London was 11, she was walking down the beach when a woman noticed her skin, looked to her father, and said, “So sorry for you.”
“I remember feeling not self-conscious, but so guilty for disappointing for him,” she told Healthline.
Unfortunately, an adult’s overreaction to a child with psoriasis is an all-too-common memory for people with the disease. And psoriasis patients often dwell on their skin condition, even without added judgment from others.
“That’s all the more reason why fashion should become a tool,” London said.
London, best known for co-hosting TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” believes a focus on personal style can help alleviate some concerns about psoriasis. The show, which has been on the air since 2003, is now in its final season.
While many psoriasis patients would rather shun the spotlight during a flare-up, especially in a field like fashion, London found that her love of fashion and her practical take on living with psoriasis were a perfect fit.
“My personal experience and my professional skill set came together on 'What Not to Wear,'” she said. “It all kind of came out in the wash.”
London has been the spokeswoman for the National Psoriasis Foundation since 2007, and is now the face of AbbVie’s “Uncover Your Confidence” campaign, which aims to replace psoriasis stigma with personal style, information, and regained self-esteem.
“We want people to have more control over feeling they’re looking relevant or stylish," she said. “When you make an effort to make yourself into a whole package and having a hand in that, having control with a disease that you can’t always control, I think that evens the balance.”
Growing Up ‘Different’
At age four, small bumps began to appear behind London’s ears. For years, she heard conflicting information from doctors about her condition, which became more severe when she was 11. The thick white flakes of scalp psoriasis were one of her many concerns.
“At four, being diagnosed with a chronic disease meant that there was nothing I could do, but I would have it my whole life,” she said. “It wasn’t life-threatening, but it was life-debilitating. Living with it for 40 years has been a really interesting journey.”
London was teased by her classmates about her skin. Between bullying—people wrongly thought she was contagious—and attempting to find relief for her skin condition, she missed the majority of sixth grade. She began to have panic attacks because of how she was treated.
“Even that was a tricky diagnosis. There was a lot of confusion, a lot of fear,” she said. “At that point, I felt really ashamed at the way I looked. I had a lot of bad experiences with children at school who didn’t know anything about the disease. It definitely reminded me that I was different and that something was wrong with me.”
After visiting specialists, her condition began to improve. But as every psoriasis sufferer knows, it doesn’t just go away. Treating psoriasis is an everyday concern.
Thankfully, as she matured, so did her classmates.
“At 16, my friends said, ‘We don’t care if your skin is green, we still love you,’” London said. “To have psoriasis is a part of me, it’s not defining me. It’s like having brown eyes or a gray streak.”
That’s when her interest in fashion began to bloom.
From Psoriasis Patient to Personal Style Mogul
In her new book, The Truth About Style, London writes about her former uniform as a child: turtlenecks and long pants, even on the hottest of summer days.
“Covering up did give me some feeling of control, but it wasn’t a comfort or a joy,” she wrote. “I missed my fancy dresses.”
Now London wears fancy dresses all the time, and she encourages other psoriasis patients to do the same by losing their “learned helplessness.”
“One of the things I feel the most strongly about is that you can’t be empowered if you don’t know what’s available. Learned helplessness is something that comes from not having the latest information on how to care for your psoriasis or feeling bad for yourself,” she said.
Stacy London’s Style Tips for People with Psoriasis
On UncoverYourConfidence.com, London offers these seasonal style tips for men and women with psoriasis:
- Choose natural, breathable fabrics.
- Wear a second layer under a wool sweater so that the rough fabric doesn’t irritate your skin.
- Wear a straw hat to protect you from the sun while allowing your scalp to breathe.
- Choose fabrics that wick away moisture for working out.
- Wear shoes that fit perfectly to avoid skin problems on your feet.
- Use dye-free, unscented laundry detergent.
“It’s about taking vanity out of fashion and turning it into a weapon in your arsenal and making it about being who you want to be,” she said. “This is not just about style, but using style to counteract how you’re feeling because of a disease or condition, or something as benign as gaining a few pounds.”
London acknowledges that she still struggles internally with her psoriasis, but humor and the ability to talk about her condition openly help.
“You try, in all parts of your life, to combat fear and shame, and the only way to really do that is to be honest and open. There’s only so much you can control in the world and one of them is your attitude,” she said. “It is important to find strength in courage and confidence.”
Take some of Stacy’s fashion advice, find the right expert to help with your condition, and feel better about yourself. There's no reason to let your psoriasis ruin a good day at the beach.
“Make sure you love your bathing suit, too,” London said.