I’m just going to come out say it: In the age of Airbrush, Facetune, Photoshop, Instagram aesthetics, and supermodel “it” girls (looking at you, Gigi Hadid), it’s hard out here for many of us ladies to feel like we measure up. I mean that in both a personal and observatory way, as in, it’s hard to feel pretty when my feed is constantly inundated with images of seeming ‘perfection’ when I feel like I am not perfect.
In fact, the skin on my face is almost always irritated, perpetually scarred, and continually inflamed thanks to my continuous battle with acne. In my world, mornings are a struggle, photos are largely avoided, and makeup is my best friend—that is, until I decided to stop always covering up.
My acne journey is not unlike many others. Packs of pesky, persistent pimples have resided on my face since the ripe age of 15 due to that lovely thing called puberty, mixed with some decidedly unlucky genetics (while there’s no such thing as an “acne gene,” there are proven elements of our hereditary makeup that can make one more predisposed to factors that can cause it).
And while it was one thing to suffer from those angry red bumps when I was a teen, it’s an entirely different beast to still be plagued by them as a full-fledged adult. My battle with “bad” skin is an ongoing one and probably will be for the rest of my life.
Nowadays, big meetings, interviews, and dates take on a whole new obstacle: How do I cover my zits so they’re not the first thing people see? It’s my face, after all. People have to look at it. Yet despite being young or old, if it’s a new problem or an on-going one, whether it’s environmental, hormonal, bacterial, genetic, diet-related, or stress-induced, acne has this otherworldly power to make us feel ugly. And to be honest, I’m exhausted by it.
Like many, my steadfast quest to somehow change my DNA and achieve perfect, normal skin has lead me to spend hundreds of dollars on every cream, pill, prescription, and wash on the market, ferociously hoping that each one would quell the small army of bumps waging a war on my face. Some have helped, some have made it worse, and many have done absolutely nothing.
Isotretinoin (known as its former generic, Accutane) was one that did help. For a few blissful years, I was predominantly acne-free, only to then be extremely disheartened when a move back to New York caused my acne to once again rear its very ugly head. After years of being clear and super confident (like, Kanye-level confidence), that sinking feeling of no longer being conventionally “attractive” because of my skin made me not just sad, but incredibly frustrated. My acne recurrence post-Accutane left me once again staring at the shades of makeup in the drugstore aisle, contemplating which one would be the fullest coverage to camouflage my oozing, throbbing face.
In my years of struggling to accept my skin, I have successfully mastered the art of coverage. In high school and beyond, I was that person who knew exactly the right way to layer color corrector, concealer, foundation, and mineral powder in a way that will probably make some people reading this say, “Wait, you had acne?”
Until I really thought about it. When you take a step back, the phenomenon of appearing like you have perfect skin is kind of odd. We almost do it as a service to others, so they don’t have to bear to look at our flaws.
After all we, as sufferers and the owners of this skin, are used to it. It’s what we see when we wake up and look in the mirror, when we get out of the shower, when we wipe away that makeup at the end of the day. Liking it? Accepting it? Now that’s a different story. But as humans, flaws are a part of our being. Plus, as one Man Repeller article put it, what if acne wasn’t a flaw?
Approximately 60 million Americans have active acne (20 percent of whom are adults), meaning if you have it, you are far from alone (newsflash: even the Kardashians breakout sometimes). But for some reason, (hint: the media) those with acne suffer not just externally, but internally, and psychologically, too. A recent New York Times article reported that those with acne are more likely to experience some sort of depression, proving that the condition goes beyond the physical. It’s all about perception. The inability to make eye contact, nervous picking at the skin, and avoiding high-pressure social situations are ways we cope with this lingering feeling that people looking at us are perceiving us as dirty or ugly.
I know all too well what it’s like to browse the makeup aisle and see my face as an image of the sad, red, flaw-filled before picture in the newest foundation ad, which is why I find the #nomakeup movement so refreshing.
Don’t get me wrong, I love makeup. I just think the makeup industry has a long way to go when it comes to embracing people with flaws in a positive and productive manner. Loving and accepting your face the way it is? Now that’s revolutionary.
I want to be a part of that revolution. So I decided to let my skin “breathe” and stopped covering up.
The first day I did it, I cried the whole way to work. I don’t know any other way to put it than me just being completely devastated by my own appearance. How sad is that? My pores had the power to make me repulsed by own reflection. But refusing to succumb to feelings of inadequacy, I used social media for one of it’s positive purposes, and looked to feel less alone.
What I found by scrolling through @myfacestory Kali Kushner’s empowering words and photos, along with #skinpositivity, were tons of people (both makeup users and not) that were raw and open about their battles with “bad” skin. Honestly, the pro-acne community is one of the best things to happen to Instagram. When I looked at these girls, I saw beauty—in their outfits, their hair, their eyes, their kind and encouraging words, their souls, and their outlook on beauty and these things we labeled as “blemishes.” I accepted and realized the beauty of these women because I understood their pain, and I came to the realization that I should probably treat my own appearance with the same kind of acceptance and kindness as I treated theirs.
It’s not easy. Everyday I choose not to wear makeup or pick at my face or actually address my breakouts I have to make a conscious choice. Some days, there’s nothing I can do to keep myself from reaching for that concealer, some days I’m fine going without it. In the end, I’m not at the point where I’m totally okay with accepting my face and my skin the way it is. But I’m working on it.
In the meantime, just how we have learned to embrace bodies in all their various-shaped glory, we should embrace all different faces, too. From scars to active breakouts, rosacea, inflammation, sun spots, tone, texture, color and more, there really is no one standard definition of beauty. Just look at this badass runway model.
I’m taking my steady journey with acne as a lesson in perseverance, and learning to be more compassionate, less superficial, and more empowered about who I am beneath the makeup. Because at the end of the day, I’m so much more than those little marks on my skin, and you are, too. My advice? Whatever you need to do to feel good about the skin you’re in, do it. But do it for your incredible, already worthy self, and no one else, and remember that you’re far from alone in this journey.
Here’s to putting our best faces forward—and society following suit.
Read more personal essays:
I Quit Social Media for a Week, and This Is Why I’ll Do It Again
How I Quit Pressing Snooze and Finally Became a Morning Person
I Quit TV for a Week, Here's What Happened
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