I’m an artist with dermatographia. This is a skin condition that can be extremely embarrassing and annoying, causing my skin to itch and welt in a dramatic way. Thankfully it’s not debilitating or harmful, and I’ve learned to manage it by taking good care of myself and using products for sensitive skin. I’ve also learned that it is a gift.
Being an artist I’m always finding inspiration in my day-to-day life, something to influence and enrich my body of work. In 2004 dermatographia–which literally means writing on skin–became not a burden or something to be ashamed of, but the subject matter of my art. Quite simply, I draw and write on my skin with a light scratch, welts form and grow pink, I photograph the results, and it all disappears in about 30 minutes with only the photo to prove it ever existed.
Dermatographia is an immune system response to the skin being scratched, so histamine is released and welts form. It is painless, but no matter how many times I tell people it doesn’t hurt they still think it does. It’s amazing to me that such a natural thing can elicit such strong reactions in people when they’re not familiar with it.
Dermatographia affects about 5% of the population, but many people don’t even know they have it. Mostly they think their skin is just really weird and does scary things that they can’t control. People live in shame because of this! My goal is to educate everyone about the condition, reassuring them they’re not alone in this experience. Thankfully my artwork has reached a wide audience already!
What I’m realizing is that people all over the world want to know about dermatographia! I’ve received stories about it from Italy, Turkey, Hong Kong, Slovakia, all over the United States, the Philippines, Australia, Greece, Romania, France, Portugal, Columbia, and Argentina, to name a few.
Here’s an example so you can get a sense of what most people say:
My name is Eileen, I developed dermatographia about 4 years ago. Since then it has been an inconvenience to me, one that I’ve wished I didn’t have. Until I came across your forum. The way you use your body and this condition to create art is amazing. Your pictures showed me that I’m not a freak, that there is something beautiful within every welt. So thank you for that. It means more than you know.
Eileen Ontario, California.
I’d like to build an even larger community, and inspire others to find inspiration in something they would otherwise consider a weakness or flaw. That’s why I started Skin Tome, in order to show concrete ways to make and understand art and the body, and to figure out how to feel comfortable in our own skin. There’s specific things about dermatographia here on Skin Tome, but also skin and health in general because I’ve found that once people find out about my weird skin, they usually want to share a story about their own weirdness or thing about their body they’re ashamed of. Dermatographia is the entry point for these conversations about health and wellness, and feeling comfortable in our bodies with all its quirks. It means the world to me to know I can make a difference by helping a person with dermatographia (or any condition or disability) to feel good about it, and maybe find a way to express themselves with this uniqueness.
Please share with me ways in which your skin loves you–ways your skin reminds you you’re unique. I’d love to hear from you! :+)
Comment below or write to arianapage @gmail. com
Top image: Flora, c-print, 20 x 24″, 2006 from my series Skin