My name is Catherine. I am 20 years old, and I’m from Slovakia. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always had acne. I’ve always struggled with my skin, but the situation became extremely intense during the second half of 2020. I’m still not sure what caused this, but I assume it was stress. I was just starting university, and living through a pandemic was a very unstable situation. On top of that, if I wore a mask for more than three hours, my skin would get extremely angry. The comedones started to get inflamed, and by the winter of 2020, my skin was covered in inflamed pimples.
I had never seen my skin like this, and the breakouts continued until May of 2021. My skin was in a very inflamed state, but at the same time, I had online classes. I became very occupied with the state of my skin, and I would walk away to look at myself in the mirror while my classes were going on. I found myself skipping my online lectures or parts of them just and scrutinize every inch of my skin. I slowly became consumed, and acne was the number one thing on my mind. Acne was the first thing that I thought of in the morning, and it was the last thing I thought of as I was trying to fall asleep. It was really getting out of hand, and mentally, it was becoming a bigger problem than I could have ever imagined. So, I started thinking about the situation I was in. The first thing I thought of was covering the mirror in my room.
One day, I covered my mirror in Christmas wrapping paper. Taking this step helped me to control my compulsion to skip classes just to look at my skin. It was a great idea, however it did not solve my problem because I still thought of my acne all the time. I tried to look for a hobby that I could occupy myself with. During the pandemic, you either started exercising, doing crafts, or baking. So, I chose to exercise in order to focus more on my health. In a way, I wanted to compensate for my skin with other activities that would enhance my appearance or make me feel better about myself. Exercise was functional, but not for a long time. It didn’t really solve anything because I don’t enjoy exercise much. I needed another outlet. That’s when I explored Instagram and found other people who were in love with skincare but also had skin struggles. I wanted to join them, so I began creating content and reviews of skincare. That’s how I started managing my mental health situation.
I slowly began to realize that all I could do was accept myself and who I was at the moment. I had skin struggles, and I had to accept that. Ultimately, it was something that I had to learn to live with. I had to convince myself to the person I was. So, I started this ritual of doing my morning routine. I would stare at my reflection in the mirror and say things like “I love you,” “you are beautiful,” “you are healing,” “your skin is healing,” and “you are strong.” This was the mantra I repeated every morning and every night during my skincare routine.
After some weeks, I realized that it was beginning to work. It’s like I was seeing someone else in the mirror. I could see myself again. However, being able to face my reflection did not erase the insecurities that I had. When quarantine lockdowns lifted a little, I felt insecure about meeting old friends because I’d developed so many acne scars and marks on my face. I looked different, and I realized that. I thought to myself - “Maybe I should show them through my Instagram page.” I posted a picture of my skin’s state, and some of my friends found me and started to follow me. To my own surprise, many of my friends reached out to me. They said it was inspiring and refreshing to see me embracing my imperfect skin. Many of them told me that they’d been dealing with something similar. Many talked to me about how seeing a friend showing their imperfect skin gave them confidence. So, something that started as therapy for me ended up being therapeutic for others as well. Giving others confidence in a world of unattainable beauty standards is why I’ve decided to continue.
There are beauty standards in Slovakia like everywhere else, and we consume a lot of media from the United States. Many young people here follow celebrities from the United States and the UK. I don’t have an issue with how people want to look, but the thing is - they don’t truly look like that. Why not show people who you really are? What’s the point of representing someone that you’re not? I know it’s good for advertising, but showing unrealistic beauty standards is very harmful. If I were to say that beauty standards never affected me, I would be lying. I remember how perfect, poreless skin was the only thing that I used to see on TV. So, of course, I wanted to look like that. I tried putting on makeup to achieve this, but it looked cakey, and I stopped putting it on. Having smooth skin meant a lot to me, but I didn’t believe that makeup could ever look good on me. And since I had textured skin, I never really thought attaining beauty standards was an option for me.
I would say that I’m more confident now though. Embracing acne taught me to embrace all of the flaws on my body. Having acne taught me not to care so intensely about appearance and how to embrace myself as a person. I realized that my appearance is not who I am. I’m not afraid to be noticed anymore either. I used to be a timid person who was afraid to speak. I was afraid of saying my opinions because I was afraid and ashamed of how I looked. I knew that if I said something out loud, people would pay attention to me and how I looked. So, I was unconfident, but learning how to embrace these imperfections made me more comfortable with my skin.
I don’t let my skin determine my mood or my worth anymore. I am much more than my skin, and I am not ashamed of who I truly am.