By Caroline Cioffi, LiveGirl High School Fellow

It’s no secret that many middle school girls struggle with self confidence. According to the New York Times, 70% of middle schools girls are not happy with the way they look and 47% of girls report that low-self esteem has held them back in some way. For Reena Ruparelia, being a confident middle school girl became even more difficult when she was diagnosed with a skin condition called Psoriasis.

Reena describes Psoriasis as “an inflammatory skin condition, which is characterized by red raised itchy patches that are flaky and painful.”  According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, this condition affects 2-3% of the population.

At age 13, when Reena was diagnosed with Psoriasis, she started to feel badly about herself. “I was so self conscious because all I was doing was taking care of my condition,” Reena said. “I spent a lot of my time worried about how I looked. I felt really ashamed. I think, compared to my younger self, I held myself back from a lot of things. I didn’t join clubs, I didn’t really want to try new things.”

Throughout high school, college, and her young adult life, Reena continued to struggle with self-love. “I spent all of my time in high school, university, most of my time working, and into my early 20s feeling very impacted by this condition,” Reena said. “I felt very ashamed. I didn’t like myself. I was holding myself back and maybe even engaging in some self-destructive behaviors—things like going out all the time, not sleeping, not studying as well as I could. I felt like I was rebelling against a lot of things because I felt so bad about myself. I knew something had to change.”

Reena’s breakthrough came when she was first able to admit that she was struggling. “I think the first thing that helped a lot with my self confidence was admitting that I didn’t love myself very much,” Reena said. “It’s hard to say it because we all have this tough exterior, but I had to admit that I was struggling, that I didn’t like myself very much, and that I wasn’t feeling very confident. It wasn’t an easy thing to admit but, once I did it, I felt like I could work with it.”

One strategy that Reena used to feel more confident was practicing yoga. “I started to focus on my mind, body, and soul connection,” Reena said. “I started getting in touch with my body and my breath and it taught me how to calm myself and start to accept myself. In yoga, it’s all about your personal journey. You’re not comparing yourself to the person on the mat next to you. You’re there for yourself and you try not to judge yourself. I definitely started to feel more confident.”

As Reena’s own confidence increased, her definition of what it means to be confident began to change. She started asking herself questions like,

“Would I be confident when everything was perfect: when I had all my makeup on right, when I had the right clothes, and when I had the skin I wanted? Was I waiting for that moment?”

And, when she did this, she concluded that

“maybe I could love myself the way I am right now.”

Another way that Reena improved her confidence was by travelling. “It was a bit crazy,” Reena said. “But I moved to South Korea. I just decided and then, a month and a half later, I was in a small village in Korea teaching English. It was scary, but it was cool because I was with all new people in a new environment and it was helping me to feel a little more confident with myself.” Reena has continued to travel and has gone on yoga retreats to Bali and Costa Rica.

As she enjoyed the risk of travelling, Reena started to reflect on what she was experiencing through journaling. “We have all of those voices swimming in our head saying I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, nobody likes me,” Reena said. “But when I started to write them down, I saw what they sounded like. And I thought ‘Would I every say this to someone I love? No! So why would I say this to myself?’”

Of all the ways she was able to boost her confidence, Reena said that starting her Instagram page was the most impactful. As she began to share quotes and pictures, other people started reaching out to her. “People were telling me that that their feet looked the same or they were going through the same thing,” Reena said. “And I couldn’t believe it. There’s a lot of power in someone saying ‘me too.’

When you connect with other people who understand and validate your experiences, it’s so liberating.”

While Reena’s Instagram page began as a secret, it soon started gaining attention. “I had a little post in Teen Vogue and on a few other websites and then I was hired by Dove Beauty,” Reena said. “Now, I was in magazines, at Target, on ads at CVS, I was in my own little spotlight. It was a lot of attention for something I was hiding, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone and I really started sharing my story and being more of an advocate for people living with a skin condition.”

Today, Reena is extremely confident and uses her platform as a way to lift up other women. “I celebrate myself because, when I love myself, I can love others, and I can give other people permission to love themselves,” Reena said. “When I cheer myself on, I drown out the noise of what I think other people are thinking. Because, no matter what we’re going through, we are worthy. There’s no one like us out of 7 billion people. We are enough as we are.”