This was the last photo taken of me with clear, acne free skin. I was thirteen.
As I approach the end of my journey to clear skin, I often wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self what I know now. I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and time feeling miserable about my skin.
That being said, a lot about what makes me compassionate, thoughtful and appreciative is because of how living with acne has shaped me as a person.
I know my teenage self wouldn’t have appreciated hearing that there is no light without darkness and she certainly wouldn’t have accepted the notion of being lucky to have acne because it is character building. Oh yes – I definitely would have hated that.
But it is true.
Because I lived with acne for most of my teenage years and all of my adult life, it has enabled me to reserve judgment on the way other people look. I celebrate peoples differences and marvel at anything that makes us unique. Unfortunately my open mindedness does not extend to my own physical appearance and if I’m not fretting over my skin, I am feeling fed up with my cellulite or extra weight.
Would I have such an open mind if I hadn’t experienced first hand how it feels to be stared at? Would I have learnt the art of being tactful and knowing instinctively how to say things without causing offence if I hadn’t been asked insensitive questions myself? “Jo! What’s happened to your face?” Probably not.
As a teenager I would done anything to have clear skin.
Well hang on now, Joanna… don’t tell fibs! It turns out the cause of my breakouts is largely due to my food intolerances, one of which being dairy which I refused to remove from my diet; adamant that there would be no joy in life without milk. I could have saved myself years of struggle had I accepted that advice in my late teens.
One of my main obstacles as a teenager was the fear of what people would say about my acne if they saw me without makeup on. As the (nearly) thirty-year old version of that teenager I can tell you that I have only kept in touch with one person I knew growing up, so why did I go so much effort protecting myself from the opinions of people I knew I wouldn’t even have time for in my adult life?
I always say that I feel pressured to look a certain way in public. Because I think it is how people expect to see me. The truth is, the pressure has never come from my class mates, friends, family, boyfriends or employers, it has always come from me.
Learning how to love my skin and who I am despite the big cysts and unsightly looking infectious spots has been one of the hardest parts of my skin healing journey. Fourteen years of feeling self conscious and actively trying to conceal my acne from the world has left me with no short amount of mental health issues – a side effect of acne that is often overlooked by medical professionals.
If my teenage self knew in advance that she would have acne for another ten plus years, I’m not sure how she would have reacted. Would this of spurred her on to find the root cause of her acne quicker? Or would it of helped her to let go and not give a fuck about what people thought because it was going to be part of her life for years yet to come, so she and everyone else had better start accepting it.
The truth is my journey with acne needn’t of been so long. I had little or no guidance and I wasn’t getting any help coping with my insecurities. I felt very alone and I didn’t understand why acne was making me feel so low. I felt guilty that it was effecting me so much because I knew that it was only a big deal to me and not the rest of the world. Despite this, I couldn’t stop it from controlling everything I did- or more appropriately didn’t do.
Something that upsets even as I write this, is recalling how it made me feel unlovable. Who could possibly love a face like that?
I know now that acne is only temporary. My husband fell in love and married me with acne and will continue to love me even if my acne comes back with a vengeance. He supports and encourages me to go foundation free and regularly tells me I am beautiful when I am not wearing makeup and even when I am wearing my scary LED face mask.
One of the main reasons for starting my blog was to stop other acne sufferers feeling so alone. I still remember how it felt as a teenager to lock myself away in my bedroom waiting for the inflammation to subside. (Wait?! I still do that now!) I remember the feeling of panic of trying to think of a excuse as to why I couldn’t attend a party or a sleepover because my skin was too bad; beyond concealing with makeup. The thought that right now there is someone somewhere, saying no to life on account of their acne makes me incredibly upset.
There are so many causes and reasons why people experience breakouts which is why most of us struggle clearing our skin. We are given the same ‘one glove fits all’ treatment when we visit dermatologists and doctors, so when that treatment fails we are inevitably left in a worse place than when we started. Hopelessness creeps in and we begin to feel like we will never experience clear skin again.
Advice to my teenage self
- Surround yourself with people who love, motivate, inspire and empower you.
- Unfollow haters, fakers and dream takers. Detox your social media accounts of anyone who doesn’t make you feel happy, grateful, inspired or connected.
- Invest in facials and good skincare – it is actually less expensive than all the skincare you trial over the years
- Join a support group to connect with other people who are just like you. You are not alone.
- Say yes! Make a conscious effort to say yes to invitations and live your best life without acne holding you back.
- If you choose to conceal your acne use, natural, nourishing cosmetics
- Listen to your body and dedicate your time and energy into finding out the cause of your acne- there will be one! I find the best way to identify the cause is by writing a skin journal and taking weekly photos.
- Don’t pick, squeeze and obsess over your skin in the mirror
- Make steps everyday to love your beautifully blemished self. Love your skin. Love who you are and be unapologetically you.