Why Doctors Think a Kim Kardashian Selfie Is Important

For better or worse, Kim Kardashian’s appearance has come to signify a particular sort of physical perfection. Kardashian might be most famous for her internet-breaking rear end, but even the minute details of how she presents herself—her glowing skin, the thickness of her eyebrows, her wardrobe—have seeped into American culture. A few posts on her Instagram account, which has 131 million followers, are enough to sell a lot of perfume, makeup, and in-app purchases.

That’s why it was all the more striking to see a photo she posted earlier this week, which showed her face not flawlessly groomed as usual, but covered in red, puffy splotches. Kardashian has been occasionally candid about dealing with the chronic skin condition psoriasis in the past, mentioning it on her various reality shows and even posting on Instagram about the trendy detox routines she was trying in order to calm the incurable inflammatory illness. This was the first time she’s shown a severe flare-up on her face.

Itchy, scaly skin is psoriasis’s most well-known symptom, but it’s also the thing that makes Kardashian’s preferred platform an unlikely place to see it discussed. Instagram is often a place for people to show the best and most desirable parts of their life. Its culture is one that Kardashian and other highly influential users have been instrumental in shaping—and profited from greatly. Those who do a good job of selling their lifestyle can make millions of dollars showing other people how to live as they do.

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.

In reality, psoriasis isn’t contagious, and it’s a lot more than just a recurring rash. The skin-based symptoms of the disease can often be treated with over-the-counter creams, but the illness can affect multiple systems of the body, mostly unseen. “People with psoriasis have much higher rates than the general public of things like cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, liver and kidney disease, lymphomas—a whole host of chronic conditions,” Beranek says.

A selfie from one of the world’s most famous women can’t convey all of a disease’s complexity, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. More than 40 percent of Americans with psoriasis don’t realize that the condition is what’s causing their skin problems, according to an estimate from the American Academy of Dermatology. Seeing Kardashian’s photo might help them realize that what they have is a diagnosable problem that can be helped. “In the last 20 years, there’s been a revolution in the way we treat psoriasis,” Rieder says. He points specifically to new biologic medications, which can clear up to 90 percent of the disease’s visible symptoms. Seeing a doctor if at all possible, Beranek notes, is also the best way to start examining the less noticeable ramifications of chronic inflammation.

It’s not clear if Kardashian intended the photo of her psoriasis to be helpful, or if it was just a frustrated outburst (she did not respond to a request for comment). Either way, it demonstrates a potentially beneficial way that modern media’s new class of influencers can use their massive platform. Many of them are already keen to share health and wellness misinformation to an apparently interested audience, and Kardashian herself has shilled prescription drugs and mentioned trying “natural” cures for psoriasis based on sketchy or nonexistent science. Celebrities aren’t the people we should be looking to for information on cures, but when it comes to stigma, they have enormous power to provide a little bit of relief, instead of information about yet another juice cleanse.

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