Gen Y Speaks: For years, I feared being judged based on my looks. A 6-month eczema outbreak changed that
I still remember that day, sometime in July 2019. I woke up with raw bloody wounds all over my body, a swollen face and eyelids, and a bed full of dead skin. My skin hurt with every move I made.
I still remember that day, sometime in July 2019.
I woke up with raw bloody wounds all over my body, a swollen face and eyelids, and a bed full of dead skin. My skin hurt with every move I made.
I hobbled to my mirror and to my horror, the reflection I saw was barely recognisable.
“I am so ugly”, I thought.
Feeling ugly wasn’t unfamiliar to me. For most of my youth, I felt like a defect. I was the short girl with crooked teeth, hairy legs and eczema around my neck and joints.
I was never like those beautiful and popular girls in school whom people always talked about, who would always end up dating the cute guy in school. “Why are they so lucky?” I was constantly wondering.
I hated how I looked, to the point that I would avoid looking into mirrors so that I didn’t have to see how ugly I was. I couldn’t stand the sight of my body or my face, and I rarely spoke up in social situations because I thought people couldn’t stand the sight of me, too.
I worked hard to be prettier. I was always trying to lose weight. “When I get my beach body, I will finally be able to wear a bikini,” I thought.
During my junior college years, I got braces and lost 7kg in two months by starving myself. I finally wore a bikini.
I refused to go anywhere without my 12-step makeup routine (not even to the hawker centre).
Yet, I still didn’t feel I looked good enough.
So I masked all my insecurities by buying nice clothes and branded bags. I started working in a nightclub and had multiple men hit on me every night. “Wow, I must be attractive… finally!” I felt like I was the beautiful and popular girl I was jealous of in school.
This all worked… until that day in July 2019 when I had my massive full-body eczema.
At this time I was 22 and I was freelancing as an emcee and life-skills trainer, while studying in university.
I had emcee gigs and school training lined up for the next few months, but all I wanted to do was to stay in bed and hide my ugliness from the world.
I still had to go to school, so I would wear long sleeve shirts, sunglasses, and even a full face of makeup, knowing that I was severely hurting my skin.
After 30 minutes, my skin would start producing that transparent juice that seeps out from my wounds below all that makeup.
Removing my makeup every night was absolute torture as I’d be stripping all my newly grown skin to reveal raw and red skin once again.
But I couldn’t stand the sight of my skin and felt like people would judge me. I thought that I wouldn’t get the opportunities and connections I wanted because of how I looked.
“Rae, if you don’t stop wearing makeup, you’ll NEVER heal,” my friend told me straight up. I knew she was right. Am I really going to hide at home and stop doing what I love — which is speaking, training and meeting new people? No!
So I went out, bare-faced and red.
I was an emcee at a dinner and dance. I conducted networking training for adults and students. I went back to school to conduct training.
I attended networking events to meet fellow social entrepreneurs. I even went on a date!
I told myself to focus on the people I was speaking to. I told myself to be present with them.
People noticed my skin. Some asked, some didn’t.
But every single one of them enjoyed our conversations! I built great connections, despite how I looked.
While I was so afraid of being judged and how I looked, people really cared about how I made them feel.
My fears of judgement, rejection and loss of opportunities were all in my head.
In fact, three media companies invited me to share my eczema story, allowing me to show others with body image struggles that they aren’t alone.
I’ve had lots of strangers struggling with cystic acne, eczema and body insecurities messaging me on Instagram thanking me for sharing my story and, in return, they shared theirs, too.
As it turns out, when you speak up and show up with a heart of service, you will stop worrying about how others think of you.
I used to avoid speaking up to avoid being seen, because I felt ugly and worthless.
Now, I run my own coaching business, guiding corporate professionals and entrepreneurs to eliminate their fear of speaking up.
The common barrier to speaking up with confidence is this: Fear. Fear of judgement, of failure and of not being good enough.
But the fact is 99 per cent of the time, your fears are stories you made up in your head. You are your own harshest critic. You feel like others would judge you, but really, you’re judging yourself.
After five physically and mentally painful months of recovery, my eczema finally stopped swelling and breaking out as much.
But the scars remain, and the open wounds come and go every few weeks.
I thought: “Ok, once my scars heal, then I can start wearing my shorts and sleeveless tops outside.” (I lost all hope with that bikini)
Well, it has been more than two years since my massive outbreak and my scars are still far from completely fading.
But if I wait till my scars heal, I will never feel good enough.
I decide that I am good enough today, and every single day, to wear what makes me feel good.
We can’t allow our confidence and happiness to be dependent on external factors — the number on the weighing scale, the number in our bank account, or whether we are in a relationship or not.
Decide that you are worthy, right at this moment, and write down the reasons why.
Focus on what you have instead of what you lack, and you’ll realise you already have all you need to be confident and happy.
After all, confidence and happiness is a choice, not a destination.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rae Fung is a speaking coach who regularly shares her personal reflections on Instagram (@raematrix) in the hope of empowering others.