One of the scariest aspects of a scleroderma diagnosis is to realize how deforming this disease can be. Everyone is different, and how your body changes will be unique to you. Early on in my progression, the skin on my face became so tight that I began to have discomfort blinking. For some, this facial tightening can make it impossible to close lips over teeth. It can reduce your hands to look clawed. At its most virulent, it can make obvious the skeleton beneath.
For all those who live with scleroderma, this is a terrifying prospect. For women, especially, among whom the disease is four times more prevalent, and especially for young women, it can be a harsh sentence in a culture that puts such a premium on youth and physical perfection, narrowly defined.
I have been extremely fortunate that, over the forty-plus years I’ve lived with scleroderma, my skin loosened. I credit the use of D-penicillamine, with which I was initially treated. Six months after I started taking the medication, I began to once again have face wrinkles. Therapies have advanced significantly since then.
Nonetheless, my skin is still not normal on my face, particularly around my mouth and eyelids, and in my fingertips. It has been a long adjustment to aging prematurely. That is why I found this interview with Chloé Cooper Jones, author of the recent memoir Easy Beauty, to be so apt and powerful.
Cooper Jones, who was born with a rare congenital condition called sacral agenisis, has spent her life living with reactions to her visibly disabled body. A writer and philosopher, she explains the difference between the kind of beauty that seems obvious (a sunset, a Monet painting) and that which is more complex and difficult. Her conversation with sociologist and writer Tressie McMillan Cottom delves into the ways we define beauty, what makes beauty intrinsic, and how we view and live with disability.
It is insightful and inspiring. It’s given me some needed perspective as my body continues to age and I contend with my own scleroderma. I hope it does for you, too.