Believe me when I tell you that I love myself—well, for the most part. What’s my secret? A sprinkling of positive affirmations. A dash of supportive friends and family… And 100 mg of doxycycline a day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this acne-causing-bacteria-killer changed my life, but it certainly made it easier to look in the mirror every day and not crucify my appearance.
I’ve managed to unlearn and reject many of the patriarchy’s beauty standards in my time. Hairy bodies, hairless bodies, small bodies, large bodies, frizzy hair, dead-straight hair, etc., they’re all beautiful. I could lie and say that I wanted to get rid of my pimples because they were painful, but at the end of the day, I’ve never been able to believe that I was beautiful with a pimple on my face. It’s probably worse that I’ve never been diagnosed with cystic acne or any other sort of skin condition, just your run-of-the-mill persistent pimples. The fact is, the patriarchy is insidious. No magazine ever published a model with a pimple on their face. Superheroes don’t have to cleanse, exfoliate, moisturise, or tone their skin before they save Earth, and you don’t see the kids in Stranger Things smothering any spot with toothpaste before they go to bed. If you’re a woman who has pimples and manages to not give a shit about them, please teach me your ways. Obviously, the world has much bigger problems than the oiliness of my skin, but it’s hard to dismantle toxic shit when you don’t feel your best.
It’s not that I think acne takes away from other people’s appearances. When I’m around others, I don’t notice their blemishes and think *ew*, like I do when I see my own. Plenty of people have told me that just like I don’t notice other people’s blackheads, they don’t notice mine. Sure, this classic, nobody cares sort of thinking helps me in other areas of my life, like wearing whatever clothes I want or star-jumping in the weights section of the gym (I was following a HIIT workout, okay!), but I’ve evidently internalised that my pimples are ugly so hard that I readily cast aside some of my values in an effort to conform. SUE ME for willingly contributing to the antibiotic resistance crisis, so I don’t have to have something on my face.
Most people who have experienced acne have tried countless things to eradicate their pimples. Since I was 14, I’ve done everything: cutting out dairy, avoiding sugar, drinking litres of green tea, eating berries (for the antioxidants), homemade Mānuka honey face masks, using only natural skincare products, and using rabbits-were-definitely-harmed-in-the-making-of-this skincare products. All to no avail. Sure, puberty and hormones have some effect on your skin, but whoever told me that by the time I was 18 my pimples would disappear, is a liar. It’s well-known among researchers now that acne is caused by bacteria. Therefore, no amount of facials or fighting chocolate cravings will lead to flawless skin. If I had known that I could have just gone to the GP and asked for doxycycline or something like it, I definitely would not have spent two years on Zoom calls cringing at how red parts of my face looked.
Some might say that I’ve let the patriarchy win. Sometimes I also believe that by failing to accept myself with pimples, I’m breaking the cardinal rule of self-love—to appreciate yourself despite your imperfections. Granted, in terms of crimes against feminism, it’s a pretty small one. And it’s not like having a skin tone so even that photoshop is jealous of it has magicked away my other anxieties. The person who said “confidence comes from within” was speaking the truth. However, I do feel less like a catfish and am happy that I don’t see face masks as a good way to hide my face anymore.
Yes, it’s fucked up that to feel like the things I have to say are valid, I need to look a certain way. But I’m not sure that exterminating face bacteria makes me complicit in perpetuating problematic beauty ideals. In some ways, it makes me a better feminist. First, I spend way less time (needlessly) worrying about what other people think of me. This means I have more time to think about stuff I actually care about. Relatedly, having clearer skin makes me feel like I can put myself out there more. It’s way less anxiety-provoking to introduce myself to new people or share my ideas. Third, I’m not throwing money at the capitalists in charge of Johnson & Johnson or L’Oréal in fruitless attempts to rid myself of pimples. Now all I need is an oil-free cleanser, moisturiser, and SPF (vital since doxycycline can make you more sensitive to the sun).
While it’s absolutely important to try and love yourself as best you can, imperfections and all, it’s not wrong to want to look or feel a certain way. For the longest time, clear skin seemed like a superpower that no amount of superfood would bestow upon me. Even though I might be helping to create the next superbug just so I can feel more confident, I’d like to think that in the end, I can use my power to do more good than harm.