'It broke my confidence': How this woman with psoriasis learned to love her 'cheetah spots'

Sophia Chen. Image via Instagram.
Sophia Chen. Image via Instagram.

A Colorado student athlete is receiving praise for sharing her journey to self-acceptance and learning to love the skin she’s in.

Sophia Chen is proudly documenting her life on Instagram to raise awareness for psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that causes red, scaly patches called plaques to develop on the skin.

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It was during high school that Chen first noticed a spot on her chest, and quickly dismissed it as nothing more than a bug bite. A month later, her entire face and body became covered in red patches, which she would soon learn was psoriasis.

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“I became so discouraged,” the now 20-year-old revealed in an interview with the Daily Mail. “I’d never had acne, I always had perfect skin, so I felt the need to cover it up.”

Chen struggled to find relief for the itchy and sometimes painful condition, and turned to several steroid creams prescribed by multiple dermatologists.

“I cried almost every day, which really broke my mother’s heart,” she said. “At the time I had no confidence and some days I didn’t even want to go to school because of it.”

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Chen was told to try everything from tanning beds to chemotherapy to help her skin. Afraid of the side effects, she used makeup to cover up her spots, waking up at 6 a.m. to begin strategically covering up the plaques on her body.

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Chen said she cultivated a makeup routine of concealer, foundation and powder to help hide her spots whether she was in the classroom, or playing football.

“It was tiring and excessive, but I wouldn’t step out of the house without it,” she admitted.

It wasn’t until a doctor suggested a link between her diet and the severity of her psoriasis that she began cutting out dairy and gluten. Adopting a vegan diet in 2016 helped improve the rashes, but didn’t get rid of them entirely.

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It was during her college years at the University of Albany when a roommate questioned the amount of time Chen spent trying to hide her psoriasis.

“My roommate loved how unique it was and she told me that I looked like a cheetah,” she recalls. “One of my friends said they looked like constellations on my skin. Another guy I met said that my spots were ‘sexy.’”

Chen also says how Winnie Harlow, a popular Canadian model with vitiligo, helped her learn to love and embrace her skin.

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“Some people would say ‘do you have vitiligo? That’s so cool, your skin is beautiful,’” Chen said. “The more I heard it, the more I started to believe it.”

Thanks to social media, Chen is now part of a community that supports people living with psoriasis, and proudly shows off her skin.

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“I want to show others that they don’t need to hide behind anything, and they can truly embrace themselves for who they are, no matter what they are dealing with,” she explained. “When I was younger, I was always trying to fit in according to societal standards, but in the end, it broke my confidence and it was exhausting. My life is filled with bliss now that I can accept and love my body the way it is.”

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