How I Fight Acne in a World Inundated with Pressure to Look Perfect (even on the days it seems hopeless)

Oh the skin battle…or should I say war.

It’s a harsh reality that many of my friends, co-workers, family members, and countless online self-diagnosing peers have faced.

Those of us who have struggled with it know it’s a long, painful, and sometimes never-ending journey filled with a lot of tears, shame, and loads of wasted money.

Whether you’ve only had one zit your whole life or cystic acne that last for years, most of the time it sets off bombs of insecurity and self-consciousness. As acne is not biased to age or gender – sometimes genetic and other times stress or diet–induced – it can come and go with no warning. The daily physical battles against acne leave so many wounded people, in the trenches, with no answers.

This is my story…

I remember the day I started wearing make-up. I had a rather small blemish on my check and I wanted to cover it up for picture day at school. My two older sisters had already started wearing make-up for several years at this point and I was “ready” in my mind – this blemish qualified me.

Growing up I was a bit of a perfectionist. Made straight A’s, did well in athletics, and checked off my to-do lists like I was getting paid for it. Naturally, this perfectionism found itself in my pursuit for “beauty” as a young girl. In a time where Britney Spears was my favorite singer – and Photoshop was becoming norm – it was hard to escape what I thought I should look like – and by all means – a zit on my face was not apart of the plan.

From there it was a constant struggle. I don’t remember many details past going from one zit to several, and even body breakouts, particularly back acne. The dermatologist said it was “skinny girl syndrome” where active girls with no boobs tend to have back breakouts, too. What in Sam Hill is that suppose to mean? Could I never get past this? My hope of clear skin greatly diminished that day.

You better believe I tried everything – from creams and pills – and even though it never worked much, I still tried very hard. Of course the shame that comes along with asking your mom everyday to “cover-up your back” just in case I wanted to wear my hair up later that day became pretty taxing.

My mother can testify – there were a lot of tears around my acne battle. It leaves you feeling like you need to hide your skin, because “no one wants to see that.”

Up until college, I got away with very little scarring on my face, although my back still, to this day, has a lot of discoloration. In college, as an adult, I started breaking out heavily on my cheeks, which had never happened up until this time. It took me over 3 years to figure out that it was because I started eating eggs my sophomore year, which through a blood test I discovered I was allergic to them. Nonetheless, I’m thankful I figured it out, but I do have leftover marks that remind of the painful journey.

From afar, you’d probably never guess how much acne was apart of my story. I was pretty great at covering it up – literally. I’m not sure I’ve gone without make-up more than 5 days in my entire life – and that’s including a 3-day weekend where I was forced to go “makeup-less” during my sorority induction.

I’ll tell you what though – that particular sorority was bent on loving all of the girls despite our “flaws” (if you can even call it that). They will all testify my face was beat red, scars and all, and they showed more love and acceptance than I’ve probably ever had from a group of girls in my entire life.

That weekend was a breakthrough for me, but the battle wasn’t over – and probably still isn’t.

Although my face has cleared up a lot since those core years of breaking out, I’m still conscious of that fact that my skin isn’t like they appear in the magazines or on my instagram feed. I wasn’t one of the girls blessed with flawless, poreless, even skin. And you know what, I’d change it if I could, but I can’t. And I’m okay with that.

There are some valuable lessons acne has and will continue to teach me – and for that I am grateful.

For starters…

  1. A Lesson in Empathy
    I have a certain amount of empathy for other girls, boys, men, and women who have battled this same battle. There are some who had it worse than I, and others who just know what it’s like to have one their entire life. Regardless, I’ve connected with so many girls on this issue. Acne has given me the ability to encourage and relate to people I would never be able to help had I not had the same experiences.
  2. Comparison is the Thief of Joy
    You can’t compare. It’s just not worth it. I may have struggled with acne, but other people with flawless skin have their own battles too. The comparison ladder leaves you empty, with more ladder to climb when you get to the top. It’s a cat and mouse game where you can never catch up. With every wish to be like someone else, you trade in a something that’s unique to you and your story.
  1. My Value isn’t in What Others Think of Me
    This may be the hardest one to come to grips with for me personally. It’s one thing to say it, but there were times where I genuinely thought something was wrong with my body and health during all those years of breakouts and oily skin. When the specialist has no answers for you, it can leave you feeling like they must be right. My heart is saddened by the fact that I would “feel good about myself” on the days it covered up well. I wish with all my heart, especially in high school, I could have embraced it and had just as much confidence on days it looked like a hot mess. Maybe I could have brought freedom to another kid – maybe I could have gone against the grain and let others know looks aren’t as important as we all make it out to be in our minds. My value was given to me at birth by my Creator and no one (or zit) can take that away from me.
  2. Accepting myself.
    It’s a life-changing experience when you truly begin to accept yourself as God created you. Through my family’s on-going acceptance and by marrying a one-of-a-kind man who loves me with all of my quirks – each day I get closer to loving me for me. Although it a process, the more I embrace myself, quirks and all, the more freedom I find and the more joy I experience.

It’s a hardcore battle to fight. I know it’s tough and there are days you’ll lose. But the truth is, whether you feel rejected by people or even yourself, God promises a deep, unconditional love to all of us. Take each day to receive that love, and whether it’s acne, or another insecurity, the more we release control and accept ourselves, the more helpful you’ll be to others struggling similar battles.

Ultimately, community and connection is at the core of who we are. If we can drop our walls, experience vulnerability, and embrace each other’s weakness – we’ll find there’s a heck of a lot of good things to be thankful for and to love about ourselves than we ever thought possible.

“And I’ll although I get tired from the battle, my God has won the war.”

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17: 7-8

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.Psalm 139:13-14

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?Matthew 16:26

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