I have “bad” skin.
It’s not as bad as it used to be, but I still have holes, pits, scars, blackheads, pimples. It’s hard for me to even write those words, and for reasons I can’t fully understand I feel shame – or maybe embarrassment is a better word. As a fat activist for over two decades you would think that I could talk about my skin with the ease I talk about my fat. Posting double chin selfies does not phase me, but if the light hits my cheek where you can see the pockmarks and crags- forget it.
I have spent more time, money, and energy on skin products than I care to admit. Like former dieters and calorie counts, I know the difference between cream cleansers and foam cleansers, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. I do think that body positivity (meaning being okay with being fat) has been easier for me because I have always been so worried about my skin that I didn’t have the energy to worry about my fat as well.
I don’t think I’ve gotten more comfortable with my skin; I’ve just gotten better at caring less – at pushing on the bruised spot and trying to learn from that discomfort. “Picking at the wound” – both literally and figuratively, as my anxious picking has surely made my skin worse.
Using the word “bad” to refer to parts of my body does not align with my values. I want someone to tell me that there is a better word to use. To gently correct me like I do when people use words like “overweight” or other euphemisms for fat.
Maybe these words already exist? Maybe there is a language out there that I am not aware of where we can understand pimples and pocks as no better or worse than smooth poreless skin, like how I understand fat as no better or worse than thin? (I know I keep comparing bad skin to fatness, but the two are so tied together in my own experience.) I hope we get there, and I hope that I cringe with shame at the time I wrote an essay where I called my skin “bad.” I just know I’m not there yet, but I won’t get there at all unless I start talking about it. So here it is.
I have bad skin and I am EMBARRASSED about it. Embarrassment and shame are related emotions, both of which have no place in my feelings about my body. The best I way I know to get rid of both is to shine a light on it. Not only that, I am ASHAMED to be embarrassed of my skin. I have been a fat activist for 20 years now; shouldn’t I be beyond this? Is staring into a magnifying mirror (If you are relating to any of this, I KNOW you have a magnifying mirror too) and hating my holes and pits pretty much the same thing as hating my thighs and stretch marks?
I want to make it clear that the theories behind fat liberation (and even body positivity) necessarily include things like this, and it always has. However, I don’t think it’s useful to try to expand the focus of fat-positive space to include things like bad skin (especially when it’s thin people experiencing them.) My own personal thoughts and feelings about my skin are tied in with my fat experience, but that is not the case for everyone.
I also am not trying to say that having bad skin is a marginalizing identity on par with fatness. I hope we can have enough nuance in our conversations where we can hold all these truths together and trust people’s experiences.
I want to feel better about this part of my body and the only way I know how is by talking about it.
I want to talk about how we can be makeup-appreciating femmes, but also think about how and why we may use makeup to cover zits and stuff and what that means (and not judge anyone for whatever decisions we make).
I want to think about why some people feel pressure to wear makeup all the time, even if they don’t want to, because they’re nervous about people seeing their skin.
More Radical Reads: Learning to Face My Feelings: Hair Picking And Anxiety
I want to talk about Accutane and birth control pills and testosterone and hormones and the shit we will put in our bodies to try to have clearer skin (not judging those choices at all, but can we talk about it?). And let’s talk about scars and facial deformities and piercings, and moles, and FINDING FOUNDATION FOR DARK SKIN TONES and the pain of underground pimples and cysts and the joys of a nice face mask, and anxiety, and picking at our skin and making it worse and blackheads and disability and fatness and ingrown hairs. So many of us have these experiences and I think we would feel better if we used them to build relationships instead of festering shame.
I feel almost ridiculous writing this when it seems that there are “more important” things in the world like racism and global warming. But I realized that every drop of energy and money I stop spending on skin-related worries, the more energy and money I have to fight the “big” things.
[Feature Image: A photo of a person’s face. They are wearing a white hoodie and looking at the camera. Source: Caitlin Regan]