My decade with acne

Navigating my perception of my skin and myself

Jodie has struggled with embracing her acne.
Photo: 

My relationship with my skin has never been great.

I’ve spent the majority of my preteen, teenage, and young adult life struggling with acne. It’s a little hormonal, a little stress-related, which means pinning down one daily routine that works all the time is nearly impossible.

If my hair is dirty, I can wash it. If my clothing doesn’t fit right, I can replace it. But my acne has never been that easy of a fix. Since I was about 12, it has always made me feel out of control.

I would spend hours in the beauty aisle of drug stores reading the back of bottles, trying to find something that would make me feel in control of my uncontrollable skin. It has been an almost decade-long battle fought with Proactiv, Neutrogena, CeraVe, Cetaphil, and a lot of crying.

Constantly reminding myself that my pimples were probably caused by puberty and would go away soon was my only solace.

Going through puberty at a really young age meant my skin troubles started when I was around 12 years old. My emo side-swept bangs lead to some forehead acne, as well as a few pimples here and there on my cheeks.

I spent the majority of my grade school years avoiding looking at myself in mirrors. I couldn’t see my face without wanting to get rid of every whitehead and blackhead that covered my chin and cheeks. Every high school washroom break meant I came back to class with a red face, unable to leave my skin alone.

I wasn’t the only one trying to get rid of my acne.

“Cutting out sugar and dairy would get rid of that,” my mom would assure me.

“You might have less of a pizza face if you stopped touching your face so much,” a coworker at my part-time job kindly suggested.

Unsolicited comments like these only confirmed my worst fears: people were noticing my acne and judging me based on it. If these people noticed my acne, would future boyfriends be grossed out when I had a flare up?

My only reference for attractiveness was the famous people I saw in movies and television, and their skin was completely flawless. I became convinced that the only thing holding me back from being good-looking in any sense was my skin, and that once I cleared it up, I would finally be happy with my looks.

Rooted in a lack of representation of real acne in the media, there were times it felt like I was the only person who was struggling with it.

My Mom assured me that my brothers and dad had dealt with teenage acne too, and that washing my face and not picking would help me avoid scars when I was an adult. Hundreds of coming of age movies confirmed that one or two pimples on the day of the big dance were fine—I would have a huge ‘glow up’ when I got to university.

But here I am, 21 years old, definitely not getting any taller and if anything, my acne has worsened with age.

My acne was at its worst in my second year of university. My assignments were suddenly much harder and my stress felt unmanageable at times. On top of my piling work, new cystic acne on the entire lower half of my face made staying locked in my room feel like the only option I had.

There were days where I couldn’t leave the house because of my fear that people might perceive me as dirty or gross. I asked a housemate to show me how to apply foundation and concealer, in the hopes it would cover up the painful red spots that covered my face.

Memes about ‘taking your girl swimming on the first date’ to see if she’s wearing makeup only added to my anxieties. The fear that I would be ‘outed’ for my acne began controlling my life. I cut out sugar, dairy, and almost emptied my bank account buying different cleansers and toners promising to clarify my skin.

None of it worked. I bought a photo editing application to edit spots out of images with friends and family, convinced that it was okay because my acne didn’t feel fair.

When third year began, I decided I’d had enough. I stopped wearing makeup every day, allowed myself a cookie when I wanted one, and went on a few dates with nothing but a little mascara.

My first article for The Journal featured a photo of me, and my decision to stop wearing makeup was tested when I smiled for the camera. It’s a photo of myself that I don’t love, but not because of how my skin looks. I feel bad for that girl, who was so scared people would see her skin the way it was naturally.

But my acne is no longer a secret.

I try not to conceal it every day anymore. Going out and taking photos with friends without a full face of makeup has made it less of a shock when I see my acne day-to-day. My days of editing acne out of images are finally over.

It’s still hard when big events roll around and my skin isn’t clear. I had a little cry in the car on the way to my brother’s wedding when I realized I wouldn’t have time to apply my makeup well enough to cover up a new bout of spots from the day before.

I’ve come to accept that I will never have the clear, smooth skin some of my friends have. There are days I still look at myself in the mirror and tear up, wishing photo ops could be documented without featuring my acne on full display, but they’re fewer and farther in between than they were when I was younger.

I want to say I’m at the end of a journey of self-acceptance, that I don’t care anymore when my skin flares up, but I do. It’s currently clearer than it’s been in a while, but I live in fear of the next time I will have to put on my big girl pants and smile for a photo with acne on my face.

But I’m more confident now that I know how to do that. After 10 years of trying to change the way I look, I’ve realized that my acne is not the only part of me that dictates the way I am perceived. Sure, it’s one part of a bigger picture, but my skin is just that: just skin.   

Tags: 

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.