When I was 15, I went through my first, serious episode of acne. It was mostly around my chin area, and I didn’t think too much about it. But one day - a girl from school commented on it, and my perspective changed. She said, “Oh, my gosh, you have so much acne. What are you going to do about it???” The minute she said that to me - I saw myself in the mirror differently. I felt the need to erase my acne, and I became so desperate that I even asked the internet - “How do I get rid of my acne in 10 minutes???”
I discovered all of these crazy recipes with cinnamon powder and yogurt, but ultimately, I just ended up throwing everything in the kitchen on my face. When I did these “facials,” it literally smelled like I was cooking something. One time I used turmeric and toothpaste, and my face turned red. It was crazy. I felt like I was taking steps to fix my skin, but in reality, I was very sad and breaking down.
Later on, my emotional state became even more tumultuous when I was diagnosed with PCOS. When I first got diagnosed, I was surprised. I never thought about my acne as a sign of PCOS because I had been acne-prone my entire life. But one time after I visited India and returned to the UAE, I began to get severe cystic acne. My cycle became irregular, I started losing hair, I was not sleeping well at night, and I was gaining weight. Once I visited the doctor, they told me that I had PCOS, and the symptoms really begin to impact my self-image.
I also became very stressed at school. I can remember thinking that a teacher didn’t like me because of my acne. She would always look at my acne and my cheeks. People didn’t seem to look at my eyes, and this deeply affected me. Thankfully, a friend took me to get skincare, and it slowly started to get better. I was hopeful, but when I visited India again, people were like - “Oh, my gosh, what happened to your skin???” When people said this to me, I was really sad because I truly thought my skin was getting better. Even though I seemed to be making progress, people told me that I still was not up to par. That’s when I was like - “I’m never going to be enough. They’re always going to have something to say about me. Maybe it’s my skin today, maybe it will be my weight tomorrow, and then the next day it will be my hair.”
I knew something had to change with me, and the pain made me realize the truth. I am the only person who can set a consistent standard for myself, and once I realized that - I made a big change. I went from trying to fix my skin every morning to using skincare as a way to nourish my skin. Once I changed skincare to self-care and happiness, I felt more balanced and so did my skin. Shortly after, I created my page, and I really saw a change in myself. By making content, I began to heal whilst helping others do the same. Throughout my journey, I often took pics of my real skin. This was a big step because I only used to take pictures when I was in makeup, and I would never let anyone take pictures of me without it. In the instance that I did take a picture without makeup, it was a “before and after” picture that showed a makeup look. Makeup always made me feel like I could go from ugly to pretty, but now I’m not afraid to go without makeup. My body image has changed a lot. It’s gone from wanting to have the perfect body to just caring for my body. In general, I care and know a lot more about myself now. Accepting my acne has helped me learn and spend time with myself. I actually listen to what my body is telling me.
But as I mentioned before, body and skin positivity was a very rough start for me. Aside from not being happy with my skin, I didn’t see people who looked like me with cystic acne. You never really see brown skin with pimples; you only see it with hyperpigmentation. Only recently have I come across brown skin with acne. Instagram gave me exposure on how to love and normalize my skin, but this was hard to believe. Even after you’re exposed to positivity, you still get exposed to comments, criticisms, and judgments. These types of things used to really upset me, but the truth is - people are going to find faults in me no matter what. I cannot change myself to their liking. The only person I can possibly be is myself. However, I faced a lot of societal barriers before I accepted this.
Although I grew up in the UAE, I was also brought up with South Asian beauty standards. Fair skin is very wanted, and it’s sad because people deeply desire to change their own skin. They don’t think that brown skin is beautiful. This is mainly because of reprensentation from the media. The majority of media portrays fair skin or white skin. On top of that, South Asian beauty companies feed into it. You see all of these fairness products, and you think - “Oh, I should be having fair skin.” And these thoughts are reinforced by those around you. When I visited India as a teenager, people would say, “Oh, you have become dark…” or “Oh, you’ve become lighter. You look prettier!”
I didn’t know how to react, and before I knew it, I was using fairness products too. But fortunately, as I grew up, I learned that there’s a lot of different shades and tones to skin. There’s no such thing as “desirable colors.”
So, I would say that the beauty standards I grew up with were pretty high, and it’s sad that in South Asian countries, where a lot of people are brown, people don’t want to be brown. For many families, fairness is a big thing, but not all. For example, My Dad and I hate the concept of putting down darker shades. But, on matrimonial and dating sites, a lot of men mention skin tone. They mention lighter skin when they give a profile of the type of women they’re expecting. These types of requests are accepted as normal, but when you truly think about it, it’s like - “What? why would you say that???” I don’t understand why fair skin should be a requirement to be attractive or loved. It’s absolutely sad. I try to tell people that skin doesn’t matter, but it’s like we’re set up to believe that it does. And like I said, a lot of these beliefs go back to marriage eligibility.
For me, I’ve never had the end goal of marriage in my head. Marriage is not the end goal, and it is not the only route to a woman’s happiness. Happily ever after can be a lot of different things, not just marriage. But, from the time we are little girls, we’re taught that princesses live happily ever after with princes, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. Your happily ever after can be with yourself, your career, or your passions. Women can look forward to the expectations they’ve set for themselves, not just the expectation of becoming a daughter-in-law.
When you become a daughter-in-law, there’s a lot of expectations. Everything matters. There’s a lot of expectations to be perfect in regards to how you look, what you say, and how you behave. The groom also has his own set of expectations.
Unfortunately, women go through this all over the world, and we are all confronted with men who like to comment and set standards. I find this strange because I would never comment on something that men go through because I do not know how it is for them. Some men try to tell us how to be women, but they cannot. Women’s bodies are not an invitation for comments, but some people do it anyway.
I remember a guy told my friend that he would date me if it weren’t for the acne. I was so shocked and hurt. Another guy said to me, “If you ever need acne, Ayesha has a shop!” However, I did have a good guy friend who knew about PCOS, and he helped me out. This showed me that there are indeed nice guys. It’s not gender that makes someone mean; it’s their perception. Overall, it’s really important to have people that can support you along your journey, and most of all, it’s important to have people that accept you along your journey.
We all have our own journey, and everyone cannot have the same story. We all have individual personalities and dreams that we deserve to discover and pursue. I’m studying to become a biomedical engineer, and I aspire to keep sharing knowledge on body positivity, equality, and holistic self-love.