Photography by Nicki Diacik
As I stare into the mirror, I hear a symphony of insults echoing from the villages that lie between the mountains standing tall upon my face.
You look disgusting.
You can’t go out like that.
People won’t want to look at you.
That’s not beautiful.
The only landscape I’ve never been infatuated by is the only one I can really call my own. I’ve spent years fertilizing my blooming cheeks with chemicals, creams, and makeup just to spare the rest of the world from seeing my true colors as they bloom across my face.
Which is red. Always red.
I thought wearing red was supposed to make you feel powerful. It’s such an intense color that holds romance and passion within every hue, yet I feel the opposite when I look into every pore, every blemish, and every bump that has found its home on my cheeks. When my face is red it becomes a reflection of my spirit- irritated, angry, and stressed. My insecurities make my mind spin and spin and spin until suddenly have a new cluster of pimples. Not just one but four or five, which makes me feel even worse about everything. And anything.
It’s not pimples.
Acne is more than a random pimple or two that sprouts when you are stressed out. It’s not just “part of being a teenager” and it is most certainly not easy to get rid of. Acne is waking up every morning and immediately stepping in front of the mirror to see how bad your face looks that day. It’s feeling your face throb without being able to ease the pain. It’s making that pain worse by picking and squeezing the living shit out of each and every zit (whether it’s ready to be popped or not). It’s a nagging voice that interrupts your every conversation. It’s a cock block that will catch the eyes which were supposed to lock with yours. If acne were a person it would definitely be the whitest and douchiest boy in the frat. Or Donald Trump. No, acne is better than Donald Trump. And that says a lot.
Acne makes me believe I’m undeserving of love. It makes me feel like I’m not pretty enough to be looked at. It makes me flinch when I want to be touched and hide when I want to shine. How paralyzing it is to feel like you don’t even look like yourself.
To not feel safe inside your own skin.
To feel as though your own flesh is a parasite on your soul.
To be detached from the beauty of your own being.
Conversations about acne with people who are fortunate enough to not understand it is one of the hardest things about dealing with it.
“Have you been washing your face?”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
“Are you eating unhealthy?”
No, and even if I was I’d still want to punch you.
“Stop putting on makeup, it’s bad for your skin.”
Actually my skin is bad for my skin.
“Don’t touch it!”
I can’t stop and I won’t.
Some people have flawless skin. Perfect, almost. And I’ve spent years of my life comparing myself to them, looking up skin care routines trying to follow after someone else because whatever I’ve done hasn’t worked one fucking bit.
I’ve worn makeup to go to the dentist. I’ve photoshopped pictures of myself. I’ve made my friends delete pictures of me in fear that the face behind the made-up mask would be exposed. I have actually cried just from looking in the mirror.
But I haven’t given up. I could probably open my own shop with the amount of cleansers, creams, and medications I’ve tried over the years, none of which really helped. Because the thing about acne is … It always comes back.
Maybe these insecurities started when I was called pizza face in middle school. Or when my ex-boyfriend told me I needed to use Proactive (one single pimple lasted longer than that relationship). Maybe I’m insecure because all I see on Instagram is models with perfect skin and influencers who never happen to look all-natural.
I’ve endured a long, ten-year journey with acne and I have all the scars to show for it. Honestly, I have let it define me. I have let it dictate my actions, my words, and the way I talk to myself more than I would like to admit. Hours have been spent in front of the mirror, touching and picking and wishing I could just rip my entire flesh off of my body.
But lately I’ve been talking to myself differently. I’ve been telling myself I’m beautiful the exact way I would tell my best friend, "shut up...look at yourself. You are fucking hot." I hate when she can’t see her true beauty.
I’ve been steering away from saying yes to things I don’t want to do, and becoming unapologetic for letting go of toxic people that drain my energy.
That’s when I began to notice how interconnected my mind is with my body. No, my skin didn’t become clear by looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, you look good. But it definitely helped. When you send out an energy, it manifests. And your body reflects that.
These days I have been loving myself like I love the moon and all its craters. I feel the bumpy textures under my fingertips and remind myself that even the most beautiful flowers must bloom before they blossom. That a volcano must erupt for there to be paradise.
If I can constantly admire the perplexing imperfections of nature, why can’t I do the same when I look in the mirror?
Photography by Nicki Diacik