“Hands”, 2014, acrylic on canvas

They told me that my skin would get better as I grew up, that I’d have less acne, and that my eczema would calm down. I hoped for that day to come, as I watched other girls be able to wear tank tops and exposed skin without worry, maybe one day that could be me.

I remember the days sitting in my bathtub, clawing at my legs, scraping at my neck, and rubbing my fingers raw. I would scratch and scratch until my flesh bled. There was one instance where a small part of my skin was infected. It oozed yellow pus and swelled into a small ball. I remember taking some scissors to open the wound more so that I can pour rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide into it. I watched it bubble as I gritted my teeth to the sting. How can something feel so good, but so awful at the same time?

I remember a friend jokingly grabbing my hand and commenting how ugly my hands were. “These aren’t girl hands”, he said as he eyed my rough, scarred hand, “a guy will stop mid proposal and be disgusted. One look at your hands and he will take that ring back.” Of course, I laughed at his joke. Roll with the punches, that’s what my cousins had taught me.

My skin only got worse as I began to work. The constant hand washing dried out my hands to the point that my eczema spread from my fingers to my wrists. I tried to wear gloves, apply creams, change soaps, new beddings, clip nails. But it wouldn’t work. I couldn’t stop scratching, my hands got worse. I quit my job.

It consumed my life. Every time I flexed my fingers the sores would open, creating small fleshy mouths that would smile back at me.

I wanted to document this experience somehow. So I painted myself, hands exposed. This is me, I wanted to say, these are my hands, they hurt. I won’t hide it.

I won’t forget the silence my peers gave me as I presented it to them. They just looked at it, at me, and back to it. Until finally someone spoke. I don’t remember much of what he said because my mind was ringing. But I do remember two words:

Powerful. Beautiful.

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