My new favorite person is Susan, the esthetician at Pharmaca on Pearl Street in Boulder. For NFM’s online personal care guide—debuting April 1—I interviewed her about the trends and conditions she is hearing about most in her store. She said sun protection and healing, anti-aging and mineral makeup are all common topics of discussion with her customers. Then we talked about something I never used to talk about—my skin.
When I was 14, one of my friends had pimples around her hairline and across her forehead. I distinctly remember saying to one of our other girlfriends, with the sort of pity that masquerades as empathy: Poor girl.
That summer, my family took our annual road trip to visit my grandmother in South Dakota. I was sitting in the passenger seat and happened to catch my reflection in the sideview mirror. My face, which had been bright and clear, had—to use a common, but fitting verb, erupted.
I thought maybe no one would notice. Maybe it wasn’t that big a deal. But, the first day back at school, in social studies class, a boy said, “Hey what happened? Did you work at a fast food place all summer?” Those within earshot bristled. I tried to laugh it off, but I saw the look in the eyes around me before the subject was quickly changed: Poor girl.
I’ve lived with that look every day for the last 17 years. My acne wasn’t the kind the kids on TV had—one tiny red bump on the nose on the night of the prom. My acne was committed. The worst part was that it felt like a failure, or worse, an accusation. Proof that I was dirty. In high school I once overheard someone snicker to their friend about me: “Ever heard of Clearasil?”
I started to wear a lot of make-up, even when I was hanging around the house. Done up and overdone, I piled on the harshest chemicals I could find. I tried the dermatologist a couple times, but the cost was huge, both in dollars and self-confidence. The people who work in those places all have perfect skin. Show offs.
I felt betrayed by my own body. I turned my frustration inward and did my best to shrug it off, but mostly I just worked at covering it. Eventually I gave up. I told myself: This is my skin. This is who I am. But still, every time I saw my face without make-up, a voice inside said: You are flawed.
It’s only been in the past couple years that I have stopped running and begun treating myself with more compassion. I have learned to see my face differently, realizing that I could never fully hide its imperfections, or that it made me any “less than.” I began to own every scar on my face as evidence of an obstacle overcome. Like the constellations in the night sky, there is a story behind every pock mark on my cheeks, every hill and valley. They are not just acne scars. They are battle scars.
I realized while talking to Susan that I am finally ready to heal. And, for me, that means a treatment that honors my skin, my body, my community and my world.
I hope you visit NFM’s online personal care guide. It is going to have a ton of great material—including interviews with experts, podcasts, lists of our “editors’ pick” products and, of course, an interview with my new favorite person.