Human of the Valley

For my university theatre class we were asked to do a project inspired by HONY. This was mine.

“Fashion was my entire life. I worshipped the material world and Anna Wintour was god. I know now that I deserved a serious humbling, which came in the form of topical steroid withdrawals. Now I could care less about the clothes I wear. I believe this is God’s way of telling me where my priorities should lie, which is in my health and in Him. The past 3 years have been full of suffering, and I still don’t know when I will finally be healed. But I’m one tough bitch, and when my skin is back to normal I can go back to following my dream of becoming a stylist and the fashion industry won’t know what hit them.”

Artistic Statement:

Photographed in this picture is my older brother. He is living one of the most unique and amazing stories I have ever heard of, and as his sister it has been one of the most painful things to watch. Despite all his suffering his story is deeply rooted in hope and I wanted to document him at a point of his journey where the worst parts have passed and he’s gained a lot of insight since. It officially began in 2011, but it truly began when my brother was 10 years old and held his first Louis Vuitton purse at my mom’s personal hair stylist’s living room. Since then the obsession with designer labels, haute couture, and the world of the fashion industry took over my brother’s life. The only thing important to my brother was fashion and gaining status through material wealth. We did not always agree with him, but supported his interests because it made him happy. After graduating high school he went to Fashion School in the Philippines to pursue his dreams that became short-lived due to my brother’s deteriorating health. All the dust, pollution, heat, and water from living in this new country caused his eczema to flare and he used excessive amount of corticosteroids to stop the itching and inflammation. When he stopped the medication, his body had already become addicted to the steroids and proceeded into horrible withdrawals that covered my brother’s entire body with rashes and ooze and skin that would crack at the smallest movement. He couldn’t wear any of his clothes and it came to the point where he couldn’t even hold a pencil to sketch dress designs. When we picked him up at the airport after moving back to America he looked like a heroin addict, sallow and with skin that lost a lively glow. His days back in America were his worst. He would spend all day locked in his bedroom, scratching. He felt that he had lost everything and that this was his punishment for worshipping fashion.

I found it ironic that my brother was literally uncomfortable in his own skin. Clothes act as your own second skin, and he couldn’t hide behind that either. My brother was literally raw, vulnerable, and exposed from a disease that took the very thing most dear to him away. He spiraled into a depression because without fashion, his life lacked all meaning. He felt even more isolated because Topical Steroid Withdrawals is still a very new and minimally researched disease. There is no known cure except time. It is also extremely unique, where the only people who know about it are the individuals and families suffering its frightful effects. His small TSW facebook support group is his only solace that proves he is not alone; our family can only helplessly tell him it’ll be okay without having even a drop of understanding at his physical pain. I wanted to tell my brother’s story and show people that Topical Steroid Withdrawals is a real disease, and it is one of the worst out there. But my brother is brave, and he is resilient, and he has not given up his dreams even though it was his dreams that nearly destroyed him. His story shows that there is more to life than how we dress, and focusing too much on the superficial can kill you. I styled this photoshoot like an actual fashion shoot, because this time he was the model and not the one dressing them. It took an extremely long time for my brother to be comfortable being photographed in such a way, much less being out in public. But this photo proves that he is healing, and that despite the change in wardrobe he always finds a way to add his own personal touch. The true irony is that with fashion finally out of his life, my brother actually found his true style that goes beyond the clothes on his back. His style is to live boldly, live loudly, and wear your pride on your sleeve, because the best thing to wear is a positive attitude.

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