Bree Pease didn’t start modeling because she wanted to be a model. She started modeling to show others her definition of beauty and because she wanted people to question their own definitions of beauty.

Bree has psoriasis, an inflammatory condition that causes raised skin plaques that may itch or sting. In psoriasis, an overactive immune system speeds up skin cell growth, causing the cells to pile up on the skin’s surface. Depending on your skin tone, the plaques can appear pink, red, purple, white, or gray.

In studies cited by a 2020 study, participants reported feeling embarrassed or ashamed by the appearance of their skin. These feelings can affect quality of life for some people and lead them to hide their skin or even socially withdraw.

In honor of Psoriasis Awareness Month, Healthline spoke with Bree to learn how she’s managed and embraced her condition and how she hopes to change people’s perceptions of it.

This interview has been edited for brevity, length, and clarity.

Bree Pease. Photo by Tracey Wilson; design by Alexis Lira.Share on Pinterest
Bree Pease. Photo by Tracey Wilson; design by Alexis Lira.

My first visible symptoms started between the ages of 13 and 15, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when. Around that time, I had strep throat and some other infections with lots of antibiotic treatments. I was also on acne medication, which may have triggered it.

I was also going through adolescence and stressing out as teenagers do. When I look back on when my psoriasis really flared up, it was usually around big life changes and stress.

My triggers have included my parents’ separation, moving out of the house and living independently for the first time, and getting out of a toxic relationship.

Now, I try to find reasons for my flare-ups to better plan and strategize for the future.

I decided to stop seeing the dermatologist I first went to because he never asked about what I was eating or what my stress levels were like. There was no personal connection. I felt like there was only one path available. But there are a million different ways to handle psoriasis.

For example, when I first took on a natural treatment approach, I tried an anti-inflammatory diet. I cut out all red meat, alcohol, nightshades, coffee, and more. My diet was healthful but very restrictive. I actually got sicker because of it.

This is when I discovered that your mental health is just as valuable as your physical health. I felt great physically, but I felt stressed mentally. I didn’t feel happy to be eating. I was depressed over my intake of food.

I was so restricted, and eventually, my body reacted badly to that. Now, my diet is centered on the philosophy of “Eat more of this, eat less of that.”

What have you learned throughout the process?

I think there’s more positivity in younger generations about chronic illness and bodily differences. I think of myself as gifted, as having a visual difference.

It’s a blessing because I have the motivation to maintain my health. If I don’t, I’m going to be itchy. When you have a difference, you have a superpower. Instead of being ashamed of it, you can show people how strong and happy you can be.

Chronic conditions are all different, but really at the core, we’re dealing with the same things. I know my body more than anyone else does.

People always ask me what’s wrong with me, and I’ve learned to accept that as a lack of knowledge. And knowledge about autoimmune conditions like psoriasis is so important.

“Now, when someone asks me what it is, I hold the biggest grin, and I get excited to share all the information. I turned my insecurity into my confidence.”

— Bree Pease

When I was younger, I only had a little spot on my elbow. It was there for a few years without expanding. Up until I was 18, I didn’t have anything else. I did get some comments at school, but only when it spread to my legs and the rest of my arms.

This one little spot had so much control over me. I would constantly try to hide it. But when I compare that to where I am now, I’m covered from head to toe in psoriasis. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to care less about what other people think. You really have to be strong-minded.

When I was in school and someone laughed and said, “What is that?” I tried to shrug it off.

Now, when someone asks me what it is, I hold the biggest grin, and I get excited to share all the information. I turned my insecurity into my confidence. My skin has shown me what true confidence is. I want people to see that in me. So, I bring up my psoriasis before they can, and a lot of the time, they won’t even notice.

But I do understand being insecure around skin issues. My confidence is a result of looking in the mirror, talking to myself, and practicing having these responses ready for people’s questions.

Share on Pinterest
Bree Pease. Photo by Brittany North; design by Alexis Lira.

It was just about getting the word out there. I wanted people to learn. I thought, “I don’t see anything like this in the media.” No big runway models with psoriasis. And there’s a huge percentage of the world that has psoriasis.

I’m lucky to live in Australia because some other countries have even less education around it. I wanted people to see psoriasis, but I didn’t want them to see it in the medical sense. I wanted people to see it in the glamorous sense, wearing beautiful dresses and makeup.

I contacted local photographers and created a photo shoot. It was so powerful for me and everyone following me. So many people had such lovely responses.

Two that stick out to me are:

  • A photographer I worked with wore a beanie when we first started the shoot. He had scalp psoriasis. Now he wears his beanie less and actually gets sun on his head.
  • I was getting shoes fitted, and the woman helping me saw the psoriasis on my legs, and then she showed me the psoriasis on her neck.

I just wanted to share my story and create a more safe and secure world.

It’s a difficult question to answer. I want things to change, but I don’t know how they could. In a picture, psoriasis looks like something that needs to be healed.

When people see that, they instantly want a fix. When people see me, they ask if I’m OK, if I’m in pain. I think that’s why you don’t see it much in the media because it looks like it needs to be fixed right away.

I’ve been turned down for modeling opportunities before because my skin looks “aggressive.” That’s sad, but it’s the education that needs to change. It’s also the misconception that people need to hide — it’s something we put in our own heads — but doctors need to help educate against that, too.

I would love to see [a campaign] for psoriasis like vitiligo. You don’t really see vitiligo and think it hurts or it’s painful.

Psoriasis looks contagious, even though it’s not. And even the people who do know about my condition still want to pass on treatment advice to me, thinking I need help. That’s what I really want to change. I can have psoriasis, and I can be comfortable and happy.

Share on Pinterest
Bree Pease. Photo by Colleen Dew; design by Alexis Lira.

In general, we need more photos and descriptions of psoriasis to be available.

The best way to ask someone with a visual difference on their body about their visual difference is to ask them how their day is going. My skin condition is the biggest people fielder. I know if someone is a good egg or a bad egg.

Sometimes, I’ve been talking to someone for hours, and then I bring up my psoriasis and ask if they noticed, and they say yes, but I was waiting for you to bring it up.

Finally, we need more education! There needs to be more awareness that you can live with psoriasis and that you don’t have to be unhappy.

Bree Pease.
Photo courtesy of Jürgen Nii.

Bree Pease is a psoriasis patient advocate and model living in Perth, Australia. In September 2020, Bree assisted in the opening and running of a restaurant with her ex-partner. They made it through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and created a successful business. She was also interviewed live on Perth ABC in 2022. You can follow Bree on Instagram @psoriasis_beauty.