Acne: A Love Story (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying So Much About My Skin And Just Live My Life)
I am a beautiful woman. I don’t mean I’m beautiful because I have a strong moral code and I work diligently at my career and my relationships, or because of my sense of humor or abilities. I am beautiful because of the slope of my lower back into my ass and the bulge of my muscles and my thick, shiny hair. I am beautiful to behold.
It wasn’t always this way. Or I suppose it could have been this way, and I was blind to it. All I could ever see in mirrors and photographs was a plague of acne. The first zits cropped up in 8th grade, and from then they never stopped. After almost a decade, the scarring kicked in. What used to be zits that would come and go now leave purple splotches on top of scars from zits previous. What was once a nuisance became painful.
In my professional dance training, I spent an exorbitant amount of time in front of mirrors. With no make up, and a thin layer of sweaty sheen, my deeply scarred and rough skin seemed to glow obnoxiously, made all the more noticeable by my hair pulled back tight off my face. It was an awful distraction. More than that, it was an awful embarrassment to feel as though my own face is distracting to others, and to feel stupid for choosing a career path that relies on my ability to be aesthetically pleasing.
But my skin never prevented me from becoming a dynamic dancer with confidence in her abilities - that was all me.
At this point, I’ve tried everything short of Accutane to help get my face on track. I doubt I will ever try Accutane because willingly subjecting myself to more joint pain than is already a side effect of my life’s work seems outrageously stupid.
For the curious, I have found two things to be helpful: 1) routine chemical peels which I unfortunately cannot always afford, and can be immensely painful, and 2) cutting out refined sugar. That has been a consistent and pain-free (though difficult) treatment with, as far as I can tell, no ill side effects. And while effective, it is not fail safe, as evidenced by the half dozen or so blemishes (marketing terminology meant to pretty up a physically ugly misfortune) I am rocking at present.
Truthfully, the invaluable take away from all this pain, both physical (minor) and emotional (major,) is: as a 25 year old woman who still battles aggressive break outs and the scars besides, I can say, “I’m still here.” Acne is not life threatening. I cringe when people compare it to other chronic illnesses like diabetes, even though I understand the point. But, for real, it’s not. And that’s rude. It’s acne. You’re fine.
Acne can hurt, but it won’t kill you. I know intimately the desperation, the shame, the confusion, the pain, the irrational anger that chronic acne brings. Not everybody understands the social hardship accompanying this affliction, but I do. I’m not speaking for those of you who go, "My skin is so weird this week!" while gesturing towards two tiny blemishes on your hormonal jawline that will go away after a night with some spot treatment. That's not acne. That's this one time you had two pimples.
I’m speaking to my people with the acne that disfigures. The kind that when you only have two pimples you're like, “Sweet!” But it’s also sad because you know they'll never go away, they'll just leave purplish marks or divots behind before you bother to lose count of how much new “activity” took their place.
I know what it means to feel rage when friends point out the freckle-sized spot on otherwise flawless cheeks - we already noticed it and got jealous. That's how bad our skin is. I know about hating your own face, and hating other people’s faces as an affront to the face you hate you the most. I would not begrudge someone the drastic measures they feel are necessary for the peace of mind that I imagine comes with having nice skin. But I’m not buying into it anymore, literally or mentally.
Why not? Because it’s like, pimples, dude. Out of all the things in the world that I’m good at, I’m going to expend all my time and money and physical health because other people decided they don’t like looking at my pimples? This is just what my skin does. I don’t know why! I do know I’m not going to risk my internal organs or shaky mental health to fix it.
I know that now that I’m barely getting a career off the ground I’d rather save my money than spend it on pills and creams and doctor visits. I know that so many things I’ve tried have been really physically uncomfortable, and I’m too old for that nonsense. I know that I’m tired of people trying to fix me, and telling me what I should eat or do or try, and sick of measuring myself against an ideal that has been unattainable since I was 13 years old.
And I know that as far as trials and tribulations go, acne is kind of a ridiculous one. It’s embarrassing at times, maddening even, but I can think of about a hundred million things that could be worse.
I have a college degree from an amazing school that people clamor to get into. I started a family. I am growing a career. I had a baby, and am still performing with younger, ostensibly more physically capable dancers. I have awesome ideas and I make people laugh.
How long could I go on feeling like some shit on my face would define me? Why would I feel inferior when I see what my body is capable of? I am graceful and strong and I look incredible in American Apparel’s high waisted jeans. And naked. I look especially thrilling naked.
But you can’t win ‘em all. And I wonder what kind of insufferably insecure yet self absorbed brat I would be if I had all this beauty unmarred. I know there are people out there who have awesome careers and perfect families and amazing bodies with great skin to boot. I’m friends with some of them. If that was my reality, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to handle it all so gracefully. Maybe my acne is just my empathy showing. I don’t know if I believe in God, and I would never say “everything happens for a reason,” but things do undoubtedly happen. It’s our job to find a way of understanding them. I spent over a decade feeling ugly and worthless because of something essentially out of my control. Because, why? Zits? ZITS??!! Well, ZIT HAPPENS.
My life is hard, but it’s ultimately a beautiful gift. And I am a beautiful woman.