Story By: Madeline Baker
I’ve had acne for as long as I can remember. Seriously, the combination of my parents’ genes was just not conducive to clear skin. In kindergarten, one of my fellow classmates asked me why I had so many ant bites on my forehead. I was confused because 1) I definitely would know if ants had bitten me on my forehead and I could not recall this happening, and 2) what did she mean? What was wrong with my forehead? In kindergarten my skin wasn’t bad at all. I had a few really small blemishes but that was probably from running around and sweating all the time. I never washed my face either, so I couldn’t tell you how dirty my skin was at that point. It wasn’t until around 4th or 5th grade that my skin really became a problem. I had full on breakouts that covered my face. They weren’t deep or painful, and I wouldn’t say I had chronic acne, but it was obvious that they weren’t going to go away anytime soon. I was never really teased for my skin, but it certainly felt like I was the only one with this problem. I was washing my face with Neutrogena before I was wearing a sports bra. I bought my first tube of concealer, a color way too orange for my own skin tone, before I was even allowed to stay up past 10pm. I was embarrassed, and no one in my class could relate to the same struggle (or so I thought?).
My skin issues only got worse in middle school and high school. I had an arsenal of products in my bathroom: scrubs, masks, cleansers, toners, creams. Nothing made my skin clear. I watched countless commercials for products “clinically proven to ERASE breakouts,” hoping that something out there would give me a miracle. I would read articles in my sister’s Teen Vogue listing the “10 Foods You Need to Be Eating for Clear Skin.” My mother’s friend told me my skin would clear up as soon as I cut out refined sugar and dairy. I was 14 so there was no way in hell I was about to stop drinking milkshakes for the sake of being acne free. That was going to be a hard no for me. I didn’t feel guilty that I wasn’t willing to change my diet for the sake of my skin, but I did consider if I was missing out on a cure for my acne. I hated that there wasn’t anything I could do; my skin was completely out of my control. Everywhere I looked there were ads telling me how to fix myself, but nothing that told me it was OK to have these skin issues. I was flawed by nature and genetics, and there wasn’t anything I could do to reverse this.
I was angry about my skin, and I was frustrated that skin wasn’t addressed in campaigns promoting good body image. There were messages of body acceptance and loving yourself at every shape and size, but nothing accessible to me that promoted skin acceptance. Of course, acne isn’t the only struggle people deal with when it comes to skin, but there was nothing out there that told women and men to that it was ok to have eczema, psoriasis, hyperpigmentation, or any other imperfection. There were only solutions and quick fixes, not ways to see your skin as perfect despite its flaws. Celebrities weren’t telling me to “Own My Acne!” Instead, Adam Levine and Katy Perry were selling me Proactiv and Emma Roberts was splashing her face on camera, telling me that grapefruit was the solution I had been looking for all along.
It wasn’t until college that I learned to feel comfortable with my skin. Instead of getting up 30 minutes early and coating my face in foundation and concealer, I would let myself sleep in and show up to class without makeup, something I would have never done in high school. At first, I felt like everyone was staring at me, dissecting every blemish on my skin and probably thinking that I didn’t wash my face. I wanted to tell them that I had tried everything, that there was nothing I could do and this is just what I was left to deal with. Why did I need to make excuses for my skin? Why did I feel like I had to apologize for showing up to class without makeup, as if it was really putting a damper on everyone’s day that they had to see my naked skin?
Here’s what I quickly picked up on: no one gave a shit that I had a massive zit buried deep in my chin when I went to class at 9:30 in the morning. None of my professors kept tallies next to my name on the attendance list for every time I came to class without concealer; it really made no difference to their day and as long as I was showing up to class and putting effort into my group projects, they weren’t going to have an issue. My skin insecurities were always stemming from what other people, including the media, were thinking about my skin, not what I knew about it. I didn’t need someone telling me how to fix my skin as long as I was telling myself that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. So as long as I just didn’t care about my what other people thought, it was really going to be ok.
This is a lot easier said than done, however. I’m in my second year of college and I still wake up most mornings to a fresh blemish on my face. It’s like my skin knows when I have a special occasion coming up, or when I just don’t have time to put makeup on that morning. But this is out of my control and I have to be ok with that or I else I spend 30 minutes having a breakdown over a whitehead that takes up literally .0000001% of my skin. It’s not productive.
So what, then, is the resolution to all of this? Well, I’m still figuring that out. I think our society in general is still figuring out how we should approach these issues, how we can make our skin, like our bodies, something we can embrace as perfect and unique despite its “imperfections”. We talk about body acceptance, but we shouldn’t neglect skin acceptance in this dialogue. My skin has gotten better with age, but it’s not perfect. Now that I’m in my 20s I see new things happening to my skin, and I’m not 100% pleased. But I can’t let this ruin my day. I can’t let people constantly trying to offer me the solution to all my skin issues or asking me if I’ve tried going gluten free (as if it is bread that is the root of the evil that is my acne) really bring me down. I’m so much more than what is on my skin, and no cream or diet could ever convince me otherwise.