One of my current freelancing gigs is writing articles about acne, a job I love, but one that is stirring up a lot of fun (read as: not fun) things for me. The more I learn about the skin care industry, the more I learn about 13-year-old me and feel a bitter vindication. I was not crazy, I was not “too sensitive,” I was right. I just wish I wasn’t.
When I started getting acne and I was supposed to learn how to do makeup to cover it and use a bunch of different creams to get rid of it, I resisted. I thought doing all this meant that I was naturally ugly. I was assured, no, that’s not what it’s about, no one is calling you ugly. And I guess no one ever directly said it to me, but I never really got a sufficient explanation of what it was about then.
So I refused to learn to do makeup, I used the acne creams inconsistently, if at all, and it did not go well. It was an act of stubbornness, a defiance of the Way Things Are, a phase, and worst of all, it made people mad at me. Probably partially because I didn’t know where all this “ugly” feeling was coming from, so I constantly accused the people around me of thinking I was ugly. But I think it also made people mad because I wouldn’t just go with it, I wouldn’t just accept it and move on.
I’d been a very sensitive person long before this, but I vividly remember being told I was being dramatic about all of this, that I was reading too much into it. Eventually, I heard this enough, and saw that no one else seemed overly perturbed by the situation, that I concluded they must be right.
For years, I’ve done the mental gymnastics to accept the way we talk about acne. Mainly by accepting that all of this was my fault. After all, no one was calling me ugly, I was making that up. I was dramatic. Over-sensitive. I was the problem.
I believed this for a long time (okay, I still believe this in many capacities) but all of my acne research has proven to me what I already knew when I was 13: you can’t believe that your skin is lovely when you feel forced to treat it and/or cover it up. The two are simply incompatible. You can try to make them fit together, and you might find a comfortable-enough arrangement, but they are fundamental opposites, and I’m getting tired of expending the mental energy to maintain this cognitive dissonance.
Here’s the truth: the skin care industry makes billions of dollars by making young people, especially young girls, feel like their acne is “embarrassing,” “disgusting,” and “dirty.”* It is not possible to hear this over and over and not take any of it in.
I was not being dramatic, I was not misinterpreting anything. I was reacting rationally to an irrational situation. I just hadn’t learned that this is how it is to be a woman.
* All real words used in many acne advertisements.