I’m not ugly. Of course there are days when I don’t believe that. But deep down I know it’s not really true. I do well on a good day. Nonetheless, I’m familiar with all my flaws. Larger than normal nose, unevenly matched boobs, rather sizeable thighs. But the one flaw that stares me in the face every morning and evening, the one that cries out to me in every photo, is my acne scars.
I’ve had acne since I was 12 and I am far from coming out the other side. Thankfully, it’s now kept tightly under control by artificial hormones, but one or two missed pills and I flare up like prepubescent all over again. I did everything you were supposed to with acne, and everything you weren’t. Nothing helped. It persisted, at times painfully. So painful that I often couldn’t bring myself to cover it up so I resigned myself to an ugly day, week, month. Trying instead to look my best in other ways, while knowing I was failing. No amount of hairstyling, nice clothes, or smiling was going to distract from my one giant spot of a face. And while it’s currently lying low, I find myself left with permanent reminders in the shape of scars, which can never be fully covered no matter how much industrial-strength concealer I use. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Acne and its scars did not make me who I am today. It did, however, have a significant role in shaping my body confidence. On ugly days when make up was impossible to apply, I had to resign myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be fitting in with the girls who managed to fake the appearance of flawless skin, and the possibility that a boy might be looking at me was firmly ruled out. Unable to worry about these common teenage hang-ups meant I was free to do and say what I wanted to do and say. I learnt to be less conscious of what people thought of me, and felt brave enough to voice my own opinions, not the ones I thought people wanted to hear. That’s not to say I didn’t have days when I desperately wanted, and tried, to look and act a bit more like everyone else. But I was, and possibly still am, less concerned with this than many of my peers, and I think the roots of that lie in my acne past. And when I could wear make up, if ever I caught myself thinking I couldn’t leave the house without it, I would deliberately force myself to go bare-faced. It stopped me taking my appearance, and myself, too seriously and I still live by it today. The first couple of days are always disgusting, but I’ve found that once you grow used to your naked face, you begin to see the natural beauty lurking below the dark eye rings and cratered skin.
What’s more, acne gave me a sense of humour about my body image. I can identify my self-perceived flaws (there’s no shortage of them), and ridicule them to high heaven. I giggle at lopsided breasts. I make jokes about thigh claps. And I laugh in the face of acne. I try not to take my appearance so seriously because I’ve learnt that ultimately people aren’t paying attention. How many people even noticed that I was having an ‘ugly day’? I suspect I could count them on one hand, if that. The only person that really notices is you because everyone else is too distracted with their own appearance hang-ups. I now concentrate on making myself feel happy in front of the mirror, and forget everyone else.
So thank you acne. Far from ruining my self-esteem, you have given me a type of body confidence that has set me up for life. But that’s not an invitation for you to come raging back the moment I come off this pill. In fact, in recent months I have taken steps to hopefully get rid of acne for good. More to come on that.