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Like many Western women, I’ve had my share of body image struggles. In my case, this struggle has mostly centered around my skin. This is because I have dealt with acne for much of my life. I was seventeen when it was at its worst. Though in the best physical shape of my life, I was barely able to look at myself in the mirror because every time I did, I could only see the red pustules and cysts that dominated my cheeks, jaw, and chin. Even when one healed, a red or purple scar marked its place.
It seemed I was surrounded by peers with clear, dewy, glowing skin. I remember walking around my college campus and looking at the faces of every girl I passed, comparing her skin to mine. Clearness, texture, color, number of pimples, you name it, I rated it. To say I was jealous and obsessive was an understatement. I craved clear skin like theirs, and I did everything I could afford to make that happen.
When my efforts failed and I realized my acne was a permanent condition, I started to feel I was “not good enough” as a human being. In my mind, the fact that I had “defective, disgusting” skin meant I was worth less than others with better skin than me. This feeling bled into numerous aspects of my life. When I went clothes shopping, I would try on a beautiful top and look at myself in the mirror. Even if the top fit great, I would compare its beauty to that of my skin and decide that the clothing couldn’t make me look any better, or that my skin only detracted from the beauty of the clothing and therefore I didn’t deserve to wear it.
This feeling of unworthiness also affected my dating life. If a man I didn’t want to date asked me out, I would remind myself of my mother’s repeated mantra: “beggars can’t be choosy.” I felt so ugly that someone I had no romantic interest in, might be “the best I could hope for” and that I shouldn’t have high standards because a better man would want someone prettier. This led to many awful relationships that never should have started in the first place.
But it wasn’t just the internal voices that hurt my self-esteem. I can’t tell you how often someone, usually well-meaning, would blame me for my acne. These feelings of unworthiness were compounded by the shame and resentment I felt whenever someone said “just wash your face!” and “don’t eat sugary junk food” or “stop thinking about it.” I was over-the-top hygienic and boycotted unhealthy foods for nearly a decade, and still could not obtain clear skin. How could I stop thinking about it when it was so out of my control and something I couldn’t hide?
Eventually, I was prescribed Accutane, a heavy-duty drug that is the last-ditch hope for acne sufferers. It gave me a few blissful, medication-free years of clear skin. My acne started to come back, but it was far less severe than before and it is more easily controlled by a strict, carefully tailored skincare regimen (you can learn how to create your own regimen with pumpkin seed oil, jojoba oil, and castor oil).
I was very lucky. Feelings of embarrassment and anxiety still come up though. However, I address them differently now. I have accepted acne as something I will always have, to some extent, but I do not tie imperfections to my sense of self-worth. I try to practice universal human compassion, which as Elizabeth Gilbert says, includes me (and you).
Has your acne made you feel like you aren’t good enough, worthy enough, or deserving enough? I’m guessing the answer for some of you is yes. You are not alone if you’ve had these feelings. Wherever you are in your journey, whatever your needs, I’m here for you. I truly mean that, because it is something I wish someone had told me when my sense of self-worth was at its lowest.