Gina Messer is 20 years old from Sacramento, California. I am friends with Gina on Facebook and I always admire how she lives life to the fullest. I have also enjoyed getting into debates about representation of Ichthyosis in the media with her - she has very similar views to me about exploitation and sensationalism. Here's her story (she was the first submission to this project - so a gold star for her!).
"My most recent (June 2012) diagnosis for the type of Ichthyosis I have is ARCI/Lamellar. The symptoms consist of itchyness (especially my scalp!) and the flaking/peeling of smaller, white or light brown scales. Challenges I have faced with this are feeling as if I need to hide the fact that my skin is peeling as much a possible from the general public by constantly putting lotion on or covering up “dry spots,” the occasional stranger who wants to know what I have wrong with my skin who thinks they know the cure, overheating if I am in the sun too long, being itchy, and just the overall self-consciousness that comes with having a genetic disorder that is visible to everyone who comes across me. Over the years I have become more confident in myself and am very willing to explain my skin to people without even blinking an eyelash, but there will always be a part of me that is self-conscious about how I appear.
Despite the challenges that come with having Ichthyosis, I have managed to live my life doing pretty much whatever I want and working towards attaining certain life goals. Since I was little I have always loved horses. I started riding when I was four, or five and still ride to this day. I live on four acres and have many animals, one of which is my Quarter horse named Shorty. I started riding him in junior/regular High School rodeo eight years ago and I competed for five years and now I just ride recreationally at the arena or on trails. Aside from that I have been working very hard in school towards my ultimate goal of becoming a Psychologist. In high school I took some AP classes and was the Copy Editor in Yearbook for 2 years. Writing has always been another passion of mine which I would really like to get back into for fun when I am not so busy with school! So is drawing, I have always loved to draw, especially abstract drawings. A lot of the time I draw or write creatively to express myself, or to vent when I am not exercising, or talking with someone else in order to vent.
Some other things I love are history and traveling. I LOVE to travel! I really enjoy exploring different cities, states, different countries because one thing that has always been a major source of contentment for me is to learn. Even when I am on vacation from school I need to be retaining some type of new information. I watch documentaries for fun! Anyhow, I have traveled to several states here in the USA (I live in Penryn, CA). I have also traveled to Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Mexico. I would love to revisit all of these countries and more because there are still places I would like to see, or see again. It’s just so amazing how big this world is and how many beautiful things there are in all of its different corners. I feel so lucky to have had the ability and opportunity to travel as much as I have. It truly is a blessing.
Throughout my life I have been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people. I was adopted from birth by two of the most loving parents anyone could ever ask for. They have always encouraged me to be the best I can be and to be confident in myself. My family (Mom, Dad, and brother) have always been there for me and I am very thankful for that. I have also had the best friend a girl could ask for since second grade. She has always accepted me for who I am from Day 1 and we have helped each other through some pretty rough times especially when we were younger and we continue to be the best of friends today. Six months ago I met the love of my life. His name is Wes, and he has got to be one of the best people I know. He has not only accepted me for who I am since the day he met me, but he loves me and embraces me even when I am not at my best. He is an amazing person, and an amazing boyfriend. Most recently I have contacted my biological father (initial contact was made two years ago), and he introduced me to his parents a few months ago. They too have been very accepting of me and have proven to be very kind, very good people who I am glad I decided to meet. I am just so grateful to have all of these amazing people around me who have been positive influences and who I can love unconditionally for the rest of my life.
Living with Ichthyosis definitely comes with its own struggles, but the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I have been able to live my life the way I want to, and I am surrounded by people who are with me because they love me for the person I am, and continue to be. I really could not ask for a more fulfilling, blessed life than the one I have been given. If I could have chosen to have been born without Ichthyosis I would not have made such a choice because without it I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I don’t think I’d be nearly as strong of a person as I am having grown up with Ichthyosis and living with it today. The trick is just to stay optimistic and not to allow the negatives to ruin you, but to use them to become stronger every day.
Thank you Carly for giving me the opportunity to tell my story.
For Ichthyosis and appearance diversity resources, click here.