I have acne.
My head is unevenly shaved.
My lips are flaky from the time I’ve spent chewing them.
I am a permanent sweaty mess because of anxiety.
I pull out my eyebrows.
There is a scar where my nose piercing used to be.
At 19 I already have worry lines.
I wear glasses too big for my face.
My teeth are coffee stained.
These are all just facts – things I am supposed to be ashamed of and try desperately to hide. I have whittled away hours of my life fretting over everything that makes me ‘ugly’, all of the features which dump me in the category of the unappealing. Then, I began to wonder, why do I care? Who is it I am trying to impress? It certainly wasn’t myself. I know that my acne amongst my wild variety of other flaws are all natural pitfalls that accumulate along the journey of living. If it doesn’t offend me to see a scruffy so-and-so looking back at me in the mirror, then why am I wasting all of this energy worrying about the implications of my so-called ‘ugliness’?
If someone looks at me on the street and thinks to themselves ‘wow, they’re ugly’ or ‘I wouldn’t date them in a million years’, frankly I never have to speak to them or see them ever again and they are not going to make any impact on my life. They are as irrelevant as the crisp packet being blown by the wind down the pavement.
Spoken words are glaring and sticky,
With no canvas base for testing.
Emotions are not linear or following a pattern,
But a framed mess of jaunty angles;
Haywire, impossible, jostling,
All competing for human attention,
The room in my head not enough –
A dissatisfactory stage for their being.
Today I feel fragile and all my thoughts are tinged with guilt for letting myself feel so on edge and breakable. I am angry at myself for not being better, not being indestructible or able to rise above the white noise. Objectively, I know that I am setting my standards for myself way too high, almost like I want to have a reason to criticise and berate myself. Maybe this is what enduring a manipulative relationship leads to; the more time you spend being made to feel unworthy, the more you want to punish yourself for being so unlovable. In reality, I know these things, these judgements which are made about me are untrue and that I have pacified these waves of self-hatred which a toxic relationship has stirred-up before. I just need to find the courage to do so again. In the mean time, I will continue writing out my feelings to make sense of what I am going through and how I am growing as a person. I am sure that in the not too distant future, I will write more about this situation, to help educate others about the emotional torment of feeling trapped by a manipulative figure in your life. For now though, I will leave resources below for anyone who is being affected by this problem at the moment, as well as a promise to you that you are not alone.
NHS resources for cases of abuse
The Samaritans’ helpline and email address
Resources from Mind, the mental health charity
Labels are strange. It’s almost like they bring a competitive edge with them – you have to prove yourself worthy and cleave fully to every facet of your label. These terms, they leave no room for grey areas, expecting human beings to fall into cemented categories and know exactly who we are. But two people standing under the same label are never the same and they never experience that label the same either. We all have baggage and unique parts that make-up our whole and there’s no room for those things in one clean-cut word.
Then comes the temptation to model ourselves on the word that speaks to us the most. We become a caricature of ourselves as we contort and morph into a warped perception of what we ‘should’ be. The sickened feeling in the pit of your stomach doesn’t go away though, not until you stop measuring yourself against a typecast character which other people have placed in your mind. You shouldn’t model yourself on the stereotypes of a word so far removed from the complexities of humanity that it seems to define and confine you for the comfort of others. We are all messes, so why put yourself in a labelled prison of your own making unless it feels right and natural to you? Just do what you want, don’t hurt others, then your position as a good person will matter one hundred times more than any category you can squeeze yourself into when you feel forced by society but reluctant in yourself.
It’s interesting that us humans love labels so much. We are infatuated with the ideals of kinship and belonging, so much so that we can lose ourselves in the rush of our identity crises. Having a label you can relate to is nice, stabilising even, as long as you possess it rather than it possessing you.
I think back to my 15 year-old self, desperate to understand who I was, willing myself to have a discernible identity to meet others with. In many ways, my confidence rested on finding a label even though I knew at heart that my search wasn’t stemming from my own desire but instead it came from social pressure to associate myself with a category which others could judge me on. I worried about the implications of every decision, action or thought, self-policing myself until any comfort I had in my own skin was gone. I just wish that life didn’t have to seem like such a rush, a sprint race to every milestone, full of competition and aggravation along the way.
Comparison is scary, we should stop that.
Everyday, we are inundated with adverts promoting skin-care products promising to ‘transform’ us or ‘correct’ our skin, as if our natural state is a mistake to run away from as quickly as possible. Treatments for acne-prone skin are advertised alongside models without a single blemish or mark upon their skin, creating the illusion that a certain cream or face wash will completely change the natural basis of your skin. It is ingrained in us that any deviation from ‘perfect’ skin must be relentlessly pursued and hidden from public sight, pouring shame on those of us who dare to feel comfortable in our own skin.
The expressed aim of skin-care brands is to cultivate a culture of perfection in which everyone strives to become an ‘ideal’, regardless of the fact that they have to airbrush models until they look like wax work figures to convey this ‘ideal’ image in their ad campaigns. The vast majority of such products are crammed full of chemicals such as sulfates and parabens, in addition to other chemicals that I cannot spell let alone pronounce. Then we are commonly expected to pay irrationally high prices for the pleasure of possessing these products so that we can smear these chemicals across our face as we chase skin-perfection with ever increasing desperation.
For me, years of longing for my acne to clear and my numerous trials of consistently failing skin-care products has left me very skeptical and resentful of the beauty industry (maybe you can tell!). In my opinion, the narrative around skin-care should focus on nourishment rather than perfection. We should focus on taking care of and protecting our skin which will be ours to the day we die rather than damaging it in the pursuit of perfection at any cost. Our bodies and skin are things to be cherished and appreciated rather than scorned and hated. Yes, skin problems can be painful and annoying to deal with but they are not the sum of who we are and do not warrant us feeling worthless and ashamed. Caring for ourselves rather than constantly criticising is innumerably more rewarding.
‘It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.’ – Leo Tolstoy
‘Beauty is a radiance that originates from within and comes from inner security and strong character.’ – Jane Seymour
Who am I?
The mirage I see in the mirror
Or the crayon drawing of an oversized child?
A twisted, morbid, relic
The mask of chaotic innocence.
Should I be ashamed, afraid,
Confused, depressed or scared?
Love is not written on my arms,
Assurance is not absorbed in my veins
And my heart doesn’t pump,
Not like I remember it used to.
Today, I find myself staring at my blank computer screen, the brilliant white of a draft blog post staring blatantly back at me. And I feel intimidated. What I am looking at doesn’t seem to be a computer screen anymore, it’s taken on it’s own lease of life, masquerading as the many faces of people I dearly wish will never find this indescribably small corner of the internet that I inhabit. All of these faces leer at me, telling me that my writing isn’t good enough, that everything I say is cliched and that I should be embarrassed to spend my time pouring out these immature words. So, I feel afraid to write and my hands keep hovering hesitantly over my keyboard, frozen in a panic about whether or not they can trust my mind to give them good enough words to type out.
I’ll be honest, most of these faces take the appearance of people who have taught me over the years. People who have seemed to me to be impossibly clever, even scarily so as I remember their Oxbridge certificates taking pride of place on their walls, almost as if to prove my own inadequacy to me. Their faces contort into amused sneers in my mind’s eye as they look at me with the knowledge that what I write is absolute drivel that could never impress anyone. The way they look at me feels paralysing.
I don’t whether the force of their intimidation in my head is so strong because I got my first semester University results on Friday. The crude grading of my supposed intelligence and understanding has always felt frightening to me, as if the sum of my parts is presented on that results page in a disappointingly low percentage which classifies me as simply average. Whatever the mark, results are always a distinct bash to my confidence because it reminds me of how my future is in the hands of other people who are undoubtedly intellectually superior to me and probably marked my papers thinking how basic my work was. The most I can do is stick a figurative middle finger up at these pretend critiques which my mind has twisted out of the faint shadows of people I either used to know or barely know at all and continue to write in spite of the faces which drift across my consciousness.