Acne & Agony: The Social Stigma of Bad Skin
For 20 years, I have dealt with bad skin as a result of acne.
By the age of ten, I had experienced my first pimple. It was a painful introduction as I entered into puberty. At the age of 13, I had tried more productions, potions and old home remedies than I care to recall. My mother had old cakey “acne-fighting” makeup, which only brought more attention to the aforementioned hot zones. You can only imagine my embarrassment when I walked into school, confident that no one would notice my blemishes, only to be asked why I had purple dots all over my face by the teacher.
My mom knew all about having bad skin because she too had it when she was a teen. She had also explored extreme measures to eradicate it. She too tried peels, masks and even the infamous Accutane. I’ve tried facial masks of every colour and type. Nothing worked. Although I had never gone as far as to try Accutane, I did try Differin. This did nothing but make my face terribly red, dry and exaggerated my existing acne. My mom assured me that in time I would grow out of it just as she had when she reached adulthood. Most of the people I hung out with had clear effortless skin. They smoked cigarettes, consumed alcohol, are tons of junk food, and did not have the slightest tell-tale sign of angry skin.
All I had to do was watch a McDonalds ad and I would get a breakout. Once when I was 15, I mentioned how badly I felt about my skin while at a doctor’s appointment, and the doctor had eagerly recommended The Pill as an all around benefit for my situation. She prescribed Diane 35 to me as it was known at the time for clearing up acne, as well as preventing pregnancy. Bonus! So I anxiously waited for the birth control pill to kick-in. Everyday, I checked the mirror to see if the offending mess on my face had magically disappeared. It took 3 months before my skin started to settle down and the bumps were getting less frequent. After a year, I had almost forgotten what it was like to live with acne. My skin had cleared, and now I could fall asleep with my makeup on. I could go camping for a week with nothing but toothbrush, and come back with blemish free skin. For 7 years it was this way.
Then My Life Changed
When I was 22, my father passed away from cancer. 10 months later, my mother also passed away from the complications of a stroke.
I began to rethink my priorities. I got married, went off birth control with the hope that I had out-grown my acne. I had two children, with a mild form of hormonal acne, but it didn’t raise much cause for concern. After the birth of my daughter, I went back to the pill once again. I was pressured by physicians that I should not want another baby anytime soon, but the pill made me feel horrible and sick.
I made the decision to get off it again. When this happened, I began to notice my acne slowly, but surely, coming back. It wasn’t a dramatic reappearance. I noticed that some months it would be worse than others, but I was so busy with my life that I didn’t have the time to dwell on it. By the time I was 26, I was getting full-force acne back. Not only on my face this time, but it generously decided to spread to my chest and back. My first thought was to jump back on the pill, but I knew that would never be a ‘cure’ as I couldn’t stay on the pill forever.
I began to research causes of acne and made the determination that mine was a case of adult hormonal acne. This was nothing that I would just grow out of. I was closing in on 30, and it had no signs of leaving. In fact, it had become worse. The blemishes were now the type that one did not just simply pop. No, these were dark and sinister monsters that you could feel coming, and continued to be a constant menace for weeks.
So far this is not a “How I cured my acne for good, and if you buy my book for 19.99, you can too” kind of story. At least, not yet.
There is a stigma about acne, which is as painful as the acne. People tend to think that we don’t take care of ourselves. That we don’t wash, or that we only eat junk food. That is not true. Trust me, if the only thing standing in the way of an acne-free life, was passing on the pizza or using a face cloth, I wouldn’t be writing this. It’s not as simple as that. Granted, some acne can be caused by these simple things, and some people with acne do grow out of it, but there are many people like me, and for them it goes much deeper.
I want people to know that bad skin is not reserved for people who eat too much pizza or chocolate, or never wash their face. Any person born with great genes and complain about the experience of the one pimple in their life, calling it the most embarrassing day in existence, will never know the physical and mental anguish that people with acne go through daily. That being said, I want those people, with the porcelain-like skin, to know that despite the smile we put on as bad skin sufferers, we are still painfully, almost obsessively aware that our skin isn’t perfect. So it would be very helpful if you didn’t point it out.
When I have an enormous zit on my face, I fight the strong urge to hide in bed.
I get up, try to cover it in vain with a bit of concealer, and manage to make it out the door to be social or even just to run errands. I do not need anyone to say ”Oh my, what happened to your face?” or “ Ouch that looks like it hurts” or the even better “Oh is that a zit?” while you peer at my face. I am well aware of the pulsating carbuncle on my cheek when I wake up. Truth is, we know its there and we probably spent a lot of time peering at it ourselves. The last thing we need is for you to point it out after we had maybe, just maybe, began to forget about it for the day. Trust me, if we could wave a magic wand, I’m sure the majority of us would pick perfect skin over a new car.
I must say to all those who suffer from acne, do not let it ruin your life.
I can tell you from experience, even on my worst days, I chose to go out and enjoy myself. Years later, you will only remember how fun that day was, not that you had acne. It affects us profoundly, but there is nothing like having a great personality overshadowed by the incubus of acne. So for those who do not experience this condition, next time you see someone suffering from it, tell them that they look good. Any little boost of confidence can help tremendously. For those who do suffer, hold your head up high. Remember that when you are older, you will not be reminiscing about all the time you spent hiding out at home because you were worried about your skin. Instead, you will be remembering all the places you went despite what your skin was doing.
Make acne take the back seat to your adventures, and do not miss opportunities because of it. It’s not worth it.
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