Let me start by saying this: Everyone struggles with body image issues at some point in their life. Women and men and everyone in between.
For the most part, I've considered myself lucky. I've always been built small, and our society privileges thin people. I'm also white, and our beauty standards idolize light features. If I ever turn on the television, I will always see women who look like me.
So don't get me wrong: I'm lucky. I don't want this post to come across as me complaining about my flaws when the deck is already stacked in my favor. The purpose of this post is to reconcile the insecurities I have struggled with, and by extension, to explain how nobody -- not even people who come close to the beauty ideal -- is immune from body image issues.
I have struggled with acne ever since I was 14. I'm now 22. That's over a third of my life. When I was a teenager, I thought that it was something I would outgrow. As I've gotten older, that possibility seems more and more remote.
Over the years I've tried a variety of things to improve my skin: antibiotics, different types of birth control pills, commercial acne products, and various home remedies. Some have helped and some have not. The only winning combination has been Yaz and low stress levels.
I'm now trying to make peace with the fact that it's impossible to completely control my skin. We're constantly getting hammered with these messages that if you don't like yourself, you can change yourself. "Buy this thing, and then you'll change and you'll finally love yourself and be happy." It's how companies sell diet plans, weight loss pills, exercise machines, skin and hair care products, and clothing.
Acne products like Proactiv are also marketed by playing on our insecurities. I gave in to the advertisements with all the smiling white people with clear, glowing skin, and ordered Proactiv when I was in college. It made my face burn, left bleach spots on my sheets, and didn't work on the stubborn breakouts around my chin.
Topical remedies don't do much for me because my acne is hormonal. And even if my birth control pill can regulate the hormones of my reproductive system, it doesn't work on stress hormones. And I still always break out when I menstruate -- the week when I'm not taking the active pills.
You might be able to change your body by using certain products. You might successfully eliminate acne with Proactiv. You might lose weight on a diet or exercise plan. But if that change to your body comes from a place of self-loathing rather than a place of self-love, whatever happiness you experience is going to be short-lived, because you'll still be susceptible to self-esteem issues which stem from the next thing the media tells you is wrong with you.
From the time girls are as young as 10, they are taught they need all of these products in order to be pretty. You need to wear a bra so your tits are in the right position. You need to shave your legs and wear make-up so boys will find you attractive.
Again, this is not to say that men are not also pressured to comply with a beauty ideal. Calvin Klein underwear ads market the man's unattainable ideal physique as Victoria's Secret markets the woman's. Everyone can have body image issues, but I do believe that women are more susceptible to them because we are taught that we need to be insecure in order to be attractive, whereas men are taught to be confident as part of their beauty ideal.
This is also not to say that wearing make-up, dieting, or buying lingerie are always forms of self-hatred. You can love yourself and wear make-up. But you have to love yourself before and after you put the foundation on.
There have been times when I've looked in the mirror and not wanted to go out because my skin was so red and bumpy. But I don't wear make-up to cover my acne anymore, because I don't like the way it feels on my face, and also because I know make-up is not going to solve my self-esteem issues. You can't keep your skin covered 24-7. At some point you have to wake up in the morning and look in the mirror. And you have to learn to love what you see.
The failure of so many products and home remedies to cure my acne has told me that the only way I can really solve my skin problem is with self-love. I've realized that even so-called clinical products will not have the effect they advertise, and I wonder: If these products weren't constantly being marketed to me, would I even be thinking about my acne at all?
I try to control my stress levels as best as I can, but that's hard to do when you lead a busy life with, you know, so many things that stress you out. I'm an ambitious person. I have high expectations for myself. And I complete each and every responsibility with extreme care. I would not trade those qualities for anything. And so the effect that they have on my body I just need to learn to accept.
Two square inches of red and bumpy skin on my face do not negate all the things I love about myself. If I'm having a bad break-out, I'll go for a run and think about how strong my legs are. I'll take an Instagram selfie and adjust the filter until my eyes are electric blue. I'll put on a nice pair of jeans and admire my tush in the mirror.
Confidence radiates so brightly that it will take all the focus away from your flaws. When you love yourself, it shows. I'm working on it, and to anyone else who has struggled with body issues: I hope you are too.