“It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful, I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.”~Warsan Shire
I got my period when I was about nine years old. I think that’s when it started. I remember having some really low moments of sadness. I remember being anxious when meeting new people. Someone always had a remark about it. Someone always treated me differently because of it.
I had a bump on every inch of my face. Every inch. Every type of bump you can imagine on top and under blackheads. And the acne didn’t discriminate. It found home on my chest, neck, back and arms, too.
“It’s like we can’t talk about it. We have to talk around it like you don’t have to deal with it.”
That’s what my best friend, at the time, said to me.*
That’s funny because I can’t think of a time my acne wasn’t brought up, especially during new encounters–with a friend’s two-year old cousin who wanted to know why my face looked like that or an 80-year-old family friend who said to me come here with your “bumpy face”. I was relieved when the encounter ended after a few “bless your heart”-like comments. Those weren’t the worst encounters. There were plenty more.
The imperfect skin of this introverted child was making so many people uncomfortable.
I woke up every morning hoping some type of miracle would occur. I prayed that God would decide to just wipe my imperfect skin away. So, I tried every acne medicine promoted on TV and/or suggested by a stranger who just needed to give some unsolicited advice. One time my hairdresser’s sister said to her. “Does her mother know about the new Proactiv cream?” like I wasn’t even there. Then she stared at me like I was a unicorn along with others in the shop. When Proactiv was just an infomercial with no celebrity endorsements, I begged my mother to buy it. We tried Proactiv and like any other “solutions” recommended by several different dermatologists, the only thing I can remember having was worse skin that was now starting to peel.
The focus was never on enhancing my self-esteem or self-worth. I couldn’t articulate it at nine years old, but I realized that many people attached self-worth to their perception of beauty and would treat you like shit if your beauty didn’t meet their perception. “You” included children. Other children experience this from being overweight, underweight, “too” dark, or from not having “good hair”. Magazines, TV shows and music videos are good at perpetuating unhealthy beauty standards. However, these daily media messages and encounters with strangers don’t always have the lasting effect family has on how someone determines their worth.
On the contrary, I saw worth in education, especially reading. I contributed much of the reason why I “survived” those moments during my childhood because I was an avid reader and art lover. You can have different opinions about my beauty, but you couldn’t deny my intelligence nor my natural-born talent. This attitude made report cards a plethora of A’s into high school, and I earned acceptance letters from every college I applied to including an early decision from my first choice: Syracuse University.
After my first year at Syracuse University, I earned my first paid summer internship in New York City. This was a huge accomplishment because usually students didn’t have enough experience after their first year, but I did. Plus, my grades were good. My skin looked much better. I got rid of the freshman 15, and had a nice new haircut and new attitude.
A few weeks before my internship, I was in the passenger seat of my aunt’s car talking about the excitement of these accomplishments plus the other great things I did within my first year in college. She looked at me as if she was hesitant to say something but had to say it.
She asked, “When are you going to get braces?”
The tacit part of her response to my academic and professional accomplishments was: Now, that you were able to get rid of the bad acne, fix your teeth then you’ll be pretty enough.
So, to the young girls/women (especially Black) which whom I write and fight for, this is for you: Somebody is always going to have something to say. To some, you will never be enough because they aren’t enough to themselves. It’s never about you. It’s about them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the beholder does not hold your truth.
And to adults, stop projecting your shit on children.
I still look in the mirror and go “Eh…” sometimes and say “you cute though,” walk out and go confidently with my day because well, I’m fucking brilliant. Though, I am particular about my appearance (I am an image consultant), my life is way more complex and way more interesting than having a pretty face.
*I realized later that this comment, like comment from others, was not about me at all. She “confessed” to me later that she was jealous of how smart and “perfect” I seemed.