Daveena: Embracing Your Skin Is Embracing Life

Daveena (22) is a skin-positive influencer who lives in Malaysia. She describes the experiences that she’s had with beauty standards, skin, and self-worth.

“When I was 12, I started getting body acne, whiteheads, and blackheads. And then, I was diagnosed with cystic acne when I was 15/16. When my skin first started changing, I didn’t see it as a big deal, but then people started making comments, being rude, and telling me to do patronizing things like put toothpaste on my face. They were so concerned over something that wasn’t even happening to them, and their attitudes scared me. It made me feel like there was something wrong with me. I wondered - “Am I going to be stuck like this forever?” For a really long time, I feared that acne was my permanent reality.”

In the midst of forming acne, Daveena describes how she was confronted with new beauty standards once she moved to Malaysia.

“I grew up in Canada, but I moved back to Malaysia when I was 16. In Malaysia, there’s a very narrow path of what beauty is, and the box is tiny. You either fit in it, or you don’t, and when you don’t fit, you feel ugly. If you have straight hair and fair skin, you’re considered beautiful. Although we’re an Asian country, and many people are tan, you’ll still see a lot of whitening products. The companies call their products brightening, but they’re actually whitening if you look at the ingredients. Plus, the clothing sizes here, especially the local brands, are so tiny.”

“However, even with the exclusive beauty standards, it’s still very diverse here. Like - ethnically, I’m Punjabi, but I’m from Malaysia. And growing up, I had to deal with the beauty standards from my ethnic group too. When I was a child, my skin was darker. I had natural hyperpigmentation as well, and I faced a lot of snide comments like - “When you bathe, you must scrub harder. Remember to scrub the back of your neck.” I was a child so I actually scrubbed harder. I didn’t know any better. All I could hear was that I needed to scrub off parts of myself. It’s like dark skin was seen as dirty, and I felt like it was my fault. But as I grew up, my skin naturally got lighter, and people began to say - “oh my gosh, you’re so nice and light now!” And at that point, I thought to myself - “what exactly are they proud of? I have no control over how my skin changes.”

“Even though my skin was lighter, my acne got really bad as a teenager, and I felt looked down upon because of that. People gave me looks. Their facial expressions were nothing obvious, but people would give me a side-eye that I eventually learned to pick up on. Honestly, those looks were heartbreaking. And finally, I got fed up. I was sick of people looking at me and giving me suggestions that didn’t make sense. Every day, I was faced with people looking at me and asking - “Have you tried this? Have you tried that? Have you tried a doctor?” People were being so disrespectful and so judgmental over something that they had no knowledge of. So, finally, I just started telling people off. I had all of these comments coming at me, and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

“Every time someone made a comment, I’d start telling them off because I didn’t want to know what they had to say. I would say - ”If I need advice or a recommendation, I’ll ASK. I don’t need you telling me about my skin. I live in it EVERY day.” All my life, I had learned to just take it and suck it up. I had become a very subservient person, but I couldn’t do that forever. How much can a person take? After I started standing up for myself, people slowly stopped making comments. I was content about this, but emotionally, these experiences left me in a space where I just felt so much rage. I still remembered how people had treated and judged me. I knew I had to do something to heal.”

“I went online to go and talk about it, and that’s when I found the acne community. I removed a lot of people from my Instagram, and I started fresh. I began to post about my skin, and I felt free and light. I felt like I didn’t have to be a secret anymore. I had a lot of internalized fear over people seeing my face, but I wanted to be seen for who I am. I didn’t want to live up to someone else’s standards anymore. I didn’t want to be ashamed of myself anymore, and so I pushed myself not to care about what others thought.”

“The first time I saw people with acne online, I came across pages that made me think - “Oh, my gosh - she’s so pretty” or “Oh, my gosh - he’s so cute!” Then I realized - if I see these people with acne as beautiful, why do I think I’m ugly or not worthy? If other people think they’re beautiful, why am I so hard on myself? Suddenly, I was sure that beauty takes many forms. Beauty is not reserved for only one look. We all look different so why wouldn’t we want to look like ourselves? And why can’t we look at our acne as something that is different? Different doesn’t mean bad, and acne is a journey. If you’re so focused on an end result, you’re going to miss your entire life. I missed so many years of my life because I was freaking out over my skin. I’ve missed so many chances to go out there, to do new things, to meet new people, and to just be happy. Now, I finally understand that internalizing trends and beauty standards is a disservice to myself and to the passion I have for embracing life.”