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If you ask Raelle Brown where change begins, she’ll give you an honest answer: With candid discussion.

As a Black woman living with eczema, Raelle has had a lot of candid discussions to get to where she is now—that is, confident in her skin. To continue to foster those honest conversations and inspire confidence among others living with eczema, she founded Woke Within, a blog with a mission of increasing online representation of eczema among people of color.

“Using the term ‘woke’ was truly a play on our cultural saying of ‘being woke’ or ‘staying woke,’ or aware of the external problems of the world,” Raelle says. “Since eczema is often seen as only an external problem, I wanted to emphasize how being aware within ourselves is just as—if not more important—as the physical aspects. So, I added ‘Woke Within’ to focus on our internal organs or worlds emotionally, mentally, and physically more than the surface of the skin to find understanding.”

Now, she uses her platform to spread her “woke within” philosophy across the internet, but her story starts long before she viewed her eczema as a tool to stay in touch with her body.

How the internet shaped her eczema story

Growing up, Raelle saw her eczema as something to be ashamed of, something to run from, and something to hide. She struggled in silence, hoping others didn’t notice the flare-ups on her body or the skin flakes she left behind on chairs.

Although her friends and family supported her as much as they could, they could never truly understand what Raelle was going through—that’s where the internet came through. Online, Raelle was able to see eczema representation on social media and through online resources, making her feel less isolated.

“[M]y online network of eczema friends and the support through the National Eczema Association has skyrocketed my confidence and validated my feelings and emotions with this condition,” Raelle says.

Why she swapped shame for her woke within mentality

As her support system grew and Raelle learned more about eczema, her views on the skin condition she had tried so hard to conceal began to shift. She started to shed the shame she felt surrounding her eczema and saw it as a part of her story instead.

Even how she understood eczema changed—instead of viewing it as a purely physical condition, she became aware (or, woke) of how flare-ups were a direct response to something going on inside of her body. So, she began to focus on taking care of her physical, emotional, and mental well-being, noticing that when she didn’t, she was more likely to have external signs on her skin in the form of eczema.

“My mindset surrounding eczema has changed tremendously,” Raelle says. “I see my eczema as a helper for me to be alerted that I need to pay attention to my health from the inside out or make some tweaks in my routine so that I can have a better quality of life now and in the future.”

Why eczema representation matters

Raelle’s online friends not only helped her to feel seen, but they also were able to share what kinds of treatments and tests they were being offered so that Raelle had more of sense of what kind of care she should be receiving.

“As a Black woman, my experience in health care will always look different,” Raelle says. “If I appear functional, there will be no further inquiry of my issues. In my experience, if I don’t have pictures or proof of my [eczema’s] severity, then I will often not have all treatment options shared with me.”

Now, Raelle has learned to advocate for herself at the doctor’s office. She comes into appointments armed with information and research, and lets the doctor know what works for her or what options she would like to try.

“Working with your doctor includes sharing facts about your symptoms, but it also has to be a conversation between two people who respect each other,” Raelle says. “Some doctors will welcome hearing your perspective and give you options surrounding your desires and those are the ones you want to stick with.”

On Woke Within, Raelle has had the freedom to not only discuss her eczema journey, but also her lived experience of the unjust realities that come with being a person of color. It has become a space where she can unapologetically speak on any issue that interests her.

“WokeWithin was developed to share the many things that I’ve researched and gained knowledge in, but ultimately not to forget my ‘why’ and the heartfelt reasons that brought me through the many chapters of life,” Woke Within’s about page reads.

Ultimately, Raelle hopes to show people that eczema is more than a physical discomfort or illness—it can impact your entire life from where you live to your career choices—while still normalizing it for other people living with the condition.

“A misconception that I had about my eczema is that it’s something I should be ashamed of,” Raelle says. “The right people for you will always show compassion and desire to cater to your needs so that you can heal.” And that’s what staying woke is really all about.

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