Living With Acne

If you clicked on this article expecting lists of facial routines and washes that guarantee to finally put a silencer on your pesky pores, I am sorry to say that this is not the article that you were expecting. But it might be one that you’d like to read anyway.


I’ve been rocking a full face of acne ever since I was a teenager, with practically no periods of time with clear skin in-between. The pimples shift occasionally, get worse and heal, but the fact remains that I have always had the iconic pizza face that teens dread and think that they won’t have to deal with in their later years (sorry, tenth grade me). In recent years the outbreaks have slightly improved, and my face no longer has the appearance of permanent goosebumps, but it is impossible to closely inspect my face and somehow ignore the deep red blemishes that usually reside around my lips, forehead, and temple.


Now, luckily for me, I know for a fact that very few people are taking the time to closely inspect my face from day to day. That’s the first thing I learned when my acne became less of a “typical teen problem” and broke (out) into dermatologist-needed territory. People with chronic acne could draw you an elevation map of their face with the drop of a dime, but the average stranger won’t see a thing—or, at the most, might catch a small glimpse of red, but disregard it because why on earth would they need to retain that information—and move on.


But with that in mind, you start to worry about the people who will deeply inspect your face. Your partners, your friends, or the people appreciating a selfie of you on their timeline. That’s where a lot of my problems come in. I don’t think I’ve taken more than a handful of selfies in my entire time spent at Geneseo. I live almost exclusively within other people’s snapchats, birthday photos and Geneseo promotional material (thanks for that one, Keith Walters). Knowing that the red bumps on my face will be permanently captured in photographs is something I’m incredibly uncomfortable with. I’ve put off meeting people from online dating apps simply because I know they’ll inevitably spend time staring at my face. It’s a weird parallel existence—I know ultimately that people don’t really care about acne. Your friends are not going to abandon you out of some skin condition you have, and potential partners are probably way more accepting than you’re giving them credit for. But at the same time, I am in fear of the moment when they realize I have it. And that’s not a great feeling.


And who could blame me for feeling that way? Every teen magazine I was privy to as a kid had some sort of acne cleanser ad in it. Every Disney show had a “pimple” episode where the protagonists had to experience the inevitable pain and humiliation of their zit (and right before the school dance, too!). Pretty much any Hollywood star who’s been in the limelight for more than three seconds has offered People magazine or similar competitors a story on their daily facial routine. Concealer and benzoyl peroxide get married in increasingly complex concoctions in the makeup aisle, despite concealer being just about the worst thing you can put on acne. And every year the beauty industry comes up with something crazier and crazier to put pimples in their place, like the multiple light therapy masks on the market.





I mean, seriously, wouldn’t wearing something like this make you feel like you had contracted some terrible disease?


We as a society see acne as pretty much one of the worst afflictions to grace our bodies. Of course, the beauty industry will seize any “flaw” (if you can even call them that) the human body has in order to turn a profit, but acne absolutely bears the brunt of most of these efforts. Everywhere from CVS to Sephora to the local vitamin shop offers a massive line of facial wipes, creams, gels, pills, and whatever a human being could possibly process through their body in the promise of clear skin.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to glorify acne. I see a dermatologist in order to have some semblance of control over it (I’ll let you know when that happens). I’d rather my face not scar from persistent acne. When I pull a sweater over my head and my face screams in response, it hurts. When every slice of wind threatens to pick away at the dry skin falling off my face to add to the current snowstorm, it’s embarrassing. But acne also doesn’t deserve the massive shame treatment that it gets. The American Academy of Dermatology lists that besides the potential for scarring, acne holds a host of emotional side effects, such as depression and low self-esteem. Acne has been treated as more than just a blemish on your face, it’s a blemish on your self-image. That’s why you have to cover it. That’s why you to do anything and everything to cure it.


But maybe, just maybe, in the rush to cure it, we shouldn’t forget how to live with it. We need to stay acutely aware of where our shame is stemming from, and consider if we really want to live a life defined by whether or not our face lines up with what it’s “supposed” to look like.


To prove my point, I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. Here’s the first selfie I’ve taken of myself in ages. I am acutely aware that I am angling my face and hair to hide the worse of my acne. But it’s a start.


And if I can make that step, maybe my fellow pizza faces can too.


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