March 5, 2020/ Spark Magazine
I was at a crossroads here. Resolved that I would not have the opportunity of a full life, my anguish swallowed every part of me. Always living a half-life, an incomplete life. What a tragedy, I thought. Here I was, alive and well, except that I felt, lived, fully unwell. I couldn’t shake this shadow haunting me, something much more intimate than a shadow, because it was attached to me, a part of me, on me.
I lived 18 years, a majority of my life, with eczema. Upon entering college, I was fighting a hard-fought battle. No matter what I did, I never got a moment’s rest, never got any reprieve or relief from the symptoms of my disease. I could scratch my neck and arms until I felt for sure I was hallucinating the blood that would appear, and my pain from the rawness of my skin sometimes felt as that of a burn victim’s. Consequently then, much of my life was spent with myself feeling confined in my head, this detrimental grip beginning to manifest itself into my physical life, confining me to my bedroom, and even when I was out. I was wishing, praying, hoping desperately to come home soon enough to be relieved of the physical discomfort, social anxiety and insecurity.
At this point in my life, I was in the infancy of discovering my garments to help me live a fuller life. When I couldn’t guarantee what parts of my body would be the victim of my symptoms, I could rely on the fact that my turtle neck sweater would always cover me from wrist to neck. College was supposed to flip my life upside down. And it did. But I did not anticipate it to be like this. Admitting fully to my hopeful and wide-eyed teenage self, I couldn’t fathom my dreams succumbing to something as uncool as this disease. I waged philosophical battles with myself and my mother, who was my best friend and practically therapist, on how I could move forward with my life. But my disease was constant.
In spite of all this, I held tightly to my newfound freedom. I was leaving the house more and more. I filled my days with obligations I couldn’t meet from the comfort of my bedroom. I thought that if I could cover the parts of my skin that made me feel so staunchly different, I could bargain back some of my confidence. Looking back, I realize I was struggling to reach acceptance — which I assumed would equal defeat. But in the past few months, I took many last nervous, deep breaths before candidly opening up to each of my friends. And as they each traversed from unknowing to knowing, I was met with nothing but awe, admiration, encouragement and kindness. And I understood then in those moments that my scars did not make me weak. Through their eyes, I was loved. And this uncovering unleashed every sweet thing I held for myself.
And so I began my new life wearing turtlenecks, mock necks, zip-ups, everything up to the neck. Jeans, leggings, down to the ankle, every day. And for a fleeting period, it was enough. I was beginning to live a little again — if only just to attend class, scrape by with office hours, study groups and the mandatory student org meetings. Yet, inside, a new battle was waging. I was able to get through my days outside through grit and determination, but on the inside, I was starting to doubt and despise my identity. I was continually upset at the clothing that I had to wear in order to function. It was completely out of sync with my style.
I can’t recall when I began to consciously use clothes to cover my symptoms and express myself. It could have been a scarf I saw that, when worn with a crew neck shirt, suddenly materialized in front of my eyes as a functioning turtle neck. It could have been that bracelet that, if paired with a three-quarter length top, suddenly hit me as a replica of a long sleeve shirt. It really didn’t matter what the premise was that got me here. My evolution to this stage gave me a newer, better normal. I cherished it deeply.
Throughout my developed consciousness towards clothes, I cannot discount the inner change I’ve experienced. I have become less obsessed with the idea of having flawless skin. Being unblemished and unmarked on the outside is not the only definition of being beautiful. One day, my confidence won’t be defined by the real-estate of skin my clothes can cover. And then, I will express myself fully through my love for fashion. Perhaps I’ll magically heal from my autoimmune disease, and out of pure fate and circumstance, I’ll get to unite with my love of clothes. Whatever it may be, I know one thing for certain. At any point for the rest of my life, when I discover someone else suffering something similar to what I have endured, I will shower them with love, with understanding, with whole-hearted kind eyes and gentle words. I will do everything in my power to never, ever, ever let them live like the way I did for so long before baring their vulnerabilities in order to bloom into the individual they long to be. ■
by: Rebecca Wang
layout: Anai Moreno
photographer: Amanda Jewell Saunders
stylists: Lauren Aguirre
model: Susanna Wang