This may be the most personal thing I have ever written about (to share with the public. I of course have many anecdotes tucked safely away in Microsoft Word documents that will never see the light of day), and it is most definitely the hardest. Despite having been very open about my struggles with depression and anxiety, the medications I have taken to deal with them, my experiences with therapy, and so on, I have never really written about my greatest insecurity, and the one thing that has caused me consistent distress for as long as I can remember: my skin.
It seems to me that we are currently experiencing an upsurge in a phenomenon that has been come to be known as “body positivity.” Finally, after decades of dealing with magazines and television that typically only depict thin, white, airbrushed women, people are realizing that the portrayals of femininity and womanhood that are showcased in the media are not true reflections of the vast majority. Now more than ever, women are being encouraged to embrace their true selves, resulting in growing advocations to “love your curves”–or your natural hair, or your disability, etc. And as a result of the changing attitude (or perhaps a cause of it), ad campaigns, magazines, and television series are displaying more diversity and becoming more inclusive. Which is pretty freaking awesome if you ask me. But one population that has seemed to be left on the sidelines of this whole “body positivity” movement is the one I can identify with most, and I know for certain I am not the only one. Despite the increased celebration of women of all body shapes and sizes and colors, it is almost impossible to find a woman in media whose skin isn’t as clear as a baby’s. Where are the wrinkles, the pores, the blackheads? Where are the women whose faces don’t look like those in a Neutrogena commercial, but are varying colors of white and pink and red? Where are the women like me?
I have dealt with acne of varying severities and degrees since I was young. It’s genetic, as both my sisters and my mother have all experienced similiar conditions, which makes it more difficult to treat (so, no, coconut oil will most likely not be the answer to all my problems). At times, including in the present moment, it has gotten so bad that it’s it hurts to even lie down at night. And sometimes, inexplicably, it improves for a short while, only to return with a renewed vigor that always seems to last ages. It’s the only part of myself that I’ve ever felt the pressure to hide.
I am writing this because, despite all the amazing progress that has been made in body positivity, I still feel like people view acne as something to be ashamed or embarrassed of. As if it is something that is caused by carelessness or lack of hygiene, when in reality I have a stricter skincare routine than most people I know, and the amount of money I’ve spent on facial products in my life could probably put me through a semester in college (with a platinum meal plan and a daily trip to Starbucks). Yet, despite this, people still (for some reason beyond me) assume that it is okay to give me unsolicited advice about my skin, as if they are doing me a great service by pointing out something that they think needs improvement. And (for some reason beyond me) I feel pressured to say thank you, instead of two other choice words that come to mind more quickly. You wouldn’t give an overweight woman suggestions on how to drop pounds unless she asked, so why is this any more acceptable?
I am writing this because for a long time my skin has made me feel “less than,” much how I imagine anyone with any bodily insecurity has often felt. I am stirred by the body positivity movement and what it means to me personally: the growing awareness that our physical differences should be celebrated–or at the very least, embraced and accepted. I don’t mean to be revolutionary; I think we are moving in this direction already anyway. I predict that in another few years, the transparent concept of “perfection” will be replaced with more and more people welcoming the notion that beauty cannot be defined.