Mail (August, 1998)

Oprah's "Disgusting" P-like Experience
from Roman H.

Was leafing through one of those "rag mags" (you know, the bathroom material we're so fond of but don't admit reading ... National Enquirer, etc.), I saw an article on Oprah Winfrey. Seems she had tried a new hairstyle with hair extensions, but suffered a bad reaction. A source was quoted as saying big chunks of her scalp fell out, like psoriasis, and was totally disgusting.

Thank you, thank you very much. Wish I had the address of the insensitive jerk ... might've mailed him or her a dead fish. Chins up, flakers.

Carry on! -Roman H.


Ed's Response: Howdy, Roman! Always good to hear from you. I run into references like this two or three times a year. Late last year I pulled a book from my shelves that I hadn't read in ten years. (I love to re-read books that impressed me when they were new. Especially books that I regard as particularly "timely.") This book was all about the high-tech revolution in the mid-Eighties. The book was Computing Across America, by Steve Roberts. The first time I read it my psoriasis hadn't manifested. I probably didn't even have a handle on what psoriasis was. This time, though, a similar very negative reference jumped out at me. I don't recall the exact words, but the image was "disgusting psoriasis."

It does make you feel like mailing the source a dead fish! Problem is, we both know that's inappropriate. For one, it IS disgusting! Secondly, the sources weren't talking to us, but about a condition. They were using our condition as a trope, a figure of speech, a simile ... albeit, a very negative one.

I believe challenging such language usage is a lose-lose game. I've given up on it. I walk away from any opportunity to throw down the gauntlet. I'd rather try to teach my cats to solve math problems!

I try, very purposefully, to desensitize myself to this sort of reference. Quite frankly, if I allow them to anger me too much, I add my wall to the source's wall, making the possibility of ever breaching that wall doubly hard.

No, when I re-read Robert's book, and that cruel trope about psoriasis jumped out at me, I just learned something else about the author: He hasn't the foggiest notion about psoriasis. He's seen it, but that's the extent of his comprehension. Fortunately for Mr. Roberts, he wasn't trying to teach ME anything about psoriasis. He assumed I, like most of his readers, knew no more than he, and that we shared that one common bit of knowledge that can be acquired by cursorily looking at this thing called psoriasis: It's disgusting. His ignorance on the subject did not deter me from enjoying the rest of his book.

... I didn't mean to respond to your e-mail with a lecture, Roman. But this whole matter about how the rest of the world perceives psoriasis, and communicates about it, is a sore spot for all of us. The next time I run into Elle McPherson I just want to give her a big hug! Because I know how painful her life must be? ;-( -Ed


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