Aussie body positivity influencer Karina Irby left 'holding back tears' after 'mortifying' experience at nail salon

Karina Irby composite of her looking sad in video and image of her skin conditions
Karina Irby, an influencer and swimwear designer, decided to pamper herself with a pedicure - but what was supposed to be a moment of self-care left her on the verge of tears. Photo credit: @karinairby / Instagram

A popular body positivity advocate who was shamed by a nail technician for her skin conditions has spoken out about the experience in a candid video, branding it the "worst pedicure of my life".

Karina Irby, a 33-year-old influencer and swimwear designer from Australia's Gold Coast, decided to pamper herself with a pedicure at a local nail salon last week - but what was supposed to be a relaxing moment of self-care left her on the verge of tears.

Irby - who suffers from severe skin conditions including eczema and pityriasis - has amassed a loyal following of over 1.1 million on social media for her promotion of body positivity and self-love, with the 33-year-old frequently sharing unedited photos of her skin in swimwear in an effort to normalise the conditions. She also regularly 'names and shames' trolls who leave cruel comments about her appearance underneath her content. 

In the emotional video discussing her experience, Irby acknowledged that her skin "doesn't look like everyone else's", noting that she has noticeable "lumps, bumps, and scars".

"I get it, I look different," she added. 

She explained that she'd woken up that morning "feeling good" about her skin and decided to get a pedicure to celebrate.  

"I looked down at my legs and I was like, 'I'm feeling good, my skin looks great'. I thought, 'I'm finally going to get that pedicure I really wanted'," she said. "I don't feel self-conscious - ha ha, boy, was I wrong."

But Irby's self-confidence took a hit when an employee at the nail salon began visibly staring at the skin of her legs as she waited to be seen. 

"This lady just looked at me like I was a pure disease," Irby said. "[She] comes over to do my pedicure and she takes one look at my leg - she doesn't even look at my face - she just looks down at what she's about to deal with.  

"I kid you not - I just watched her for a good 20 seconds [pulling faces]. I literally cannot make this up."  

According to Irby, the nail technician then awkwardly asked her if it was safe to touch her skin, implying that she thought her condition was contagious.

"'Is this okay to touch? Like, can I touch this?'" Irby said, quoting the technician. "And I'm like, 'Yeah, you can touch it'.

"Oh my God, I'm mortified... I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole, please.

"She's putting on her gloves and she's just staring at my legs with this... really concerned and confused face," she went on. "All in all, I'm honestly just trying not to cry.  

"For the whole pedicure I couldn't relax. I felt so uncomfortable - I was just watching her look at my skin... it was so awkward. That's probably going to be the last pedicure I get in a really long time... I felt so insecure for that half-hour, 45-minute experience that I now have a pressure headache.

"I know my legs look all scarry and lumpy and stuff, but like, it's just skin - I'm not a walking disease."  

Despite proudly displaying her skin to millions online each day, Irby admitted the encounter with the employee left her distraught - resurfacing painful memories from her childhood about being excluded and judged for her appearance. 

At school, she said she remembered parents asking staff not to seat their child next to her out of concern she was carrying a transmissible disease.   

"When I was a dancer, I was made to wear skin-coloured stockings so my legs looked like everyone else's," she added in the caption. "At school camps, teachers wouldn't allow other kids to borrow my sunscreen in case it was infected.  

"It took me years to overcome trauma like this - all to be bought back up to the surface because of a pedicure."  

She concluded her story by urging people to be more empathetic and understanding towards those who have certain conditions that can cause them to look a little different to everyone else.   

"This is the exact reason why I talk about my skin conditions so much - because it needs to be normalised," Irby said.

"People with skin conditions aren't contagious, riddled with disease and to be locked away in a tower. We're just like everyone else. Our skin isn't our entire identity."  

According to DermNet New Zealand, pityriasis rosea is a rash that's characterised by a large circular or oval 'herald patch' which is usually found on the chest, abdomen, or back. The herald patch is followed sometime later, typically about two weeks or so, by the development of smaller, scaly, red oval-shaped patches, distributed mainly on the chest and back. Pityriasis is not contagious and cannot be spread to other people through physical contact.  

On the other hand, eczema is a skin condition that causes dry and itchy patches of skin. It's a common condition that also isn't contagious: symptoms can flare up if you have contact with an irritant or an allergen.