Body anxiety is the source of most of my writing and thought process — maybe it’s just a productive source of narcissism, critical theory on your own identity, and if that’s the case I’m fine with it (Kanye taught me to love myself, radically). But loving myself and my body has mostly been in an act of resistance against the knowledge I am a disappointment compared to the image of beauty I’m supposed to strive for. I was never going to be tall and model thin, which I’m fine with. I like being compact enough that being a cat burglar is a viable career option should writing fail. None of that concerns me — I’m able bodied and blindingly white so there goes those insecurities, too. My physical anxieties have mostly come from the fact my skin has, and never will be, perfectly even and radiant and glowing.
Or so I thought!
The other morning, I woke up with perfectly clear skin. Radiant, even. I looked well rested and plump with youth and joie de vivre. Not a blemish to be found. I’m not even trying to brag — okay, maybe a little — but more drive home the fact I looked as close to a Neutrogena ad as I maybe ever will. And instead of being thrilled, it actually made me anxious. I got so anxious I turned away from the mirror, and I spent the rest of the day in this in-between stage of full blown panic and guilt. I never thought this day would come, that I’d look acceptable, or healthy. And now that it was here, I didn’t know how to adjust my routine, or what to do about it!
Genetics have never been on my side when it came to skincare — both my parents had acne well into adulthood, and my chronic illnesses make it so going on Accutane or the pill was never going to be an option. I’d resigned myself to the anxiety of acne and the pursuit of banishing it. I’d even become comfortable in my journey through skincare. It became “my beat” — most beauty writers I know don’t have as much acne as I did, and drugstore products worked for them. But me, my mutant, mortal soul — I was given the very dramatic products to try out, as the unfailing control for bad skin nightmares. Cystic acne products need a test subject? I’m your girl. Or I was. It was something I found a sick enjoyment out of. I was the last stop, the person people came to when all products failed. I had literally tried it all, and I kept doing it, and doing it, and doing it well.
But sometime in the last few weeks, my skin just….cleared up. I can’t even describe how it happened, really. My routine hasn’t changed drastically in the past few months or weeks, and my food and sleep habits are still trash. I subsist on Spicy Cheetos and 6 hours of sleep, not exactly the paragon of health. I have been using antioxidant serums lately, and not touching my face as much in my sleep….I guess that helped clear things up? I wish I knew exactly what happened in the past few weeks to cause my decades long struggle with acne to just suddenly end, but I don’t know! And because of this, I have no idea how to proceed. Since the very beginning of my beauty journey, I’ve been hyper-focused on blemishes, and full to medium coverage foundations, contour and correction and concealment. When my makeup skills became actively feminist, I then became focused on accepting my acne for what it was — this seeming constant agent in my life, an anxiety I dealt with for so long it became just another part of my body to understand and work around. The zit placement might change, but the contour it left on my shape was like a dance partner, our habits together were familiar. I had learned everything there was to know about the irregularities of my face, and how to deal with them: what concealer works best for this kind of pustule? Cream or liquid, Dermablend or Tarte? Sometime in the past few years, trying to hide my acne became more of a comforting ritual than something I was horrified of. I was just so used to it that it became an interactive moment with my body, this fluid space that was both shame and something a bit more friendly….just something else.
And it’s gone now. I don’t need foundation any more to mask my scars, or heavy cream concealers to shellack on craters and cystic marks. I’m happy, I guess, of course I’m relieved — but more than that, I feel alienated in a whole new way. My routine and body have suddenly become unfamiliar to me. Looking in the mirror makes me anxious not with shame of my acne scars but this kind of impending doom that they’ll come back again. Realistically, it’s only a matter of time, right?
So what do I do now?