My relationship with my skin has never been an easy one. I’m so used to criticizing what I see in the mirror that it’s been difficult getting used to dating guys who don’t notice the acne scarring and discoloration like I do. I wish I could knock it off, but some days are just hard.
My skin hated me in high school. Like many people, my acne started at the beginning of high school and kept getting worse from there. I had everything from tiny blackheads covering my nose to angry cystic acne that would take weeks to go away. Some mornings I would have a nice smooth patch of skin on my face and I would think my hormones were finally balancing out only to have it taken over by a painful red breakout by lunch period.
I tried everything and nothing worked. It feels like I tried every drugstore acne product on the market. No matter the face wash, toner, or spot treatment, I couldn’t find anything that would work long-term. I even went on Proactive hoping it was the cure I’d been looking for and all it did was dry my face out worse than the Mojave desert. The only positive to come from having to constantly try new products was a greater understanding of what my skin will and will not tolerate.
I had to go to the doctor for help. I started taking birth control pills after I turned 17 and it was the first thing that had any significant impact on my acne. It balanced out my hormones enough to give me a fighting chance of handling my breakouts, but I was still dealing with stubborn oily skin that refused to stay clear. I was also put on an oral antibiotic called Doxycycline that’s supposed to fight acne but as a side effect, it made me throw up most times that I took it.
Makeup showed me what my skin could look like. While I was constantly battling my acne, I started dabbling in makeup to see if I could at least cover some of it up. I have very pale skin, so any redness or discoloration on my face stands out like there’s a spotlight on it and makes my overall skin look worse than it is. After finding a foundation and powder that matches my skin tone, I was relieved to see how I finally looked “normal.”
I had to wear makeup every day. Once I realized makeup could help me look the way I’d always wanted, I quickly got in the habit of wearing it every day to school. Even after moving away for college I’d still make myself get up an hour and a half early before my morning classes to put my face on. My acne wasn’t improving so I never felt comfortable going barefaced.
I slept in it because I was scared to take it off. Halfway through college, I started having more adult sleepovers with boys and I found myself in a dilemma. I knew I had to take my makeup off before going to sleep or else I’d break out even worse, but if I took it off the guy I was with would see how bad I looked without it. I was so nervous and insecure I slept in my makeup multiple times and my skin was furious with me.
One night, I finally decided I’d had enough. I had been seeing the same guy for a while and I got to the point where I thought, “If this keeps going well he’s going to see my real face eventually,” so I washed my face like I usually do before bed and surprise surprise, he didn’t recoil in horror or demand I leave his bed immediately. He’d noticed that I refused to take my makeup off before, so to finally see me get comfortable enough to show him what’s underneath meant a lot to him.
I stopped wearing makeup every day and my skin started to clear up. I only became comfortable with being seen without makeup on after I entered into my first romantic relationship. He knew what I looked like and loved me either way, so I eventually stopped stressing about my skin so much and just let it breathe for once. I quit slathering on products every day and started seeing a solid improvement in about two weeks.
Then I got dumped and the fear came back. Like many people who get broken up with by a long-term partner, I struggle with fears that no one else will ever love me again or find me beautiful without makeup on. This anxiety is super frustrating and makes me feel stupid because I know firsthand this isn’t true. I’ve been with other guys since getting my heart stepped on and they’ve told me they really don’t care or notice what my skin looks like without makeup. But I still have that feeling in my gut leftover from when I was a pimply teenager that everyone must be making fun of how I look.
Society doesn’t help, either. Women today are held to impossible beauty standards to look perfect all the time. If we don’t wear makeup we’re judged for not putting in enough effort, but if we wear makeup every day or “too much” of it then we’re seen as shallow. It’s a never-ending battle that made me insecure for years trying to live up to someone else’s expectations and I want to get to a place where I’ve moved past that.
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