But in shining a light on a common and poorly understood disease, Kardashian demonstrates one of the most underutilized ways the internet’s most-watched people might be able to do a little good, just by being less perfect versions of themselves.
Kim Kardashian’s ubiquitous internet presence is, perhaps more than anything, a social-media Rorschach test. She reveals something not only about the person viewing her, but also about what that person wants to discuss online. Kardashian posting a video of her kids inspired days of arguing about children and makeup. She and her sisters have made the debate over cultural appropriation something far more mainstream than it was just a few years ago by adopting hair and beauty practices historically used by black women. The term news peg is used by journalists to refer to a current event that makes a broad topic feel relevant to readers, but Kardashian, mostly seen through social media, acts as a news peg for people who post their thoughts online in any form.
That’s where the potentially enormous value of the psoriasis selfie comes in, says Evan Rieder, a dermatologist and psychiatrist at New York University Langone Health. “It’s a particularly effective way to raise awareness, and it can immediately reduce stigma,” he says. “[Social media] is an opportunity to educate people on a mass level and in a very digestible way, where people are actually tuned in.” These platforms are adept at reaching Millennials, he says, and because most people develop psoriasis in their 20s or 30s, it’s a demographic that needs the information.
Randy Beranek, the CEO of the National Psoriasis Foundation, thinks it’s particularly valuable when people well known for their beauty and wealth are candid about their health issues. “Most of the time, Kim’s fans see her looking like a million bucks,” he says. “The disease can cross all socioeconomic lines, and if someone as famous and visible as Kim Kardashian can have it, it doesn’t make your disease feel so isolating.”
That Kardashian posted a photo of her psoriasis instead of just mentioning it is bold. A significant rash is fairly unsightly by anyone’s standards, and for most of Instagram’s elite, the most relatable imperfections they display are still an expertly curated part of their highly photogenic public personas. Red, flaky facial skin is several orders of magnitude more socially unacceptable than carefully tousled bed head or an artfully messy dinner spread. As Kardashian’s selfie demonstrated, psoriasis has physical symptoms that can be difficult to conceal, even for people with a lot of resources.
Read: What good is “raising awareness?”
More than 8 million Americans have psoriasis, but it’s still poorly understood by the public at large, which can lead to stigma that unnecessarily ostracizes those dealing with a flare-up. Rieder says that many people think they can get psoriasis by being in proximity to those with it. “A lot of us have heard stories about people moving their children away from them so they don’t catch it,” he says. “You hear of people getting out of the pool because someone’s in the pool with psoriasis.” That sense of isolation can be exacerbated when people avoid social situations because of flare-ups, a tactic both doctors mentioned as common. And this can contribute to emotional issues such as depression and anxiety, which Rieder says are more common among people with psoriasis than the population at large.