Some say everything happens for a reason, but sometimes things suck. Acne is one of those sucky things. However, I believe there are lessons to glean from all life situations we find ourselves in, acne included.
I’ve had acne for over 10 years, since my first breakouts popped up at age 15. For me, acne has come and gone, along with the struggles intrinsically tied to it. But when I really think hard about it, acne has taught me so much. It’s weird to say, but I honestly feel like I am a better person for having gone through it all. The truth is, there are lessons acne can teach us, if we’re willing to listen.
Stop stressing about what other people think
As social creatures, it can be crippling to stand out, be made fun of, or ostracized for what we look like. We want to fit in. We want others to like us. But sometimes “fitting in” requires us to suppress or compromise things about ourselves. Releasing the need for other’s approval can free us to pursue passions and express our authentic selves.
When my most severe acne breakout occurred in the spring of 2012, I would not leave the house without layers and layers of makeup. That is if I went out at all. Cover-up and foundation provided me with a layer of security that I didn’t feel on the inside. I wore makeup, not because I enjoyed it or thought it would heal my breakouts (it would likely make them worse), but because I didn’t want other people to notice them. I wanted to hide. The self-consciousness I felt was high, and acne ignited pre-existing issues with low self-esteem and confidence.
But let me tell you. Going out of the house without cover-up was truly an exercise in not giving a sh*t about what other people thought. Showing my bare skin was hard at first. I felt vulnerable. But now, I honestly rarely think about what people think of my skin. Trust me, that took time and a heck of a lot of “faking it till I made it.” Maybe we could view acne as an exercise in really letting go of other people’s opinions. If we can feel confident in a room, even with acne, maybe we can feel confident with any circumstance.
We are more than our looks
We seem to be living in an appearance-obsessed culture. We are primed to care about what we look like, and what others look like too. This is reinforced throughout social media and celebrity culture, where people are praised, paid, and followed for their physical appearance.
If “looking good” is our goal, it’s likely that acne will only detract from it. I know it did for me. Like others, I cared a great deal about my appearance. When I was younger, I placed a lot of my self-worth and value in how I looked. So, when acne persisted in my life, my self-perceived value decreased, as I had identified so strongly with my appearance.
So, as we age and wrinkles etch their way across our skin, will we too experience feelings of worthlessness? I hope not. Perhaps, acne can teach us resilience before signs of aging inevitably occur. Maybe we can learn other ways to build our sense of self, ones that don’t rely on the impermanence of beauty norms.
Acne can be an exercise in appreciating and enhancing the many wonderful qualities about ourselves that don’t involve physical beauty. Kindness, generosity, patience, and compassion are just some of the many qualities that contribute to our inner beauty.
Not only is acne an exercise in seeing the inner beauty in ourselves, but also in others. One positive side effect of releasing self-judgment, is that we may find ourselves judging others less too.
Surrender to things we cannot control
When the 76th “acne-eliminating” cream didn’t work. When we tried, and re-tried just about every diet out there. When we’ve seen countless traditional, alternative, and Chinese medicine doctors. Yet still, we have acne. It can feel so out of control, no matter how much we try. So every time a new breakout pops up, we resist it, because we don’t want it.
But resistance can be problematic. “It may look as if the situation is creating the suffering, but ultimately this is not so—your resistance is,” says Eckhart Tolle, a revered spiritual teacher. His books, The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awaken to Your Life’s Purpose, have been the most impactful, life-altering books I’ve ever read. Whether or not you currently experience acne, I highly recommend learning more about what Eckhart has to say.
While we try to heal our skin, learning to surrender to the process can be one of the hardest lessons to learn. But it is an extremely valuable one. Often in life, we will encounter situations where we can’t control the outcome. We can’t control other people’s behaviors (no matter how much we want to). We can’t make everyone go vegan with a snap of our fingers, or ensure everyone is voting for the political candidate with progressive values. It can be hard, but sometimes letting go can provide much needed peace.
Acne was one of the catalysts that spurred my research into alternative forms of healing. When prescription pills and traditional medicine didn’t cure my breakouts, I discovered that lifestyle changes make a huge impact on physical health and appearance. I know others who have been pushed on a holistic path due to acne and found that the “food as medicine” approach worked well for them.
Learning how to take care of ourselves now, through a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle behaviors, will pay off in the long run. I like to daydream about myself feeling fresh and fit in my mid-70’s, hiking up mountains, and being able to read, write, and research with ease.
Sometimes I wonder if I never had acne, would I still be eating the same foods I ate growing up? I’m talking about the ones that I cut out due to their association with acne: Mac and cheese, candy, milk chocolate, and non-vegan food products. Indeed, acne was one of the catalysts to becoming vegan. And being vegan is a choice that I look forward to making every day, and one I am most proud of. Veganism has brought me into the world of learning about social, environmental, and animal rights issues, which has informed my actions and strengthened my connectedness with others. So truly, thank you acne, for shaping my mindset for the better.
Life’s too short to spend time getting down on ourselves
Even at the age of 26, I often think about how much time I have left here on earth. On bad days, I worry about time passing me by. I find myself asking the question, how can I avoid wasting precious life hours? Sometimes, that’s the time spent mindlessly scrolling social media, or watching drama YouTube videos.
But, what if we counted the hours spent beating up on ourselves for having acne, or something else we didn’t like about ourselves? Whether that is our looks, professional success, or follower count on Instagram. Spending time focused on berating ourselves is truly precious life hours wasted.
So, in the midst of feeling low after too much time inspecting our skin in the mirror, what if we took a step back and asked ourselves: is this really how I want to spend my time? I’m sure in the grand scheme of things, acne wouldn’t come close to making the highlight reel. Which would instead contain all of the beautiful relationships, landmark moments shared, and personal growth experienced.
I want to conclude with an infamous quote by the beloved Maya Angelou, “I learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Like Angelou says, people will remember us most for how we treated them, for the kindness and generosity we shared. They will not remember the pimples. If a memory of our breakouts lingers with them even to their deathbeds, then I think we should question whether we should even care about their opinion in the first place. Truthfully, our breakouts are inconsequential to others. As they should be. So maybe they could be more inconsequential to ourselves.
What’s one lesson acne has taught you?
Also by Lindsay: Here’s What Happened When I Drank 2L Of Water A Day For 28 Days
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