Everyone has their battle scars. Some are visible; some are locked away in memories. Regardless of what form they take, each one of them tell a unique story of their own.
They tell that we’ve encountered things that have distressed us; broken us; maybe nearly killed us. We may have lost sight of who we are. We may have been sent to the darkest places imaginable – with no sight of ever climbing back.
Whatever our story, our scars tell it. But they also serve a far greater purpose – they remind us that we DID climb back. Even against all the odds we were faced with. We survived: and we’ll keep on surviving.
Some of my scars are visible for people to see. If you looked closely, you’d be able to spot little red pin pricks under the surface of my skin. Their presence communicates the hellish and tormenting journey of growing up with acne.
I was around 9 when I was hit with my first spot. It was, of course, an unwelcome intruder, but it didn’t concern me too much at the time. My mum told me it was just a sign that I was starting to enter my adolescent years. Back then, I was torn deciding whether I was excited or not about becoming a teenager: Finally I’d be allowed to wear makeup, high heels and fashionable clothes – I thought, which was indeed a gleaming prospect, but then again girls get painful periods and sometimes these teenagers get sad and slam doors. I can just imagine the kind of glance my mum would have met this contemplation with – silent in sound; screaming with omniscience.
High school was when the battle truly started. All of a sudden, an un-straightened strand of hair was a serious issue, a stomach slightly sticking out was a crisis, and an un-plucked brow was a cause for concern. The dynamic had completely shifted. Before I could even adjust to an institution far bigger than I’d ever known, I was confronted with an obsessive need to appear flawless.
It couldn’t have hit at a less convenient time. The worse this appearance obsession got, the worse my acne became. Those few pimples that intruded at 9 and 10 had exploded into a face full of red bumps: masking every inch of the clear, smooth skin I once knew – the skin I now longed for more than anything else.
Suddenly everyone became expert dermatologists and bombarded me with unsolicited advice.
“It’s probably just your diet“, a classmate would remark in between each mouthful of chips. “Try getting some Vitamin C.”
It sounded far too simple to actually have any merit, but there was no harm in trying – I had become desperate, after all. That night, I scavenged all the available oranges from my family’s fruit bowl. Nothing.
“You need to make sure you’re washing your face every night!“, another would chip in.
Wow, I never thought of that!
Doctor’s prescriptions, dietary changes and every acne-wash under the sun doesn’t even begin to touch the tip of the amount of things I tried. Whole weekends were dedicated to the purpose of banishing the hell that inhabited my face. I’d research new remedies, drink gallons of water and trial new creams. All of them, of course, to no avail.
And at the end of every day, I’d study every single spot in the mirror; drowning an inch deeper into self-loathing.
That’s the thing with acne, it rips away every ounce of self-esteem that you possess. You exhaust every single positive speck in your mind, only to look at your reflection the next morning and have it ripped out of you all over again.
Some days it reached lengths I didn’t have the strength to bear. Throwing myself on the bathroom floor, I’d wonder if it could lower me any further. I just wanted to sink. My head throbbed from all the crying; my throat ached from all the sobbing. Even my skin was hurting from all the failed attempts. Yet none of it came close to the pain I felt inside.
I felt very isolated. It seemed that no-one else suffered the kind of acne I did. Even advertisements that marketed treatments made their dig at me – showing a flaw-free Vanessa Hudgens complaining about her spots. WHAT SPOTS?! If it wasn’t acceptable to display a genuine suffer of acne on actual treatment adverts for that very purpose, when was it ever going to feel acceptable on me?
I piled layers and layers of make-up on my face; attempting to create a mask that was suitable for the social environment I had grown to fear. Orange streaky, caked make-up over my overly pale skin just about hid the redness. I knew it looked awful, but it still felt miles better than my real face.
As long as I deceived others of the true state of my skin, that was comforting enough for me. People rarely commented on it but I was always paranoid that they were thinking something truly terrible. In reality, they probably couldn’t have told me anything more volatile than what I told myself.
That’s the point. Suffering from acne is a nasty business. But the beating your self-esteem receives is far deeper; far darker.
I had become so transfixed on masking myself for impossible surroundings where every inch of you had to be perfect or fake that I completely lost sight of things. I would have bargained my hard-earned grades at school for flawless skin because I could only focus on what I hated.
There were plenty of positive qualities in me, both external and internal. I just didn’t care to look.
The society that we grow up and live in can be incredibly toxic. We’re suffocated with false, photoshopped images of a certain type of crafted ‘beauty’ which leaves us feeling the need to only display a glamorised version of ourselves that ultimately masks the real humanity underneath.
My acne very gradually started to tone down after the age of 16. I wish I could tell you that I discovered some miracle working treatment, but I can’t. It was just a natural decline that came with growing out of my teenage years. My skin now is still far from perfect – my scars of what was once there are still visible and I get the odd spell of breakouts. I love it, though. I can honestly say that.
It took me through a battle that rendered me far stronger on the other side. It taught me lessons I never would have learned otherwise. I was confronted with how cruel we can be to ourselves and vouched to be kinder; to the people around me but most importantly, to myself.
I was forced to realise that I was far bigger, far greater than the flaws I had grown to despise myself for.
When I look at my skin in the mirror now, I don’t care to hope for the flawless complexion that my scars will prevent me from having. Instead I see something far greater: a reminder that I climbed out of a dark place I once thought I was eternally trapped in. I survived.