By Serene Leong

It is a Saturday morning.

A group of women are at a studio preparing for a photoshoot. But unlike other photoshoots that emphasise smooth skin or flawless complexions, covering up imperfections with thick make-up or artful camera angles, this campaign is doing just the opposite.

The six models are young women with various skin conditions who have embraced their bodies and want to empower others to do the same.

The #skinclusivity message that they want to show: Everyone is beautiful in their own skin, no matter how it may look.

Joanne Ang, 31, co-founder of skincare brand Kansoskin, tells The Pride: “The purpose of this campaign is to create awareness of people with skin conditions and to educate the public that these conditions are not scary.

“You don’t have to avoid or fear them because of something you don’t understand. In fact, many of these skin conditions are not contagious at all.”

Joanne, an ex-Singapore Airlines stewardess, started Kansoskin in 2019 as a socially conscious skincare brand specially designed for people with compromised skin. Her aim is to help make their lives better, inspired by her older brother Abel, 32, who she roped in as co-founder.

“Everything started because of my brother,” she says. “I did not know of this term ‘skinclusivity’ prior to that. He has a condition called topical steroid withdrawal (TSW) and because of it, he was – and still is – ostracised and bullied.”

“Once, he got chased out of the swimming pool by the lifeguard because of how his skin appeared. He also didn’t get his ideal job because of his skin condition,” Joanne says.

Abel suffered from chronic eczema as a child. To control the symptoms, doctors prescribed topical steroids, which he used for more than a decade. Because of the prolonged usage of the steroids, he now suffers from TSW, which affects him from head to toe.

Abel’s skin condition not only causes him insomnia due to the uncontrollable itching, but it also takes a huge toll on his mood, mental and physical health. Simple daily activities like showering can be a torture for him.

Abel says: “I cannot do many activities like swimming or going to the beach. If I were to plan a vacation with my friends, I would book the air ticket and everything but on that day I cannot predict if my body will flare up. If it does and I go on the trip it will be very painful.”

When he was still in school, his schoolmates used to make fun of him, calling him “diseased boy” and “zombie”.

Hence, Joanne hopes to spread the message of skinclusivity (a hybrid of ‘skin’ and ‘inclusivity’), which is the acceptance of people with various skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis, acne or vitiligo. She wants to help end the social stigma surrounding these skin conditions.

Joanne says: “We want to see a world where everyone is given equal opportunities in life, regardless of the state of their skin. We want to integrate people with compromised skin into our social circle, leaving no one behind. We want them to be treated kindly, and with the respect that they deserve.”

“Just like with body positivity, we believe that everyone is equal, regardless of how their skin looks.”

Mary Victor, 23

Mary, a makeup artist, model and body positive advocate, has suffered from acne all her life.

“There was never a time when I had the perfect, clear skin… When I was young, I had a lot of issues with bullying because of my acne scars. I would be so scared to touch my face because it was so painful and people will make fun of me because of that.”

Mary tells The Pride that she struggled with her self-confidence. Even looking at herself in the mirror was not easy.

“In school, I did not have the confidence to speak up and make friends because I knew that people would just talk about my acne and my skin and my size. Trying to love myself was impossible,” she says.

Her self-acceptance journey only came in the last two years.

“How it came about is finally seeing some representation in the media, and also getting rid of all the negativity in my life – people who were not really supportive. Eventually, having that positive support system made a huge difference for me,” Mary says.

Yvonne Chan, 26

Yvonne, a product development executive, was diagnosed with psoriasis when she was 13 years old. Psoriasis is an auto-immune disease where skin cells replicate faster than normal, causing red, flaky patches on the skin.

Yvonne tells The Pride that her skin condition has affected her significantly and that she finds it challenging to wear sleeveless outfits or shorts outside because she faces discrimination on the streets.

She says: “Once, I was on the train and a lady came on board. There was an empty seat next to me so she sat down. That day I was wearing a dress that showed my calves. When she saw my skin, she moved to another seat opposite me and she kept staring at my legs… So I know that people can be uncomfortable with how my skin looks.”

Like Mary, Yvonne has learnt to embrace herself over the years with the support of her friends and family.

“For people to treat us as normal people and not any different from others, that is the best acceptance and kindness to us,” Yvonne says.

“Gradually, I learnt that regardless of how much I cover up, psoriasis is still within me so I have to accept it.”

“Regardless how painful it is, or the discomfort and itch you feel, you still have to tell yourself that you love yourself.

“Because if you don’t love yourself, no one will.”

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