Throughout high school, I was pretty lucky when it came to acne. This was probably due to the fact that when I was anorexic, I only ate "clean" or "safe" foods that were low in carbs, calories, and fats--if I ate anything (Disclaimer: I do not recommend this and no one should use eating like this an excuse for clear skin. It is disordered eating.). The same was true during my binge eating disorder, but rather than my skin remaining clear as a result of what I was (and was not) eating,  I'm pretty sure the only reason why my skin remained clear was because my body knew that having bad acne would have broken my already fragile self-esteem into oblivion. It would have given me one more reason to hate my body and to hate myself. It might have even pushed me to suicide.

As shallow as it sounds, having clear skin helped me feel a little bit better about myself--even on my worst days.

Fast-forward to about a year ago. I was dating Justin and things were going great. Well, mostly great except for one thing. I had started to get acne for the first time in my life. I was embarrassed that what most people had experienced in their teens was happening to me as an adult. I became even more self-conscious than I normally was and my perceptions of myself were largely determined by how many zits I had on my face that day. I was worried that Justin would think less of me or think I was less attractive because of it. I ended up buying as many over-the-counter cleansers, oil-removers, and acne medications as I could find; I even resorted to scouring the internet for hours and buying products from Korea and Japan in the hopes that they would make me somewhat attractive again. I eventually went to see a dermatologist, but getting rid of my acne wasn't easy. The topical medication was expensive and the oral medication made me throw up. But I was willing to do anything to make it go away. I eventually was tired of feeling sick from the medication and I stopped taking it. My skin did pretty well for a while, but things picked back up again around Christmas of that year. It was bad. It wasn't that I had a zit here and there on my face, but my entire forehead was covered in large, cystic pimples. To make things worse, I tired to pick at the zits, which made some scab over and made others become inflamed. I was so embarrassed that I wore a bandanna headband everyday for two weeks so no one could see just how 'ugly' I had become. I was insecure around Justin and whenever he told me I was beautiful, I thought he was saying it out of pity. I mean, he saw what I saw in the mirror and so did everyone else around me--I thought they thought of me like I thought of me. That they thought I was ugly and disgusting. There were even nights where I would quietly cry myself to sleep out of frustration and self-loathing or instances where I would avoid experiences altogether out of shame.

When it was at its worst this past December
(the lighting in the picture doesn't really show
how intense it was)

The bandana headband
(Also, don't mind Jesus in the background haha)

In a lot of ways, I guess I relived the same emotions I experienced during my disorders.

Luckily, Justin caught on to what was happening pretty fast (one of the best things about being married is that you never have to go through things alone). Noticing that I was depressed and struggling, he looked at me one night and said, "Alyson, acne and beauty aren't mutually exclusive". And he was right.

I still struggle with feeling my best when I have zits or scabs from zits on my face, but I'm starting to realize that my beauty--and more importantly, who I am, is not negatively influenced by some red dots on my face. I am more than a few imperfections in my complexion.

Acne and beauty are not mutually exclusive.
Neither are acne and self-worth;
Acne and self-esteem;
Acne and love;
Acne and good experiences;
Or acne and anything positive in life.

For a while I gave myself a hard time for feeling insecure about my appearance because I thought that since I had overcome my disorders I was better than this and that I had control over most of my insecurities. That I had already overcome my body image issues and that I shouldn't still be struggling. However, I'm starting to realize that body-dysmorphia, low self-esteem, and body image issues tend to manifest themselves in more than one way and in more than one area of our lives. How we feel about ourselves is a complex, multi-faceted experience. While we may overcome one facet that we struggle with (like being okay with stretch marks or wearing a swimsuit in public), we may also still struggle with another area of our appearance (like having acne in my case). Learning to love yourself isn't easy,  however, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be proud of progress we have made in the past or be intimidated by how large of a challenge learning to like ourselves may seem. The best thing we can do is take things one day or one facet at a time and be kind to ourselves.

Another thing that I've realized as I've gone through this experience is that while it's pretty easy to love yourself, it can be ridiculously hard to like yourself. For example, I love who I am, but I don't necessarily like my appearance when I have acne strewn across my face. Why is it that when we see someone else with an 'flaw' that we have (like acne in my case), we are less harsh toward them than we are towards ourselves? When someone else has a zit on their face I don't instanteously like them any less or think any less of them. Sometimes, I don't even notice if there are any zits on their face in the first place. However, when it is on my own face, I tend to use it as an excuse to bully myself for something that is out of my control and I project how I feel about myself onto others.

For a while, I thought that in order to be beautiful, I had to have perfect skin--just like I used to think that I had to have the 'perfect' body in order to love myself, like myself, or be myself. Perfection does not constitute beauty, it is a toxic and obsessive illusion. I may never have clear or perfect skin again for the rest of my life, but does that make me any less beautiful or any less beautiful of a person? No. Should I use my acne as an excuse to miss out on my own life? No. Am I less deserving of love and self-worth because of my acne? Definitely not. Should I be ashamed of my acne? No, because being getting acne is a completely normal human experience.

Acne isn't inherently negative, ugly, or bad by nature, it is only when we attribute those traits to acne that it becomes such. Acne happens, and that's okay.

Although I'm not completely comfortable walking around without makeup or going without covering my forehead when I have a bad breakout, I'm slowly starting to be okay with having obvious acne on my face. I'll admit that I carry around a bag of makeup with me now so that I can cover my face throughout the day, that I'm on a new acne medication plan that has reduced how intense my breakouts are, that I try to use filters to minimize my acne in photos, and that I get embarrassed to go out in public when nothing I do to cover my zits seems to work; but the crying and the disgust I used to feel when I looked in the mirror have stopped. I don't let little (or big) red marks on my face determine how I feel about myself or my life.

Because acne and beauty are not mutually exclusive. 

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