The Acne Aftermath: Self Esteem
How My Struggle with Cystic Acne Shaped My Relationship with Myself
Everyone knows that when acne heals it generally leaves scars on the skin. What some people don’t know is that even when the smoke clears to reveal clear skin with minimal visible scars, the emotional scars will be there. I’ve had acne since I was 11 years old. It came and went with different treatments but I spent the majority of my teenage years hiding severe cystic acne under layers of foundation. When I say severe, I’m not being dramatic. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed because it was physically and emotionally painful, and others where I cried for a few minutes before pulling myself together, covering my skin with makeup, and leaving the house because nobody considers acne a reasonable excuse for missing school.
I struggled to look people in the eyes because I knew that meant they were looking directly at me, at the skin condition that I was deeply embarrassed of. No matter how hard I tried, foundation and concealer couldn’t hide the texture, and I began to resort to other methods of hiding. I pushed people away. I didn’t even realize I was doing it at the time but I was terrified of letting people get physically close to me, so I shied away from emotional closeness as well because generally the two are connected. My senior year of high school I was left with basically one real friend, and while I can’t blame that completely on my acne, I realize now that the way I acted towards other people was a result of my low self esteem, which stemmed from the years I spent suffering with acne.
Two years ago was my freshman year of college, and also the year I finally rid myself of the face demons I spent my teenage years fighting. I went on Accutane over winter break and as a result didn’t leave my house for almost a month. The initial breakout was equal to the worst my skin had ever looked in the past and I was devastated. Luckily, as my winter break wound down and I prepared to return to school, the so-called miracle drug began to show what it was capable of. It was only a slight improvement at this point, it would take 5 months for the drug to work completely, but it gave me hope that allowed me to return to school excited about the prospect of clear skin. And as it does for most people, the Accutane worked for me. It took about 3 and a half months for me to obtain perfectly clear skin for the first time since I was a kid. It even got rid of the blackheads on my nose that I expected would be a part of me forever. It was a surreal feeling. I stopped wearing full coverage foundation everyday and switched to BB cream. Some days I wore no makeup at all. I no longer dreaded getting out of bed in the morning to address my skin condition. I found myself seeking out mirrors instead of avoiding them. It felt like I was looking at a completely different person.
And yet, it was still me. I continued to keep the majority of people in my life at arm’s length. I was no more comfortable with being looked at than I had been post Accutane. Confidence is not just something you gain suddenly, even when the thing you believed to be holding you back for years suddenly isn’t there anymore. I no longer hate my skin, but the critical eye I developed over the years to critique it has found other aspects of my appearance to hate. I wasn’t expecting this. I battled with my skin for so many years and always just assumed that when I fixed it I would be happy. However, I was fighting this battle against myself while I was attempting to grow, and without realizing it I grew into a deeply insecure person.
I am now a junior in college and have spent the past two years after Accutane trying to grow as a person who is no longer fighting a deeply emotional battle with their physical appearance. I no longer have to cancel plans because of an especially bad skin day, and I no longer cry when I look in the mirror in the morning, but living through these experiences has absolutely shaped the person I have become. Even now that my skin is mostly clear, I still carry the weight of years of self hatred and insecurity that cystic acne brought with it. Some days I can’t get enough of looking in the mirror and admiring my appearance and other days I feel just as ugly and insecure as I did when I had the worst skin of my life. No matter which kind of day I’m having, now I try to remind myself as often as possible that I am worth so much more than my appearance. This can be difficult in a culture that is incredibly shallow and focused on outward appearance, but it has been an important part of my journey seeking self confidence to realize that it does not matter if strangers find me attractive or not. My value as a person does not increase or decrease based on how others think I look.
I am really trying now to form meaningful relationships with friends without the fear of judgement that I have felt for so long, and it has been an eye opening journey. One thing I’ve learned is that the kind of people I want in my life are kind, understanding, and do not care at all what my skin looks like now, nor what it looked like before. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel strong enough to search for these people when I was struggling with acne. It took coming to college and clearing my skin for me to realize that the only opinion about my appearance that matters is my own, and I am working everyday to be confident in myself.