Growing up, I never really thought much about my appearance. I was a rather quiet, petite child, always shortest in the class. I didn’t have anything that made me stand out, for good or bad. Once I became a pre-teen I had the occasional huff about being ‘flat chested’ but overall, I didn’t really pay much attention to my physical appearance besides experimenting with hair dye and the thickness of my eyeliner.
This blasé attitude continued throughout high school and even into my freshman year of college, and inside, at age 18, I still felt like the same quiet petite child, just with fuller hips and straighter teeth, god bless braces. Freshman year of college, like most people, came the newfound freedom of drinking, microwavable Kraft mac and cheese, and an unlimited meal plan, resulting in for the first time in my life, looking at myself in the mirror and not being comfortable with the reflection that was staring back at me. I remember the feeling so clearly - a feeling of slight disappointment and annoyance that my body, the vessel I was living in was not enjoying the cheap tequila and pizza, how rude of her. In the long run, this ‘freshman 15’ did me good, and I found my passion for health and fitness, and am so happy that it turned into being not only good for my physical health, but transformed my mental health as well. #Endorphins.
Flash forward about a year later to my sophomore year, I didn’t feel like the quiet petite child anymore, I felt powerful, I was lifting weights, I was strong. This newfound passion for the gym and strength emulated through to speaking up, and I truly fell into the unique crevices of myself, the parts that make me, me. Simultaneously I started dating my then-boyfriend, and it made sense for me and where I was in my life to start taking hormonal birth control.
For me, the pill was nothing but a joy to be on. It regulated my period, whatever small amounts of breakouts I would get at that time vanished, I never gained weight, and I didn’t have to worry about the potential of a baby, it EVEN made my boobs bigger, my one insecurity. I was over the moon and it was a win-win overall. As long as every night at 9 PM when my, and every other 20 year old girls in the rooms alarm labeled ‘🌸Birth Control 🌸’went off, as a reminder to regulate your hormones and pop that baby blue pill, as long as I was swallowing that tiny miracle drug, life was but a dream.
My love affair with my birth control continued on for about 4 years. During this time I had started to research and become passionate about holistic medicine, health, and living a rather organic lifestyle. I primarily ate a paleo based diet, and I started to question being on a hormonal contraception medication. I lived every aspect of my life otherwise in a natural way, it felt like a cop out to me to be putting artificial hormones into my body. So, a year ago to the day, I made the decision to come off of my birth control. I had gotten so used to the routine of it, I thought that all the improvements it had made for my physical appearance to the point that I forgot that they weren’t organically mine. This transition off of birth control has been very surprising, to say the least.
After stopping the pill cold turkey, I figured eh, all is well, I never had any issues with anything before this, all is good right? My body is strong, she’s never let me down before. I trust her. May turned into June, and June into July, I shrugged off the fact that my period had yet to appear, and secretly cheered about it, a summer without my period? Hell yeah, I exclaimed. Simultaneously the scale started to creep up, and I started to notice my perfect skin not to look so, perfect, I noticed red lumps starting to cluster around my jawline, I would run my fingers along the curves of my cheeks and feel painful pressure on my cheekbones. At this point, I still believe in my body, and that it was just adjusting, I’d open up to the women in my life and would hear similar responses “Oh, my friend didn’t get her period for 3 months”, “my sister got horrible acne for a few months, but don’t worry it goes away!” They would exclaim. All nonchalant, and supportive. I listened and stayed hopeful.
As the days shortened again and the leaves started to change, the one consistent that remained was my body’s inability to produce a period, and my newfound stubborn acne, that had only gotten worse. I became ‘motivated’ you can say, about curing every ‘bad’ thing that had happened to my appearance.
I sit here rather defeated, slummed at my computer after the past two hours of searching the web for any new magical cures for acne - as if there would be some magical remedy since my last internet deep dive - less than 12 hours ago. My life has been defined by what I see when I look in the mirror. How puffy my face is, how red my face is, is my skin worse than yesterday? Oh, but today it looks better - maybe this new serum is working! Oh, wait, having another flare up, spoke too soon. Let’s try being vegan this month. Don’t drink coffee, that spikes your cortisol which will give you acne. Do nothing. Do everything. Drink water. Drink spearmint tee. Go keto! Don’t lift weights. Try this cleanser. Don’t touch it. Slather honey on your face and sit there, Don’t worry, you’ll question what the fuck is going on - but it’ll work!
Every remedy, every trend, every cure, you name it, I know it, I’ve tried it. Acne is this never ending battle that seemingly has no rhyme or reason. It creeps into your life and takes over as quickly as it pleases, and no matter what, seems to walk to the beat of its own drum. Often it feels like with skin issues, the only cure is extreme measures, like Accutane or hormonal medication, both of which I am reluctant to try, least for the time being.
Last night I walked into the bathroom, cleansing the mask of makeup off followed by a serum, another serum and moisturizer, looked up at my reflection in the mirror, I felt defeated and embarrassed at the red painful looking lumps on my face, I was embarrassed at walking back into my boyfriends room with my exposed face, I wanted to immediately turn the light off so he couldn’t see. This feeling of discomfort and lack of confidence is something I have never felt before, I no longer felt like the youthful spirit who would dance around the room naked, proud to show myself off to the world. I feel like a skeleton of a former self, unsure and small.
I feel so deeply for those of you who have struggled with acne your entire lives, and I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been at times during your teenage years, when you’re trying to learn about yourself, having to deal with skin troubles at the same time must have been really, really challenging.
This past year has been a whirlwind for me - and as I sit and write this out I don’t have an answer, I don’t have a miracle cure for how to make your skin better, or how to be more confident, if anything, all I have is more questions. I question why female health and hormones are so under researched, I question if birth control made my situation worse, or would this have happened regardless. I question everything I ever thought I knew about self love. If I’ve only ever loved myself when I was attracted to myself, is that self love? I’d say now that’s just vanity.
What I do know is I am grateful, grateful I have a body that lets me run, cook, surf, and lift weights, grateful I have a job creating things, grateful to have a phone, and further on a platform of people to connect with. Because if anything, this entire year has taught me that connecting with others who are experiencing similar things to you will bring solace in a way I never thought possible. And to no surprise, most, if not all women in-particular deal with issues of self confidence and feeling worthy. The way our culture values beauty can be rather blinding, and disheartening. And at the end of the day, the thing is, life cannot be dictated by the perceptions of others, and I wish the world had made it clear to me that people’s reactions about my own appearance for the good or bad, isn’t my problem, it’s theirs.