“I am not my acne”

A battlefield.

This is how I describe my back and my skin as a whole. I say it half-jokingly now, but back then I did mean the bitterness and grief behind the words. My acne improved just before this photo was taken, but it has fluctuated wildly over the years, speaking to a long history of internal bitterness and self-hate.

“I’ve had acne for ten years” says little. What I really mean is, sixth grade was the last time I ever had clear skin. I’ve now completely forgotten what that feels like, because I’ve woken up every single day since sporting its polar opposite. I had acne in every school photo since middle school. I had acne when I got my college acceptance letters. I had acne during my prom and graduation. I was terrified of class participation and public speaking because it meant people looking at me. I had problems shopping for a prom dress because they all exposed my back. I often didn’t dare leave the house without makeup on. My grades and confidence fell, and for years I never let anybody see my back if I could help it.

Having chronic acne is a physical condition that affects you mentally as well. The little voice saying you’re ugly is guaranteed to become your new best friend. Your new best friend, it turns out, can be very persuasive. Although others tell you it’s not that bad, acne becomes the very core of your identity (makeup, you find, only does so little). And because acne is ugliness, flaws, and insecurity embodied, you become that as well. Technically, nobody ever made fun of me for having acne. But my new best friend, the twisted voice in my head, turned even this silence into a suspicion that they were judging me or only humoring me when they’d rather be with someone else.

After a while, I realized my new best friend had done nothing but undermine my self-worth. Four years ago, I told her to get lost because I deserved better.

Now I’m twenty-one. I can more or less count the days I wear makeup in a year on one hand. Thanks to people who refused to give up on me, I love myself a whole lot more than I did in high school. It’s still an ongoing battle—even now I’m often racked by self-doubt when making new friends and taking on leadership roles. Yet in a twisted way, I’m grateful for my acne, because it has allowed me to find friends and significant others who put my personality before my body. Slowly, I start to embrace my resilience and forgive my scars. And so the journey continues.

My skin is not the proof of my failure, it is the witness to my strength. I am not my acne, my picking, or my scars. I am a sister, a writer, a dreamer, and a warrior. And in this battle, I will be a victor.