I grew up with acne in my teens and suffered through it on and off for 10 years. As you might already know, acne isn't exactly an easy thing to go through. If you have acne, what do you do?
You have to cover that sh*t up, right? I mean, you're not actually thinking of leaving the house looking like that? That's how I used to think. I started hiding, and I was good at it.
I covered up my spots to the best of my ability. I covered up the flaws with makeup, but later I began covering up other flaws in my soul (to be incredibly dramatic). I covered the flaws I wasn't ready to let others see, the flaws I might have been judged or criticized for.
I renounced vulnerability and became a shell of a human being, a seemingly perfect shell. I thought feeling insecure or showing emotion made me look weak, and I wanted to look strong. I didn't get outwardly mad or sad, I kept all those goodies to myself. I seemed like a happy-go-lucky, confident woman who seemed to have everything going for her. I was projecting the kind of person I thought I should be to the world. Yes, I was those things, but I was also more.
I could make great first impressions and I could communicate well, but I wasn't sharing anything more than surface level, boring stuff. Acne made me feel flawed, so I was on a mission to prove that I wasn't. I was definitely overcompensating.
Trying to seem perfect became a way of life.
For years, I wore photoshoot-ready makeup every day. I went to the mall looking perfect, to the grocery store looking perfect, to see my friends down the street looking perfect. I even wore makeup just hanging out at home.
I started taking better care of myself by eating well and exercising (usually with makeup on). My health was improving, and consequently so was my skin. But I still wore all of that makeup. I even remember not wanting to wash it off until it was dark so that my boyfriend at the time didn't have to see me without makeup for long. I'd wake up and do my makeup first thing in the morning.
I thought I had to maintain a certain perception of myself. These were my late teens and early 20s, though. Then something clicked. Maybe the fake confidence became real, or maybe I finally grew up. I started to wear less makeup, and even venture outside the house without it.
I started liking how I looked without makeup. I felt innocent and pure without it. I thought my flaws — acne included — gave me character. I felt it somehow made me different and special. I found the beauty in the flaws. My perception of myself changed. It stopped being about what somebody else thought, and it started being about me. I wanted to make myself happy first.
I still wore makeup, but much less of it. I liked looking polished, but I didn't care as much as I once did. My routine went from being 45 minutes long (just on makeup), to being 10 to 15 minutes long. I went from wearing full coverage foundation and a full face of makeup to just using concealer and powder.
I was even OK waking up in the morning next to a man with no makeup on and feeling good about myself. One lover said he thought I looked even more beautiful in the morning. It felt good to hear, even though I understood that my self-worth doesn't depend on my skin or my face.
I began to put less pressure on myself about my appearance in my mid-20s (about time). I knew I had a lot to bring to the table, and my looks weren't the main thing.
Lately, I've been learning to open up more and share actual feelings with close people in my life. Sharing fears and worries with others actually made my relationships stronger. Fearless me seemed super unapproachable, anyway.
Telling others when I'm sad, angry or upset, is still incredibly difficult. I'm used to being the perfect woman who could get through any situation without losing her cool or tears smearing her perfect makeup. Being real is more valuable than perfection. There's something really beautiful about being flawed. Not only was I starting to feel real, but I was also starting to feel whole. You can even call it perfect because I started thinking that my flaws were perfect, and perfectly contributed to my perfection.
I finally began to love myself for real.
Acne was frustrating, devastating, sometimes humiliating, but it taught me a lot. It contributed to my growth and ultimate self-love.
It was difficult to project confidence when my skin looked horrible, but it forced me to work on myself from the inside out, or from the outside in. It taught me to accept myself. But here I am, confident, clear-skinned and on a path to success.
Yes, you can still date when you have acne.
I had acne, and now I have a man. Men, like acne, are another test. To clarify, I mean men, not boys. So, to hide or not to hide? When another person is involved in my life, can I still love myself as much as I learned to? Can I be myself and not feel judged for being less than perfect? I better.
Men don't mean to be insensitive and foolish creatures. They are bombarded with sexy, seemingly "perfect" women left and right. These women are on their computers, TVs and phones. Women are bombarded with these images too, which explains why I was obsessed with perfection for so long.
Then a man meets a seemingly perfect woman in real life. She's pretty and smart, and can even hold a conversation. Jackpot. They date for a month or so and things get intimate. She finally lets him in on her little secret: She puts on honey face masks before bed.
"Ugh!" he exclaimed, recoiling from the once perfect woman he thought he knew. Here I was working on myself for years, trying not to allow someone else's opinion influence me and that was all it took for me to become that insecure woman with a face full of acne again. “Ugh” is right. I'm only human.
Last night when I leaned in to kiss him, he told me my face was "sebummy." It's my own fault for telling him what sebum was. I don't care what he thinks, yet I get (a little) upset when he tells me my face is shiny. I want to slap him and tell him that this is real life. Sebum happens in real life to real people.
A man might think he wants the woman in the magazine or big screen, but that woman requires some f*cking upkeep (hair, makeup, stylist, lighting, airbrushing). How real is that? Some guys say they prefer women who doesn't wear any makeup, but my guy prefers it when I do.
The point is, it's not up to him.
Men can say whatever they want, but a real woman just won't care. A real woman will do whatever is best for her. Amazingly, that's the kind of woman a man will love and respect. My boyfriend doesn't want me to lose myself. He certainly doesn't want me to change for him, and neither do I.
If I don't want to look like an airbrushed model, I'm not going to. If I want to put on my honey mask before bed and look like a golden, sticky mess, then I will. If I am looking especially oily at the end of the day, I don't care.
Yes, it would be nice if he didn't care either. I'd love it if he could look at my oily face and think I look pretty, or at least cute because it's my oily face. But I can't change him or his opinions, just like he can't change me or mine. The only thing I can change is how I look at things.
His acceptance isn't really important when my acceptance is what really matters. Though this is hard to remember when my ego is hurting, it's true nonetheless.
I don't want to hide anymore.
Acne made me want to hide, and it also made me strive for impossible perfection. It was misguided, stressful and didn't serve me. Who wants to live like that? I just want to be myself, sebum included.
Acne and men have a lot in common.
Acne can challenge your opinion of yourself. It can shake your self-worth, if you let it. A man can challenge your opinion of yourself. He can shake your self-worth, if you let him. The point is, I don't let any external thing shake my being.
The old me — the one who's afraid of her flaws being seen — peeks out once in a while, and reminds me how far I've come from those days of running from myself. She's there for perspective. I'm not perfect, and my boyfriend is definitely not perfect. But that's the point.