Writing about my acne is, in the best way I can describe it, a freeing, but cruel act. Not only is it a reminder that I’m still struggling to achieve clear skin, but I’m also disclosing my seven year odyssey (yes, I chose this word purposefully) to strangers. However, the two things that make this experience feel cruel, are the two things that also make it freeing. In talking about my skin, in releasing society’s and my own personal stigma surrounding how my looks, I’m also able to free myself from the idea that clear skin equates “better.” Period. Not just better skin, but a better life, better looks— better everything.
I’ve read op-ed pieces about people who have acne and always found myself disappointed in the end. I read along thinking, “there’s people just like me!,” but then the final paragraph transitions to their “success story.” It usually goes like this: they cut out dairy, their skin is instantly blemish-free and now, they’ve never felt more beautiful. And if it’s not that scenario, they simply bit the bullet and opted for Accutane. The list goes on and on with home remedies and clinical treatments like aspirin paste or more sleep, but, without fail, each ends with clear skin.
No matter the “solution,” with it came the expected exchange of tireless trial-and-error for a improved level of self-esteem. Before clear skin, they were depressed, anxious, uncomfortable with their looks and unhappy. As I finish reading and scan photos of smooth chin shots, I’m left feeling depleted. When will it be my turn to feel beautiful and post photos of my face without wanting to rip my skin off? Is every acne story supposed to make me hate my skin even more?
I’ve spent too much of my life loathing my skin. My first encounter with acne came in seventh grade. I remember being self-conscious and disgruntled by it, despite telling myself it was normal. My older brother had acne throughout high school, my mom suffered when she was young, and basically everyone going through puberty did, too. Steadily though, as people’s bumps began to disappear, mine got worse. So, I finally took the plunge and went to a dermatologist, only to be loaded down with antibiotics, topicals and rubs.
Nothing completely “fixed” my skin. I detested going to the dermatologist because all they did was scrutinize my skin, which made me feel like I had Dots paper candy covering my face. I would look in the mirror, stare at my skin, and with my hands, cover up my chin or all the way up to my eyes to see how much better I would look if I didn’t have red, aching bumps. Some days, I felt completely debilitated. I didn’t want to go anywhere or to talk to anyone; I just wanted to take a knife and scrape my skin clean.
But I kept trying to find new ways to make myself look more ideal. At the end of my freshman year of college, I learned my acne is hormonal. This means antibiotics work, but I can’t stay on them forever. I experienced clear skin for a whole year on Minocycline before they had to wean me off. I cried as breakouts started to occur again. Where did I go wrong? I washed my face, did what I was told, and tried to eat healthy. I spent so much time asking, “why me?” as I envied women with radiant, clear skin.
Eventually, I realized there’s not much else I can do, so I need to start loving me for me. I have a blood disorder, which means I have to steer clear of birth control. Depression and anxiety also keep me away from Accutane, and breast cancer runs in my family, so the obscure drug Spironolactone is automatically ruled out. If I have acne, it means just that— I have acne. However, it doesn’t define or limit me. And even as I write that with complete confidence, I know I don’t believe it all the time. It’s damn hard. But I am starting to believe it more and more.
Society might try to tell me I need to have perfect skin to live a healthy, beautiful life— and as much as I wish I didn’t have to worry about my skin— I can still achieve those things with acne. I’m grateful the conversation around acne is changing. With stars embracing their natural skin and more articles discussing adult acne, the navigation around accepting my skin has been aided by these faint streetlights.
But I’ve also learned, in the words of singer Jamila Woods, that I need to wake up each “morning with my mind set on loving me.” I might have bad skin days, good skin days and eventually, skin days where acne never even crosses my mind.
Where one would normally post their transformation photo, I leave you with a photo of what I look like right now while writing this article. I’m wearing no makeup, not trying to cover any of my acne, and as scared as I am to show it, here’s to taking a major leap into skin-acceptance.