It's hard to describe what it's like to truly hate the way you look. Not in some self-effacing, affected modesty. I'm talking about it's like to hold contempt for one's face with a visceral, burning hatred.
Around 2011 or 2012, I read somewhere about puberty actually being delivered in segments rather than the rushed, all-inclusive flurry of activity between childhood and everything else.
Yes, the sitcom-worthy parts come seemingly all at once. The voice changes, hair growth, etc. But what they don't tell you is that the hormones start going crazy after 20. For me, they pulled off a creative tour de force and within a four-week span of time, I went from having relatively okay skin to looking not unlike the elephant man.
It changed everything about how I conducted myself. People were polite, for the most part. Children stared but adults were decent enough to feign ignorance of the sebum craters that spread from neck to widow's peak.
The downside of this having happened at the age of 23 was that I had neither the resources or the mental framework to deal with it. I oscillated between obsessing over which angles in the mirror didn't fill me with shame and dread or I just ignored it.
I was careful about being documented. There are few images me, and absolutely none of my face, from the summer of 2013.
I carefully considered the colors of clothing that would either minimize or heighten the acne's appearance. The time of day, the weather, the lighting, indoors and out. I considered it all before leaving the house. Overcast skies and the first hour after sunset became my favorites. Like a low-stakes Nosferatu, cold, halogen lights and bright, piercing sunlight were things I actively avoided.
I never tell anyone that before it happened, I used to love really over-saturated sunsets, especially the ones in late summer. But pink and amber skies usually gave me the most unflattering lighting and under them, I felt like I was under a microscope.
Over time, I started to realize it changed how I interacted with people. My conception of personal space developed a much wider berth that I maintained so no one would get a close look at me. I walked faster, smiled less, but didn't scowl. My clothing became quieter, as I did. Nothing to attract too much attention.
It got better, slowly. When it stops being humid in Philadelphia, usually around mid-October, my skin calms the fuck down a little. Enough of a respite from sebum, sweat, and the unending glare of UV rays.
It took years to physically come back to a state of clarity that was comparable to what I had before the huge breakout, but I think it's just one of those insecurities I'll see even if no one else does. And that's okay.
In that time I waited for my skin to clear, I had to keep living. Although, I'd be lying if I said that the pursuit of a full-time online content strategy job done from the comfort of my living room wasn't influenced by my desire to reduce my dependence on CC cream.
Sometimes I hate how it took having an adult living wage in order for me to afford the things I find necessary now to avoid cystic acne: like Sunday Riley's UFO oil and bentonite clay masks (the skin you mix with apple cider vinegar and water).
My diet changed, for the better I guess: salmon, eggs, pomegranate juice, leafy greens, avocados, lots of water, and just black coffee with no sugar.
But, there's a part of me that wishes I didn't still worry about this -- that there would be a version of myself that wasn't so willfully secluded. (Though, I guess that this whole confessional writing thing is an admission of vulnerability, and that's fine, too.)
There really isn't anything profound in this. Just wash your face, I guess, and don't eat too much sugar or dairy. Drink water, lots of water. So much water you pee like every hour and a half. and don't be afraid to go out in sunlight.