If you’ve ever seen something unusual on your kid’s skin, you’ve likely turned to the internet for guidance as you anxiously wait for an appointment with your pediatrician. On health education sites, you’ll find images of every common dermatological condition, including eczema, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, chicken pox, impetigo and measles. But the images almost exclusively feature white patients.
(To see for yourself, just do a quick search of these conditions on the Mayo Clinic, WebMD and American Dermatological Association websites. Even the illustrationsof bumps, sores and rashes are only shown on white skin.)
For years, this has frustrated Ellen Buchanan Weiss, whose toddler son is mixed race. She’s tried searching for photographs online to reference conditions such as chicken pox and hives, but tells me that “even adding the qualifier ‘chicken pox on black child’ yields mostly Caucasian examples.” Recently, she decided to do something to help other parents facing similar barriers, and began collecting photos on her own.
Her project Brown Skin Matters is an Instagram account filled with reference images of dermatological conditions on non-white skin. You can see what ant bites can look like on a child who is Hispanic and black. Or how the viral illness Fifths disease can manifest in a child who is black and white.
From the photos, it’s clear that conditions look different on different skin tones. On a post featuring a black child with chicken pox, one person commented: “Thank you! My mom (white) always said she wasn’t sure if we’d actually had chicken pox because they didn’t look how she expected. But the pediatrician said we did.”
While Weiss is not a medical professional, she is working with physicians to review the viewer-submitted photos. She emphasizes that the information on Brown Skin Matters is for educational and reference purposes only, and not a diagnosis. “I’m just a regular person who dearly loves her son and wants equitable representation and resources available to him and other people who look like him,” Weiss says.