Get To Know: Chiquanna “Chi” Villines

Bodewell Editor | September 9, 2020

Chiquanna “Chi” Villines spent the majority of her life thinking there was only one way to treat her eczema: by using topical steroids. But when that treatment method stopped working for her, she got off of it and began exploring alternative healing modalities to better her skin. Through that process, she discovered the power of yoga, which filled her with hope and bettered her opinion of her body. She still experiences flare ups now and then but for the first time ever, she feels in control of her eczema — and isn’t letting it limit her life.

 

 

Since March, the COVID pandemic has shut down our lives, essentially pressing pause on anything fun and social for the time being. For most of us, this has been a bitter pill to swallow, but for Chiquanna “Chi” Villines, it’s nothing new. A model and dancer in Florida with eczema, she spent all of last year not working and avoiding social encounters while going through the process of long term steroid withdrawal. 

Chiquanna “Chi” Villines: Basically, I quarantined myself last year and started the healing journey to get off the steroids. I just didn't want to be addicted to something for the rest of my life and I wanted to take control of my health naturally. It was a really hard decision, but it was the time to do it. 

I couldn't go outside and I didn't interact with people. I was just in my apartment with my ex, and I had no other choice really but to listen to my body. I literally just stopped my entire life and focused on healing myself.

Chi has had eczema since she was 8 or 9 months old. For the first 14 years of her life, it greatly limited her social interactions, because so many environmental factors triggered her skin. She felt alone and isolated, missing out on activities with friends and family, and also falling behind in school. It wasn’t until a doctor prescribed her topical steroids as a pre-teen that she began to live a life that was more “normal.” 

Chi: It got to the point where i just couldn’t do anything. The carpet, the paint, the couch, the fabric on the couch — I was so sensitive that anything would trigger me and I would flare. I was always going to the doctor and was in and out of the hospital constantly. 

I could never concentrate in school and was always itching and scratching, especially on my neck. It was just very disruptive. My mom would often pick me up from school early and I could never really finish a whole day. So by the time it came for the final tests, I’d fail and then have to do summer school each year. I didn't even know how to write in cursive and I couldn't do basic math. It just took me a long time to catch up because I lost so many days of school. 

Between the ages of 7 and 13 were really bad, but when I was about 14, I got on this medicated steroid ointment and it took it away. It was like, Thank God! Now I can live! Now I can do whatever!

 

Chi used the topical steroids with success until she turned 28 when they suddenly stopped working. Unaware of the consequences of going cold turkey, Chi decided to go off them cold turkey, discovering in the process just how dependent her skin had become on the steroids. She spent the majority of 2019 at home, detoxing, waiting for her skin to adjust. She picked up new habits like taking daily CBD pills to reduce inflammation and replacing showers with baths. She also tried Dr. Sato’s “No Moisture Treatment,” which involved sweating a lot, lowering her water intake, and not using creams or moisturizers. 

Chi: I never used any products during the whole healing journey until now, because I feel like my skin has finally become strong enough to handle them. Before, it was literally open skin. There was no protection, no security. 

Now I’ve started to use Bodewell, which, I admit, I was so scared to do at first. I feel like I have a little PTSD about putting anything topical on my skin after the steroids. But I've been using the serum on my face and the super cream on the bottoms of my legs and it's like...wow. My skin is so clear and I like the texture and how it makes my skin feel very sleek. 

What I’ve learned is that for me, I really think that less is more. The fewer products I use, the better it is for my skin because it needs to learn how to moisturize itself after being suppressed for so long.

 

To help her through the healing process, Chi also began practicing yoga, which helped bring her strength and enlightenment. She credits it for “single handedly changing [her] life” and she is now training to become a certified yoga instructor. 

Chi: If I didn't have those moments to just be present and move and listen and connect to my body without any distractions, I don't think I would have healed as fast as I did. 

Because of yoga, I’m now at the point where I’m starting to finally accept my skin. This is just who I am. It’s a part of me. I can only change my thoughts about it and yoga helped me with that. I’ve learned how to speak well to myself and not be like, Oh my skin’s so ugly. It’s horrible. I hate it. 

Chi recently started working again, resuming her career as a model and dancer. Going back on set has posed a few challenges because she never knows how her skin will be on the day of a shoot, but she’s been taking everything in stride, learning how to adapt and make her new skin reality a strength and not a limitation.

Chi: I’m honestly still working this all out, but I have been lucky so far. Recently, when I shot a Gucci campaign, I had no clue about the wardrobe or what they were going to put me in. In the back of my head I was thinking: If they try to put me in a skirt, what am I going to say? What am I going to tell them? 

And I don’t know how this happened, but by the grace of whoever, they had me wear these long khaki shorts and long white socks, so it just kind of worked out. I was like phew!

Now when I go on set, I let them know that I have eczema. I’m like, Hey, I probably need pants or if you want me in a skirt, I’m going to put my dance tights on. I also like to let the photographers know that I have a few discolorations on my arms and my legs so they might have to do some extra editing.

But it’s been surprising how cool people have been about it. I shot for this athletic brand and I was so surprised that they ended up using a picture of my back where you can see dark spots and bumps. Still, they put it on their website and I thought that was so cool. 

 

Having overcome the adversity caused by her eczema, Chi now tries to impart the wisdom she’s learned to others suffering with the condition. She knows there are many ways to cope with it, but hopes that what she has gone through can help others along their path.  

Chi: For me, there are honestly days when my eczema is so bad and I’m like: This is not going to get better! How can it? This is so bad! But there are also days when I’m like: Honestly, I can’t believe that I'll leave my house and won't put on steroid cream. It was a part of my life for years, ever since I can remember. I’d have to take it everywhere. But it doesn't control my life anymore.

Now I know and I trust that one day my skin will be better, just like I’m better now than I was last year. I feel like I'm going to continue to get better and better, and hopefully my flares start getting easier to manage and not as bad. So that’s what I tell myself: It’s only temporary, Chi. It's not going to be like this forever.