Performing with Eczema
As a performer, I know firsthand how frustrating and deeply saddening eczema can be. It is not only hard to cover but can be painful and distracting.
Jenn Stafford, another fellow dancer and performer, shares her experience with eczema and how life-changing it can be for an artist.
From the beginning
Ever since she was a toddler, Jenn has dealt with eczema. Her parents vividly remember her skin beginning to flare at a very young age. But, even through those struggles, Jenn found her voice through performing.
"Performing is my language to share stories and pieces of myself with others," she divulges, "whether it's through movement, voice, or acting. I feel a bit invincible while performing, and the most in-tune with myself."
Because the performance world is very much a visual market, the presence of eczema can hinder confidence and ability.
"My skin has always been on the forefront of my mind," Jenn explains. "I spent years covering up, pretending I wasn't in pain, avoiding mirrors."
She vulnerably shares how she felt so unlike her peers, only having met two others throughout her entire school career with somewhat similar skin. It's an unbelievably alienating feeling when you look around and don't see anyone dealing with the same hardships you bravely face.
To add to the difficulty, bringing eczema into the professional world can be scary, especially for artists.
"I find myself constantly explaining my situation, my needs, and sometimes having to take it easy."
When I used to dance professionally, humiliation would set in when I needed to pay extra attention to my fragile skin.
In the industry
When I began dealing with topical steroid withdrawal (TSW), I had to give up performing. It was such a massive blow to what I loved, my finances, and my career. Jenn understands this all too well.
"When I was in my late teens, early twenties, and just beginning my dance career," she begins, "I felt that if anything ever went wrong with my skin, it would be the end of it all."
Thoughts would rage through her mind, ones I similarly held.
- My skin is so bad, no one will ever hire me!
- I'm allergic to everything! I can never be a professional dancer!
- I am a monster. I will never be seen for who I am.
"The list of negative thoughts goes on. I never wanted to be a burden, and I also felt like being different and having different needs would cancel out my talent. But I was so wrong..."
A professional perspective
When Jenn was open and clear about her needs at gigs and jobs, she was not met with annoyance but compassion.
"I was surprised," Jenn admits, "by how little of an ordeal my skin was to those around me; how incredibly creative wardrobe techs scoffed at a costuming challenge, and when make-up artists would say without hesitation, 'Ok, we can get those products for you, no problem.'"
Even her wigs were washed separately!
Hearing the simple words, 'How can we help?' meant the world to her. She realized that there were so many options and constructive conversations to be had before ever conceding to give up in this industry.
"This, of course," Jenn adds, "is never easy, and this confidence and self-advocacy doesn't blossom overnight. But, I strive to grow in this direction everyday."
Adding in Dupixent
Jenn needed steroids to help her skin, but didn't want to stay on steroids forever, especially since TSW is so debilitating. She decided to take a chance on Dupixent, hoping that it would assist in weaning off of the steroids. She does not regret it in the slightest.
"It's helped me live my life to the fullest. My skin has never felt better," she cheers, "and every morning I wake up without having to run to moisturize, I rejoice! Every time I move without restriction or pain, I feel blessed."
Even with her minor flares, she is so grateful for this new product.
Dance as expression
When speaking about movement and having to work around eczema, Jenn actually pays a nod to her skin condition for helping develop her style.
"I love isolations and dynamic movement. A lot of people have asked about how I learned to move this way, but I now know that it's because, sometimes, I was only able to move a few parts of my body. Through the pain, I jolted my muscles, creating a pop or flexing motion. Thus, my atopic dermatitis and sensitivities have made their way into my art."
On the horizon
Right now, Jenn is working as a performer on the first national tour of Moulin Rouge! The Musical. It is her first tour and musical. I got super jealous when I heard that Sonya Tayeh was her choreographer (SYTYCD! anyone!?). She is also involved in the newest Avatar 2 movie, which will be released December 2022.
I believe this is only the beginning for Ms. Stafford. I can't wait to see what is next!
It's Eczema Awareness Month! Have you shared your eczema story on AtopicDermatitis.net?