In our series, A More Perfect Union, we aim to show that what unites us as Americans is far greater than what divides us. In this installment, we visit A Children's House for the Soul, an organization that helps kids embrace skin conditions.
Alex Schoener, 14, Emily Haygood, 13, and Mia Johnson, 16, are at their final fitting in Houston, preparing for a fashion show in New York City.
"I'm a little nervous to be honest," Johnson said.
The dresses they will be modeling in represent something more than what meets the eye. Each of these girls has a serious skin condition and each one of their dress patterns mirrors the image of what that girl's condition look like under a microscope.
Schoener said she has alopecia areata, "which is an autoimmune disease that causes my hair to fall out."
"In second grade, I lost all my hair… But it all grew back. And then in – around seventh and eighth grade… I started losing even more hair. And that's when I think I got really scared," Schoener said.
Haygood has severe atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema. "People would ask me, 'Is it contagious? Is it poison ivy?' And that just really lowered my self-confidence," she said.
Johnson said she has scleroderma on her face. "It's basically where I lose tissue," Johnson said. "And it made me, like, insecure going into middle school, when people are trying to find themselves, you know?"
The girls found each other through Dr. Alanna Bree's A Children's House for the Soul in Houston. Bree, a dermatologist by trade, left her high-paying job at a hospital and later opened the nonprofit four years ago.
"I hope that what we do brings a light to the world for the darkness of these kids. They suffer so much and if we can just be a little, small light, I think that's awesome," Bree said.
Bree said her goal wasn't just to treat what you can see but to treat the emotional wounds that are not visible.
For Haywood, there's no cure for her eczema. "There is a possibility that it'll… go away when I'm older," she said.
"Mine is inactive right now," Johnson said. "So, doctors recommend surgery and stuff, but – you know, because they want to fix you. But I've always denied it because it's part of who I am."
"Most people I think when they are diagnosed with a skin condition— they think that it's, like, probably the worst thing that could ever happen to them," Schoener said, adding, "Originally, I will be honest. I was not very happy with it. I was like, 'Why did this happen to me?' …But now, my perspective has definitely changed."
Schoener said Bree and her team played a big role in helping make that happen.
"They really helped me to view myself as the beautiful young woman I am today," Schoener said.
The moral to this story? "Love the skin you're in," the girls said in unison, laughing.
It's that attitude that brought these girls to A Children's House for the Soul's first fashion show where all eyes were on them, for all the right reasons.
Watch more from our series, A More Perfect Union: