Popularly known as the winner of the seventh season of ”America’s Next Top Model” in 2006, CariDee English is an advocate for women living with psoriasis. The American model and television personality was born on September 23, 1984, in Fargo, North Dakota, United States. Psoriasis is a serious autoimmune skin condition appearing as thick red patches on the skin covered by flaky white skin. If one is suffering from this skin condition, their immune system sends out bad signals that will abnormally speed up the growth of the skin cells. Psoriasis affects relatively 2% of the world population, making it a relatively common condition”, says James W. Swan, MD., dermatologist, associate professor in the department of medicine and medical director of the Patch Testing Program at the Loyola University Medical Center, Chicago. He also stated that psoriasis is one of the top ten chronic skin conditions with the first signs of raindrop-like eruptions. This sign will later progress to a more severe plague. About 7.5 million Americans are diagnosed with the disease so it is fairly common in the country.
However people are not yet equipped with enough information about the skin condition. This disease is usually diagnosed in people between the ages of 15-35 but it was different for CariDee English. She was diagnosed at just 5 years old and has learnt to live with it since then. She first noticed a small patch on her leg and dismissed it as a bug bite. English showed her mother the supposed bug bite and was told it was a skin condition more serious than the regular ones. Her mother knew it was psoriasis as she has the same skin condition. Psoriasis is hereditary so it was clear to English’s mom that her daughter had inherited the disease from her. As she got a bit older, English probably thought that the patch on her skin will remain as it is (worst case scenario) or eventually disappear, but it was not so. As she grew, the patch not only grew but multiplied all over her body. It started appearing on various areas of her skin as lesions, covering every part of her body (legs, arms, back, chest, etc.). She was very lucky that her face was spared, leaving her with little confidence to hold on to.
As English grew into adolescence, she became more conscious of her condition. She was ok with her skin at first until her early teens when she became more aware of the problem. Her skin was different from that of her peers. It wasn’t just the regular pimples or reactions that were characteristic of adolescence, her condition was more severe. The first full flare she had at 12 awakened her senses to the damage the disease was doing to her skin. It dawned on her that her skin might never be free of these patches and will keep getting worse. She often felt insecure knowing her skin could flare up at any moment. Out of necessity, she devised ways to cover up her skin to hide what she considered as defects. All she wanted at that point in her life was to fit in and be ”normal” like others, but her skin made her the exact opposite. She stood out among her peers and not for a good reason. Wearing long sleeved tops even in hot weather just to cover up her skin was one way she could blend in even at her own discomfort. She mastered the act of hiding her arms stylishly so others couldn’t take notice of them.
If she had to go to the gym with her mates, she would make sure to get a doctor’s report that will exempt her from gym activities. Gyming will definitely involve removing her clothes and by so doing people will see how psoriasis has dealt with her skin. English felt insecure and her self-esteem kept dwindling. She knew the disease was not peculiar to her only, that there were other people out there. This didn’t boost her esteem one bit during her teenage years as the disease gained more ground on her skin taking up to 70% of her entire body surface. When asked about the impressions on her skin, she would reply that she got hurt.
Trying to explain her condition to close friends was hard, besides she didn’t really know what to say about it at that age. She always felt hurt when people tried to keep away from her because of the way her skin looked. They thought the disease was contagious and she couldn’t convince them otherwise. These hostile reactions from people towards her planted in her the desire to learn all she could about the disease. She wanted to be able to talk about it, to create awareness on the skin condition, as she observed that people deserted her because they didn’t fully understand what her condition was.
Determined not to be deterred by psoriasis, English started working towards the actualization of her modeling dream. She was signed on by Mega Models at 17 after graduating early from high school. What would have been hard for someone without her condition was even harder for her as modeling requires skin perfection of some sort which she was really lacking. She tried so much to hide the lesions on her skin (this time with improved tactics) by covering them up with heavy foundation makeup. It was very stressful, exhausting and emotional for her as she had to dedicate time to hide who she really was on a daily basis. It didn’t help matters that the patches and lesions increased daily creating even more surface to be covered up. According to Dr. Swan ”significant increase in stress level can trigger a psoriasis flare-up or make the condition worse”. A person suffering from psoriasis can flare up because of reasons ranging from stress, anxiety, emotional problems or medications. The stress of English’s new job was making her flare up more often.
After partaking in her first photo-shoot as a model, her secret was let out in the open. The pictures of her shoot came out showing the psoriasis on her legs. At that moment she was scared of losing the job she just started so she denied any knowledge of her condition. She insisted that the photographer was not efficient and was responsible for the poor pictures. English knew she had to set things right and take the fall, so she wrote to her agency about the disease she had. She was asked to leave the agency the next day as they didn’t want her with her condition. It was a bad moment for her, the rejection stung. However she pressed on, moving on to other agencies but was still rejected because of psoriasis.
Constant rejection from various modeling agencies motivated English to gather all the information she could on psoriasis and study them. She researched the condition with the aim of knowing all there is about it. English discovered several ways to manage psoriasis and that constant experiments were constantly being carried out to find a cure for the disease. She understood that if she wanted people to understand her condition and accept her with psoriasis, then she has to first understand and embrace it.
Psoriasis cannot be permanently cured, one who is afflicted with it has to learn to live with it. Knowing this, English sought the assistance of good dermatologists. After meeting with three of them, she was glad to be told that her condition can be properly managed. Controlling it would be great but English also wanted the whole world to be aware of the disease. She could get treated and move on with her life but she wanted others suffering like her to be encouraged and get treated too. She knew some people living with psoriasis might not even understand what it is or know what to do about it. So before she could start her own treatment she decided to document herself in front of a camera during one of her full blown flare-ups.
While discussing her skin condition with Mary Elizabeth Dallas, English said that she decided to show the public what psoriasis looked like. She wanted to inspire people suffering from psoriasis to live their lives to the fullest even with the disease. They could learn to enjoy life like normal people because they are indeed normal. She believed that psoriasis was just like any other sickness one might be afflicted with. A psoriasis patient can still pursue her dreams and make great achievements. She admitted that doing the video documentary was both liberating and scary. Liberating because she was able to be her true self in front of the camera and scary because she didn’t know how people will react to the video.
To her greatest surprise, she received positive responses to her documentary. People commended her for showing the world what psoriasis is. Those suffering from the disease were encouraged to speak up. Because of her video, lots of psoriasis patients learned to love themselves. Their condition had made them feel ugly and unacceptable but seeing the viral video made by English and how the public reacted to the video re-positioned their thinking.
After creating the awareness she so desired, English engaged in her own treatment. She encouraged psoriasis patients to make follow-up care a routine, as it is very important to keep the flare-ups in check. It is also important to keep a record of their progress as they get treated. They are to identify the major trigger to their flare-ups and work on them. Psoriasis is largely manageable and better, more advanced treatments are constantly being invented.
With all these challenges experienced by English she was still able to rise to the top of her career. She insists that she does not have anything against those who rejected her at the onset due to her condition. She believes that her success is the best answer she could ever give to them. The rejection served as a driving force that kept her pushing forward. If she was not rejected she would probably have settled for less. The same disease that people rejected her for brought her to the limelight and made her a household name. The documentary she made on psoriasis became her awakening. Many people suffering from psoriasis can now open up about their situation without feeling abnormal. She has actualized her dream of becoming not just a model but an inspiration to others. She is living her dream and desires to see other psoriasis patients live theirs as well. As she had experienced firsthand the limitation one can feel because of a health condition they can’t control, she decided to help others push past such limitations.
English was made a spokesperson for the National Psoriasis Foundation in 2007. While many might think this position is all about a supermodel acting as the face of the foundation, English disagrees. ”It’s not about being a supermodel, it’s about being a role model”, she says. The position means a lot to her as she states that it is the highest level she can achieve. She wants all psoriasis patients to learn from her story. Life is filled with challenges that will try to discourage people from pursuing their dreams. She wants others suffering from psoriasis and probably experiencing all the challenges she had to pass through, to believe in themselves and persist in their efforts to achieve what they desire.
She encourages people not to let any situation dictate how they live their life. No matter the health challenge, beat it and forge ahead. Psoriasis is for life, if you have it embrace it fully. It might not be easy but that is who you are. Tell people you have psoriasis, do not be ashamed of it. You can’t hide forever, come out of your shell and live fully. Make sure you get into a good treatment program, it makes all the difference.
Watch her speak about her challenges with psoriasis