Celebrities talking about their psoriasis has become increasingly common — in recent years, Kim Kardashian, La La Anthony, Cyndi Lauper and Stacy London are among those who have spoken out about the pain and embarrassment they’ve felt while dealing with the painful skin condition (which is an immune system reaction that can cause itchy, scaly rashes and patches). But in 2008, five-time Olympian — and 12-time medalist! — Dara Torres, 49, was one of the first stars to open up about her battle, in hopes of encouraging others to feel less shame about the condition.
She’s continued her advocacy for psoriasis sufferers, most recently teaming up with Celgene’s Show More of You initiative, which encourages people living with psoriasis to live their fullest lives and not be held back by their condition. So we chatted with Torres (all the way from Rio!) about her experience with psoriasis and her hopes for the future.
You’ve been in five Olympics since 1984 – what was it like being in the stands this time?
Seeing my daughter walking in the opening ceremonies will forever be my greatest Olympic moment. I loved and will always miss the team camaraderie that is second to none. It is a family and one of the most exclusive fraternities in the world. I cherish every teammate and Olympics in their own unique way. I would never change anything — well, other than the silvers to golds!
There has been a lot of scrutiny on the media for being too focused on female athletes’ looks at this Olympics. Did you experience that? What changes would you like to see going forward?
Beautiful women will always be objectified, whether it’s in sports, music, acting or school. It’s an unfortunate reality. I think as a society we can’t give into stereotypes. At 49 years old, I hear how great I look. While flattering, I assure you I am waiting for someone to tell me how smart I am. I think we just need to keep fighting for women to be judged on merits.
Absolutely! So when did you first realize you had psoriasis?
I started noticing symptoms in the mid-’90s when I found red, itchy patches on my elbows and back. At first, I had no idea that I even had psoriasis. I didn’t understand what was happening to my body. I was mortified, scared and didn’t know what to do. My instinct was to hide it from everyone, which was difficult since my business suit was my bathing suit. After meeting with my dermatologist, I learned more about it (including that it’s not contagious) and how to manage my symptoms.
You were one of the first famous faces to come forward about psoriasis – what inspired you to go public with it? Does it make you feel good to know other stars have spoken out about it since?
I decided to speak out because I knew how the condition made me feel — anxious and embarrassed. But once I became informed and learned how to manage my symptoms, I decided to turn off the negative feelings and move forward with my life. Nobody should have to feel that way, which is why I wanted to use my position to let others [who have the disease] know that they are not alone. I think it is amazing that more celebrities are speaking out and sharing their stories.
Do you hear from fans about how you’ve helped them with their own struggle?
I have heard from fans and family from time to time. It re-motivates me to keep pushing harder to get the message out there that psoriasis doesn’t have to hold you back.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
For years, my job was to be a professional swimmer, and people assumed that I was confident because of what I had achieved. But knowing that I might have a flare up at any time really made me very nervous and insecure. Today, I am much more comfortable with my condition and know that I am doing everything I can to be proactive in managing it.
How do you deal with it when it gets bad?
My psoriasis is aggravated by things like stress and chlorine, so I try to be mindful of my triggers. That’s why exercise has always been such an essential part of my everyday life. It keeps me fit and helps me reduce stress which can be a trigger for my flare ups. Whether it’s swimming, spinning, boxing or barre class—I love all types.
Check out Show More of You to talk about your experience with the disease and your accomplishments, and tell us: Are you impressed with Torres for sharing her story?