For my leadership series, I had the amazing opportunity to sit down and interview Queer Eye co-host Tan France and a woman named Jennifer who’s struggled with severe eczema nearly her entire life. For the 1.6 million adults with uncontrolled moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, everyday tasks, including deciding what to wear, isn’t always simple. Itchy fabrics can irritate eczema symptoms and shirts can show oozing rashes or blood from scratching. Through his latest program, Tan is empowering people with eczema to find their Now Me — the moment when eczema isn’t the center of their life and they can feel comfortable with their own skin.
Tan France is a British-American style icon. Best known as a co-host of Netflix’s Queer Eye, Tan is also an author, husband and soon-to-be father. Tan’s lifelong mission is to help people from all backgrounds feel good about sharing the best versions of themselves to the world. To Tan, what you wear isn’t so much about how you look, but how you feel.
Jennifer is a married mother of five who has struggled with severe eczema since she was a child. Her symptoms impacted her day-to-day life, from her wedding, her life as a mom and in her career as a labor and delivery nurse. Jennifer hopes sharing her story about finding her Now Me will empower others to find theirs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What inspired you to get into fashion or on this specific career path?
Tan: My granddad used to have a factory, and I used to work there on holidays. I would go to my grandad’s factory, and watch how they created these things that made people feel amazing out of nothing–out of a bolt of fabric. As soon as I saw my first garment created, I was like “okay, I know what I’m doing for the rest of my life.”
A common theme in my career is the passion and desire to help others feel their very best. I’ve always been immensely inspired by clothes and how they can transform someone from the inside and bring out their inner beauty and confidence.
Before Queer Eye, before entertainment and styling, I was a retailer, and I made sure to make clothing that made women feel amazing, and brought out their natural beauty. Because of that mission, I was able to achieve great success with my business, which led to being asked to join Queer Eye.
That thread actually works well with what we’re doing with my partnership with Sanofi and Regeneron and The Now Me program. Something as simple as a white tee can be especially tough if people are dealing with itchy patches on their skin that can crack and ooze through the white fabric. That’s why the basic white tee is a symbol of empowerment for the program.
What is the Now Me program? Why did you get involved?
Tan: The Now Me helps to empower people with moderate to severe eczema to feel comfortable with their own skin. The program ties into what I do on Queer Eye. On a recent Queer Eye episode, one of our heroes has eczema. I didn’t know anything about the condition before, but I realize how important learning about eczema is and knowing how to help them feel as comfortable as possible.
I’m very excited to partner with The Now Me program. It’s an incredibly eye opening program, full of stories shared by patients and advocates like Jennifer.
Why is it important to feel comfortable with your own skin? How has eczema impacted your life and how did you overcome those challenges?
Jennifer: I’ve had eczema my entire life, ever since I was an infant. I never knew what life was like without angry red skin. It was difficult growing up and being the odd one out and not fitting in with my friends. I couldn’t wear a swimsuit–I wore long sleeves and pants to hide my skin, even when it was 100 degrees outside.
I went to nursing school, and like Tan was saying earlier, I knew I wanted to be a nurse early in life. I was going to do whatever it took. But having eczema has its obstacles. It meant getting a waiver from my dermatologist saying that yes, I can participate in the activities. It meant wearing cotton gloves under my latex gloves, and countless ointments and creams to carry around with me. It meant bringing silly things with me on vacation–such as my own sheets or pillows–to avoid my skin becoming irritated with hotel linens.
Now that I found a treatment that works for me, I’m not focusing on my skin all the time. It’s not the center of my universe. I can focus on my kids, on having fun with them, and on creating amazing memories. That’s my Now Me.
Thank you! What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- I wish I knew that I could live authentically and still be accepted much earlier on. I used to think that I had to marry a woman in order to be happy, and to be accepted.
- I wish I knew what could be achieved if I lived in a different country. I love the UK, but I didn’t feel like I was free to fly there. I’m very grateful to live in the US, because I feel like I can truly be myself and be celebrated as I am.
- The last thing I wish I knew is to leave all those jerks behind who broke my heart, and to see that they weren’t right for me much sooner. You do not need to put up with that. Actually, find someone who is just kind. Wait before going the next step, don’t be afraid of the long distance relationship. It can turn into something magical.
Tan, you’re about to become a father and Jennifer, you are a mom! Tan, have you learned anything through this program that you will take with you into fatherhood? Jennifer – what advice do you have for other parents who may have children who have eczema?
Tan: One of our stories that will be on The Now Me site is about a mom named Sheryl and her daughter, Skye. It was amazing to understand what support is needed from a parent with a child with eczema, and the different avenues one has to explore. What is really interesting to me from her story is to really listen to your child, and understand what they need from you. I always thought parents should be a parent — a real disciplinarian–and I’ve learned the importance of listening to my child, doing all I can to support them, and that my job is really to understand their needs.
Jennifer: For me, I would say, don’t take “no” for an answer. Growing up with severe eczema, I had to really advocate for myself. I am also a labor and delivery nurse, and I advocate for my patients every day. When it came to my own health and treatment, I’ve learned to stand up and use my voice. So, I would encourage other parents to never take “no” as an answer. It’s not an acceptable answer. Find another provider you can align with to find the right options for your child. And with your child–be patient with them, just love them. I missed a lot of physical touches growing up because of my symptoms, so maybe keep that in mind.
What is your blueprint to success?
Tan: I wish there was a blueprint to success, but there isn’t. I think the main thing is hard work, perseverance, and being resolute about what I wanted for my life and my career. The only thing you can do is to put in the hard work, and sacrifice for your dreams. When I was in my 20’s, instead of partying with my friends, I saved every penny. I would go to dinner or coffee, I wanted to put every dime back into my business to have the life that I have now, and I am so glad that I did.
So, sacrifice some time in your younger years to really achieve what you want, is how I got where I am today.
Are you working on any other exciting new projects now?
Tan: I’m really focused on being a parent. That’s it. That’s the most exciting new project–its the thing I’m most excited about and ever been the most excited for.
Jennifer: I’m actually going back to school for my masters to become a nurse practitioner. I want to get out there and help more people with atopic dermatitis and pay it forward.
What do you want the readers to know (any calls to action)?
Tan: I want them to feel inspired by the stories shared on TheNowMe.com. The stories there are amazing, and I hope it’s an inspiration to your readers.
Jennifer: I would say empowerment. I would love to see the readers empowered to really advocate for themselves. Do what is best for you, and it’s okay to put yourself first sometimes. For me, a treatment called Dupixent or dupilumab helped me find my Now Me moment. But that treatment might not be right for everyone, especially if you are allergic to it or its ingredients. It’s important to work with your doctor to find what works for you, and to keep searching, keep advocating for yourself, and keep getting second opinions, until you do.