To know me, you should know this: Getting my eyebrows done is the only thing that makes me feel like I have control of my life. Born with a caterpillar of a unibrow that could rival Count Olaf, each time I look in the mirror and see clean, non-conjoined arches, I breathe a sigh of relief. Yet during my last brow sesh, an esthetician ripped that privileged feeling from my skin as if it were an unwanted facial hair, telling me that my skin was broken out and suggesting products to clear it up.
Whoa. Please back the hell up.
I’m very used to my waxer asking me if I’d like to add on additional treatments like getting my lip waxed. And separately, I’m very used to people (unprompted) talking about the quality of my skin; however, never before has the negative energy of both fused together into a hellish half-hour dialog about my hormonal acne. One singular thought screamed over and over in my head: “Please don’t talk about my skin problems.” Because, while she was fixated on “clearing up my skin,” I couldn’t help but think that I’d like to clear up why it’s no longer appropriate to comment on the state of someone else’s complexion.
In case you don’t know it, having acne sucks
If you have never had to deal with acne, you have no idea how all-consuming it can be. A 2017 study reviewing 13 separate articles found that acne-sufferers have substantially lower self-esteem than those with “clear skin,” and the worse acne gets, the lower one’s self-esteem sinks. Considering that pimples tend to pop up around the onset of puberty, I don’t think it’s any shocker that self-esteem tends to plateau during that time as well. My skin began to betray me approximately around then, and ever since I’ve battled vile comments about being a “pizza face” (ahhh, kids).
As I got older, people approached it with a veil of sympathy, offering up solutions and trying to help. This could be a porcelain-skinned friend who used tea-tree oil on a single PMS zit back in 2006 and was cured on impact, or a beauty pro who had an arsenal of zit-zapping beauty products to sell (wild coincidence, huh?), or a loved one who cuts to the chase about my chin breakout.
Whenever someone comments on my skin, I wonder if I’m a problem to be fixed. What I’ve started telling myself in silent retaliation is that I’m not the problem. My acne is the problem, and even then, it’s only a problem if I decide it is.
The only absolute cure to adult acne is acceptance, and outside parties tamper with that
When someone comments on my skin problems, rest assured it’s not news to me (reminder: I’ve been dealing with this for 20 years). It’s not helpful. You’re not doing me a favor by telling me to not pick at my skin, because if you couldn’t tell by the acne scars it’s a little late for that.
I lost the genetic lottery, and I’ve accepted it. I’m now to the point where I (just me, not you thanks!) am choosing what to do about my complexion. For me, there is no “embracing my acne” and “celebrating” my pimples. I’m all for the body positivity movement, but absolutely f**k no to romanticizing this situation.
In a recent conversation with my colleagues, we discussed how wellness largely has to do with agency and choice since everyone’s experience is so personal. What works for you won’t necessarily work for me and all that jazz. As I explained to this tone-deaf esthetician, I’m starting to go to a dermatologist to get my skin—and self-esteem—to where I want it to be. If you are the person I am literally paying to aid with my skin problems, or if I elect to click on an article that says rosewater toner could be a godsend, then yes, tell me all the things.
Even in doing that, I’ve accepted that that no magic pill or topical treatment will give me Rachel Brosnahan’s complexion. And that’s not even what I want. I don’t need to be polished-marble perfect. I don’t expect to be perfect. I just need to be happy with me, and not be pushed out of my skin’s own equilibrium with others’ opinions.
There are enough bumps along the way of my wellness journey without passersby pointing out those on my face. Part of my current mission is to seize control of parts of my life that, unlike my eyebrows, I don’t feel like I have control of, whether that’s my finances, my mental health, or yes, my acne. And like any wellness practice, each day of complexion acceptance brings on new challenges, but here’s to hoping that in the future that list no longer includes what other people think.
If you are seeking pimple positivity, here are some actual good things that come from having acne. Plus, how once editor started taking medication for her acne – and realized how different everyone’s skin journey is.
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