I’m not beautiful despite my flaws; I’m beautiful because of them.
– Tess Garcia
I love when people I look up to are honest on social media. I know I’m not the only one who prefers scrolling through a realistic mix of sweet and unsavory moments over a carefully curated, aspirational selection. It’s one thing to admire that sort of behavior from behind a screen; adopting it yourself, on the other hand, is something else entirely.
I’ve been picking my skin since my very first zit sprung up on my chin in seventh grade. No larger than a grain of rice, the swollen spot seemed to overshadow everything I loved about my appearance. A few days into its residence on my face, I couldn’t take it anymore. One night, when no one was watching, I slipped into my parents’ bathroom, planted myself in front of their impossibly clean mirror, and picked. From that day on, I returned to that mirror in moments of stress, poking and prodding at every impurity I encountered — or imagined — on my skin.
When I left for college, my toxic relationship with pimple popping waned, probably because of the lack of privacy in my dorm’s communal bathrooms. Even so, I still dealt with blips of relapse every now and again. Throughout that time, I saw friends with far more noticeable skin conditions unabashedly posting photos of themselves on Instagram and Twitter. I thought they looked beautiful no matter their skin, but I hardly saw myself the same way. “Great for them,” I’d tell myself, “but that couldn’t be me.” Putting my punctured, swelling face on public display would mean admitting I had a problem.
In the coming years, the sort of skin positivity I’d first seen from my friends began trickling into mainstream media. The emergence of Teen Vogue’s 2017 Acne Awards, a package of articles discussing all things skin care, marked a turning point for me. The series launched with an introductory story explaining that the goal of the Acne Awards was not to shame readers into “fixing” their skin but to provide them the resources to accept their appearance and approach skin care from whatever vantage point felt right. In the article’s accompanying image, three girls are seen lying serenely, their acne-pocked smiles glowing and adorned with small flowers. Then a freshman in college, that was the first time I’d seen marks like mine depicted by a magazine in a positive light. The models looked beautiful — but not in spite of their skin. The unique textures of their cheeks, temples, and T-zones actually added to the beauty of the photos; before then, I hadn’t even known that was possible.
Staring into my phone screen and seeing the gorgeous, imperfect faces of those young women looking back at me, I saw my deepest insecurities reflected and even embraced by people outside my inner circle for the very first time. In witnessing that dramatic upheaval of the status quo, skin positivity turned from a spectacle I cheered on from the sidelines to a movement I found myself barrelling into full steam ahead.
Today, I continue to grapple with skin-picking urges, but I no longer view my habit as a fatal flaw. As media outlets have slowly but surely introduced a more complex standard for beautiful skin, I’ve managed to reframe my outlook on what was once a debilitating secret. I’ve learned to love the skin I’m in no matter how it may look on any given day. Every zit I squeeze is just a slip-up on my journey toward self-acceptance, and I now know that path was never meant to be linear. Instead of dwelling on actions I can’t take back, I’ve shifted my focus toward the positive changes I can make in my life right now. A filter-free Instagram post feels like a great place to start.