The first one came in early 2020. A purplish, slightly spongy, slightly tender knot, right there in the middle of my chin. Others quickly followed. Big, small, tough, soft. They multiplied quickly, engulfing my nose and mouth within weeks. I ran to my family doctor, who confirmed the worst: adult acne. Mine was cystic, which was as disgusting as it sounded. Painful too. But not the end of the world, I reminded myself. I was an adult, after all, and adults didn’t let clogged pores stop them.
As I braved my new affliction with platitudes, prescription drugs, and an outward look of indifference, inside – I try to deny it – my ego ached.
Thanks in no small part to the privilege I have as a slim young white lady, I have always had a fairly positive body image. That’s not to say that I don’t spend hours every week inspecting stretch marks, pinching belly fat, and pulling out stray hairs. I do. I scrutinize, sigh and move forward.
But acne? Towards the end of your twenties? It was wrong. It was unfair.
Bristling with injustice, I smeared my face with foundation and tried not to notice when my coworkers were talking to my pimple-speckled chin instead of me. (Note to other acne sufferers: Invest in non-comedogenic products or skip makeup altogether; otherwise, you’ll just fuel the fire.)
Then came the pandemic: a new era of grainy webcam feeds. Overworked moms stop hiding their dark circles. The professionals traded suits for sweatshirts. With hair salons closed, TV presenters proudly showed off their gray roots. As my $ 60 foundation languished in a bathroom drawer, I buried my acne under a face mask (if I was going out for a grocery run) and prepared to complete my masters through Zoom.
As our daily lives have changed, the values that govern them have also changed. Wrapped in shapeless yellow coats, healthcare workers replaced airbrushed celebrities on magazine covers. Today more than ever, as my home province of Alberta faces the swells of a fourth wave, we commend their courage and dedication. In a world where appearances once reigned supreme, inner character has taken a stealthy blow.
When I visit my doctor these days, she greets me with a smile – I can tell from the way her eyes narrow – and what I imagine must be the hundredth daily washing of her chapped pink hands. She wears that ubiquitous blue surgical mask, a set of goggles, and a face shield. Without her curly blonde haircut, I would barely recognize her.
But underneath all that plastic, it’s the same doctor. She remembers my family history and what I take in school. She reassures me. It solves the problem.
Together, we’ve launched an arsenal of hard-to-pronounce acne medications: retinol, benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, doxycycline, and most recently isotretinoin, which causes many side effects and requires regular blood tests. . One by one, the pimples shrank and disappeared. My face today is marked but above all clear.
Even though the acne is clearing up, my doctor continues to treat my little complaint – and he is small, especially in light of the last 18 months – with seriousness and respect. She continues to smile and squint at me and listen patiently as I talk about my skin. About the appearance. We both know they don’t matter anymore. And maybe they never have.
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