“America’s Next Top Model” winner CariDee English has lived with chronic psoriasis since she was 5 years old, but she hasn’t let her condition control her life.
In observance of World Psoriasis Day (October 29th), the fashion model/musician spoke with Healthline about living with psoriasis, the story behind her "before-and-after" photo shoot and why she refuses to sleep on black sheets…
You inherited psoriasis from your mother, and you’ve had it since you were five years old. What was it like for you during your school years?
When I was a kid, it was bad. One time, I got kicked out of the pool because I was in a swimsuit and the teachers thought I had a communicable disease. That was really hard; I was just a kid who wanted to swim.
Throughout my school years, all I ever did was try to cover it up. I wore long sleeves and pants even if it was the hottest day of the year. I hid most of my psoriasis, but I couldn’t hide all of it, because I had it on my hands. In gym class, I’d wear sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and sweat the whole time, but I’d hide the truth by telling everyone I was really cold.
High school was especially hard because of dances and proms. Other girls would wear strapless dresses, so I would wear them too, but I’d get a huge scarf or shawl and wrap it around me.
With all this going on physically, what made you feel like you could become a model?
The only way I can describe it is that ever since I was little, whenever there was a camera on me, I’d feel 100% whole and complete. I used to love to have my mom take pictures of me. When I got older, I noticed that I was getting really tall and I realized that I had the physical requirements to be a model. From that point on, I was determined to make it happen.
You were the winner of “America’s Next Top Model,” and you “came out” as a psoriasis sufferer on the show. Was there any hesitation on your part, and what motivated you to do that?
Coming out with psoriasis on the show was an awesome moment in my life and I’ll never forget it! As a model with psoriasis, I had been “sent home” from so many photo shoots because of my condition. When I thought about talking about it on the show, I was afraid that Tyra Banks was going to send me home on national television.
I was really scared and that’s why it took me five episodes to finally get the courage to admit I had psoriasis. When I finally mentioned it on the show, it was such a relief to get it off my chest and Tyra was so supportive. “Wow,” she said, “that’s such a story, and look at you, you’re handling this so well!”
How did it feel to expose yourself in such a personal and physical way on national TV?
It was such an awesome feeling! It was also interesting because, even as a kid, I’d think to myself, “I know I have psoriasis for a reason, and it sucks. But I know I have this for a reason.” I was hoping that by telling Tyra about it on TV, other people who suffer from psoriasis would realize that they weren’t alone.
It also felt so great to know that I could finally speak about something that I never felt comfortable speaking about before. And to think that my story could inspire others was a great extra bonus. It was incredibly empowering.
A few years after the show, you made news when you did a “before and after” photo shoot, with pictures showing 70% of your body covered in psoriasis. What caused the flare up, and what motivated you to do the shoot?
I had been on a biologic therapy until 2009, but then the FDA said it was no longer safe so they took it off the market.
After I went off it, I had a bad flare-up. I couldn’t model anymore, which meant I couldn’t work. But I wanted to do something. That’s when I decided to document my flare-up before I began treatment with Stelara, and then I did the photo shoot. It was my way of saying, “This is me, and this is my psoriasis.” They were powerful images. The pictures conveyed that there is treatment available to each person living with psoriasis; they just need to know how to search for it. People need to be relentless about their treatment options. I can’t stress that enough.
I’ve read that people with psoriasis think about their condition constantly. How many times per day do you think about it?
When it’s not under control or when you’re flaring up, it’s the top thing on your mind. I was literally living my life around my psoriasis, and then the moment I decided to live my life and accept myself was when I started living for my dreams.
I’m curious about how you address your psoriasis in terms of relationships?
My attitude has always been for people to take me as I am. If a guy can’t handle me at my worst (during a flare-up), he doesn’t deserve me at my best. I used to take it slow at first in terms of telling someone I was interested in about my condition. But eventually, my life evolved into a situation where I found the right people in my life; people who weren’t shallow.
It was different when I was younger. I would be embarrassed sometimes with guys, so I would tell them that I wouldn’t sleep over if they had black sheets. I’d tell them that black sheets are really outdated and ugly and that they should buy white sheets. [Laughing].
Wait, what’s so bad about black sheets?
My skin can flake and shed, and sometimes when I’d sleep on dark or black sheets, it would look like I’d been circled in chalk, or like my fairy godmother had sprinkled dust on me in the night!
With one boyfriend, I would wake up and look down—and see my skin all over the sheets! So, I would pull the covers tightly around me, then wake him up and ask him to go to the store for me. I’d make up some excuse to get him out of the house, and as soon as he left, I’d jump up, shake off the flakes like crazy, and then hop back into bed!
My psoriasis has never affected my relationships. It’s never been a problem for me. I’ve been insecure about it, but it’s never been a problem. I’m a woman first and foremost and I always get insecure and I’m vulnerable in front of the man I love and I want to feel beautiful but sometimes I didn’t.
A lot of people with psoriasis swear by home remedies. Do you have any?
The only home remedy that really works is prayer! I’m serious. I wish I could not have it for one day. Just so I could throw on a T-shirt and not worry about it. That would be my Cinderella moment…
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