Pimples and pores shouldn't dictate my life.

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Credit: Instagram, @missjenplum

Looking through my camera roll is like watching a documentary about my relationship with my skin—more specifically, my acne. In the past, when I’ve felt bad about my skin, I wouldn’t open up the camera on my phone. When I felt my oats, I would spam with sunlit selfies in my living room. Looking back, there are gaping holes in my camera history that skip almost two years—I have no pictures of myself from 2015 or 2017. I look at these gaps and feel a pang of regret; I turned down many social invitations because of how ashamed I felt of my acne. So, I resolved that 2020 would be the year I never again let my skin dictate my life.

Growing up, adults told me that my acne was part of a temporary phase that would go away when I became an adult. I believed that normal adult skin was acne-free; it wouldn’t break out on your period, when you slept on a dirty pillowcase, or if you were stressed. I know now that that isn’t true. While I’m still figuring out what my “adult skin” is, I know that it doesn’t look like making excuses to not hang out with friends, despairing over post-inflammatory pigmentation and hormonal pimples every night, or hours of sinking into skincare subreddits to try and get my skin under control. Whatever “adult skin” is, it shouldn’t cause intense social anxiety. However, until recently, that’s what it looked like for me.

Although my acne has become more manageable in recent years, it still pops up every now and then. Sadly, I still feel deeply self-conscious of how my face looks whenever I break out; I’m usually torn between frantically checking any mirror to see if a blemish has shrunk and completely avoiding any reflective surface so I can’t be reminded of the aching knot sitting beneath the surface of my skin. It’s frightening how my mental health hinges on a single pimple. I knew letting my skin have so much control over me was unhealthy and that it was long past time to address it. I needed to make some kind of change—and what better way to confront my self-consciousness than by diving right into the belly of the beast: the forum of public opinion, accessible with just a few swipes on my smartphone?

Social media has, unfortunately, fed into my insecurity with my skin. Influencers are everywhere, with glowing complexions and generous budgets to keep their skin in tip-top condition. Skincare advertisements are chock full of models with utterly flawless and glowy skin, their pores and peach fuzz photoshopped out. Makeup Instagram posts are all about demonstrating how to get the fullest coverage possible, with natural texture concealed and baked into oblivion. And, lest we forget, there's FaceTune.

In some ways, I consider myself a little lucky to have avoided Instagram addiction through high school and college, when I was more vulnerable and insecure about my skin. Now, having more conscious awareness of just how filtered and photoshopped selfies are helps to temper how I engage with social media. As if the bar for women wasn’t already high enough, now we can’t have pores, pimples, hyperpigmentation, blackheads, or peach fuzz. There’s so much rhetoric about embracing the skin you have—but only if it’s flawless.

The rise of skin-neutral Instagram accounts has been a good reminder that acne (like many other things) is normal and common. To me, it's a relief to see influencers embrace their natural skin with all of its imperfection and make peace with their pimples, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation. It’s hard to celebrate deeply-rooted insecurities, but skin-neutral influencers accept their skin and separate their self-worth from it. Not only that, the acne they deal with daily is more inflamed than my occasional pimples, but they find beautiful and creative ways to embrace their skin. So why couldn’t I do the same?

I decided that for six weeks, I’d take a selfie for my Instagram Stories whenever I had a pimple. The initial idea of openly documenting my acne made me incredibly anxious, especially on a platform as visually centered as Instagram. So, from that moment on, I’d point out my pimples in these selfies. I’d call them my visiting friends and would give them silly names. On days where I felt a little too self-conscious or uncomfortable to post my bare skin, I’d still take a selfie but cover my zits with a hydrocolloid acne patch

After I posted the first selfie, I remember feeling a rush of butterflies and laughing. It felt so freeing to just say, “Yeah, here’s my pimple—so what?” Maybe I felt this way because of how silly the entire process felt, from placing sparkly Instagram stickers around my pimple to baptizing them as Steven or Jim. By the third selfie I took, I realized that I was actually excited to take another one and make it even sillier.  

I didn’t post every picture over the six weeks, but I found that just taking the pictures helped my internal dialogue move from “Ugh, my skin looks so bad, I want to hide under my sheets” to “I think I’ll name this one Phillip.” That reframed narrative of my skin allowed me to acknowledge that while my skin wasn’t at the state I wanted it to be in, I could still poke fun at myself and not take my acne so seriously.

After the six weeks were over, I felt lighter and more confident. Six weeks originally sounded long, but time flew by with every baptized zit and funny selfie. I’m not actively posting selfies of my pimples anymore, but whenever I find myself feeling self-conscious about a new blemish, I just take a deep breath, slap on a hydrocolloid patch, and move on with my day. Before, a new zit might have made it difficult to get out of bed, but now I can honestly say that I don’t mind getting acne. It’s not like I welcome getting zits, but I’m determined not to let them control me.

I don’t want to let a bump on my face have so much control over my mental health and life. And it’s such a shame to let a pimple get in the way of documenting every win that I can get my hands on, whether it’s successfully making a 12-layer crepe cake for the first time, getting another article published, going out to buy Champagne for my birthday, or snuggling with my cat. When I was struggling with my skin and mental health, these quietly happy moments were far and few between. Now, I get to have so many of these moments. I want to savor every single one of them and take photos of my genuine happiness, regardless of how my skin looks. While I don’t think I’ll ever stop examining my skin every night, I won’t think twice about whipping out my phone whenever I’m feeling myself—pimples and all.