How getting acne in my early twenties helped me to build self-confidence



Adult acne made me rethink how I should define my self-worth.

I remember the day Victoria’s second lockdown ended last year with the same sense of dread as a dentist appointment or blood test. Clearly, it did not hold the same sense of elation for me. For four seriously long months, I had only seen friends for walks, while masked up.

My chin had been hidden from everyone but my family, as had the red, painful pimples that covered it. But, on the night of reopening, I realised my friends would finally see me maskless. I covered my face with layers of foundation and off I went with a pit in my stomach.

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I thought I’d avoided the testy teenage skin a lot of my friends had endured in high school. I’d always believed if you were lucky enough not to develop acne as a teenager, you were in the clear. But, by age 21, my skin had taken a turn for the worse. 

A combination of acne across my chin and dry and flaky skin plagued me every day. It’s safe to say my self-confidence took a major hit, and I didn’t even recognise myself when I looked in the mirror. My anxiety began to grow as I realised this wasn’t going away and I needed to adjust my life accordingly (or so I thought).

Every night out involved a heavy layer of makeup and a handbag filled with products to fix my skin when it inevitably began to flake off. Every morning after involved angry and inflamed pimples from said makeup.

After a few months of this cycle, my skin was granted a break under the most undesirable circumstances. It was March 2020: cue lockdowns, no more socialising, and certainly no more nights out. I was still seeing my closest friends for the occasional walk, but they had already endured (what I thought were horrifying) sights of me makeup-free.

The introduction of face masks in the second lockdown, besides its primary function of saving lives, was also helping me to save face. I was determined that once everyone saw me again fabric-free, my acne would be gone.

Since you’ve read the start of this article, you’ll know that didn’t work out exactly how I had planned. And I tried everything. Medication, chlorophyll, celery juice, going off birth control, and then back on birth control. As Melbourne neared closer and closer to reopening, my desperation grew. Each day that passed felt like I was in an exam of some sort, with 15 minutes to go, yet nearly all questions were left unanswered. I trawled the internet for more quick fixes, but alas, I was out of time.

The post-lockdown period felt like a prison compared to the makeup-free months of COVID, although it’s supposed to be the opposite. While I was so happy that people and businesses in Victoria could return to a (somewhat) normal life, my anxiety was skyrocketing imagining the social situations I would have to endure with my acne on show. Plus, my skin was breaking out even more now due to innumerable layers of concealer and bottles of wine, so my confidence was at an all-time low.

Like everyone, I missed out on a lot during lockdown, albeit mainly trivial things (bye, Europe trip). Now I was free to live my life again, I still wanted to remain in a self-imposed lockdown. But, what if I swapped my shame for self-acceptance and tried to stop caring as much about my acne?

It’s easier said than done, but slowly I stopped slathering on makeup for every supermarket trip and tried to reduce my flurried exclamations of “Excuse my skin, it’s sooo bad!!” I realised that, actually, no one cared about me and my skin as much as I thought.

I figured my life would drastically improve when my acne cleared up, but it turns out that trying to embrace it, or at least forget about it, would do the trick too. I wouldn’t say I got as far as total acceptance, but I’ll settle for a mix of tolerance and mild irritation. My skin now is what others would probably classify as ‘okay’, even though I don’t think I will ever be completely okay with it.

But, compared to my teenage years when a single pimple could send me spiralling into self-hatred, I’ve learnt to base my self-worth far less on my looks. It’s definitely not easy, and I’m not even sure if it’s fully achievable, but trying to accept my acne is a step in the right direction.

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