SINGAPORE: Fashion veteran, director and reality TV show judge, Daniel Boey, 52, is itching to tell you a true story. It’s one that deals with a not-so-pretty reality that chronic sufferers of eczema, sinus and allergies face, on any given day. You see, Boey has all three. Persistent ailments that have plagued him since childhood, they now serve as the material for his new book, Behind Every *itch Is A Back Story.
The book (his second in just two years) is not meant to be a “textbook cure-all for eczema”. Nor is it a narrative of victimisation. What it seeks to do is open the dialogue “for empathy rather than pity,” said Boey, who was also one of the judges on Asia’s Next Top Model season 1, and a returning judge in seasons 4 and 5.
Incidentally Boey isn’t the only one in the public eye with a rash problem. Others like Channel NewAsia anchor Glenda Chong and deejay Vernetta Lopez, both long-time friends of his, have also come forward in the book, to share their coping mechanisms with their afflictions.
The stories unfold between stylised pictures, each image a metaphorical representation of the corresponding discussion. There are accounts of physical suffering: Weeping eczema or eyelids almost swelled shut because of allergic triggers. Anguished anecdotes of Boey as a child, hiding out in the school library and chapel; and of the times when he was nearly driven to paranoia by the catty comments and hushed whispers made by fashion insiders and competitors about his nasty rash when he was a young fashion show producer.
Adults are more hurtful than children, he said. “Kids say things without malice, or because they’re not knowing. Adults, unless truly stupid, say calculated things.”
The book tells of the many temporary fixes Boey has sought, in order to ease his discomfort and pain. He has been through the gamut. Some topical creams and a multitude of antihistamines work for him (“addiction is a real fear”); others like colonic irrigation are uncomfortable and expensive. The most bizarre and extreme measure? “Seeing a medium to exorcise my eczema!” he chortled.
Yet this isn’t a story of doom and gloom. He shared: “It’s normal to be angry, bitter or have self-pity, but you’re fighting your own battle. To get others to accept you, you have to come to accept yourself first.”
Hence his flaky, itchy skin, has made him determined to do even better. “Not only was I going to write my own rules, I would write the rules that they (his critics) have to follow.”
His chronic eczema is also an anchor that grounds him in a sometimes unconscionable industry. Because he knows what it’s liked to be judged unfairly, he feels even more strongly about judging a person based on their body of work. “I’ve never kicked off a model because he or she was ugly or had a big nose. I’ve thrown people off sets because they were rude, unprofessional or very tardy, or just can’t do the job – it’s not based on looks.”
Half the battle won is to know what triggers the allergies. Stress, for him, is the biggest culprit. Sometimes that means ridding yourself of toxic friends and situations that interfere with your peace of mind and he doesn’t make apologies for doing so.
Similarly, extreme heat and humidity wreak havoc on his skin and nose. The fashion director is very selective about accepting outdoor gigs, unless it’s something he really wants to do. Even then, antihistamine tablets are always on hand, in order to keep him going under duress.
It’s a curated lifestyle no doubt, because many things trigger off his eczema. Perfume or even what he wears can set off a reaction. And he does not eat crustaceans, dairy, egg and even unusual offenders like watermelon and lettuce.
Fortunately he has never been a foodie and contends with nibbling on bread when the right food isn’t available. He is also limited to dining at the same few eateries and restaurants in Singapore or overseas. But when local cravings stir, his mum whips up a prawn-free laksa or mee siam.
Alcohol is a necessary evil but no beer for him; it’s bubbles (the industry standard, naturally), white wine and the occasional whiskey. But these days, consumption is more discretionary compared to his younger days when he was eager to oblige. “You do need to pay attention to what your body is telling you; I make sure I down lots of water at the end of the night to flush out the alcohol,” he said.
Scents can start a wheezing fit or nose drip instantly, and sometimes, like on a plane, there is no escaping someone drab heavily in scent. However, he reminded us that a scent allergy is no excuse for smelling bad.