Isabella: Perfection Doesn’t Exist, But Our Beauty Does.

Isabella is 22 years old, and she lives in Kent County, which is 20 minutes outside of London.

“My acne came back when I was 21. After I took Accutane, I had clear skin for about 3.5 years. But in 2020, my skin went back to how it was when I was younger. Before Accutane, I was very much bothered by my skin. Acne affected me a lot, but ironically - not as much as clear skin did. When I had clear skin, I was so focused on never having a spot again. 

“I thought that Accutane would clear every single problem that I had in the world and that my life would be so perfect once I had it. After Accutane, I would get a spot, and I would call my mom from University panicking. I would be on the phone saying - “oh, my gosh. I have a spot!” I thought all these bad and crazy things were going to happen when I would get a spot. But when my acne came back, I realized that my life didn’t change overnight as I had feared. When my acne came back, it was almost a relief, because while “my worst-case scenario” was finally happening, I was also able to see that my life didn’t change just because I had some cysts pop up. My life was exactly the same as the day before, and it continued to be.” 

“When I had clear skin, I was so fixated on this idea of being perfect, and I manufactured everything in my life based on that. That’s completely different from how I am now. I love the freedom of not knowing what I’m going to be doing from one day to the next. When I got contact lenses, got my braces off, and finally had clear skin, I began to feel like I should be a different person in the world. I became who I thought I should be, but that was never what I wanted. I’ve always wanted to do different things rather than just follow one manufactured path.”

“Isabella continues to describe how actually living half of her life with acne has helped her find her realize her path and herself. “I got acne at the age of 9. It was very slow to start with. I had a bump in the middle of my eyebrows, and then it progressed. By the first year, my head was covered in pimples and then it went across my face. I didn’t know anyone who had acne. I was never bullied, but growing up, I would get comments from strangers. My skin would dominate conversations, and unfortunately, it still does now. One time, I went for a conversation about a job, and in the UK, they go through your social media when you apply for a job. The employer I was talking to saw that I had an acne positivity account, and she asked me - have you tried working out your diet? Your skin doesn’t look too bad now though. And she tried to give me advice.” 

Isabella closes her eyes, and looks relaxed. The picture reads: clear skin doesn't mean happiness.

“This happens online of course, but it’s always been harder in person. It’s moments where you’re not even thinking about your skin that people bring it up. When I was younger, that was definitely something that made me feel like there was something wrong with my skin. People would just bring my skin up all of the time. Some days I’d feel quite happy, I’d feel nice, or maybe I’d put a pretty dress on, and then someone would bring up my skin. And then suddenly I’d be thinking to myself - “you shouldn’t be looking like that. You shouldn’t have that skin. You look ugly.”

“If someone with acne doesn’t bring their skin up, don’t bring it up because that might be the five minutes of their day that they’re not stressing over their skin in front of the mirror. Sometimes when you have acne, going out the door can be really hard because you think - everyone is staring at my skin. When someone brings up your skin that just reaffirms in your mind that - “yes, everyone is staring at my skin.” There’s a whole load of trauma that goes along with having acne, and unsolicited comments cause it even more. If someone has had acne for a long time, there’s a high chance that they’ve already tried the “cure” you’re going to tell them about. Everyone’s skin is so different so your advice might be completely different from what actually helps them. I get told at least 3 times a day on Instagram that it’s my insides my reacting to what’s going on in my head or my diet. I’m constantly told that if I change certain things about myself that I can be fixed or I can be cured. I’ve had acne for over half of my life. I’ve tried all of these silly things that people will tell me.”

“I’ve tried no sugar. I’ve tried no carbs. I’ve tried no gluten. I’ve tried everything that people are going to suggest, and none of it works.”

Isabella sits casually with a black, spaghetti strap tank top. She looks up expectantly. Her eyes are prominent, and they glow. The picture reads: "your skin doesn't make you unlovable."

However, rather than feeling resigned to her acne, Isabella, on the contrary, has been liberated.” I don’t notice my acne now. It’s so liberating to not feel constrained by acne. I have affirmations, and I tell myself every day - my life will not change overnight because of my skin. I will not NOT do things with my life because of my skin. Realizing that acne can’t control your life and that you are a whole person is such deep mental work. You really have to make sure that you remind yourself: I have dreams, I have ambitions, I have goals in life, and I don’t need someone else or acne to rule that. Before I definitely let those things rule my life, but now I do things to help me find beauty in myself. I started sitting in front of a mirror to find beauty in my skin, and the first time I did it, it was really hard. I just looked at myself, and I was like - there’s nothing there.” 

“But now, I can do it within 2 minutes. For example, I have a lot of scarring on the right side of my face, but it frames my cheekbone which I really like. I also write lists of everything that I’ve achieved while I’ve had acne, and I realize that I can do even more despite having acne. I have to because people will tell you that you can’t do anything while you have acne, but that’s just not true.” 

“Every time I took a step forward people would draw me back by criticizing my skin. Eventually, that really worked into my head, but that’s why you have to get to a point with acne positivity to say - “No, I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I don’t care. You can try and stop me, but I’m not going to let you. I’m going to keep pushing forward.”

“For example, one person even said that I was really egotistical for my skin positivity on Instagram.” 

They said - “you’ve only got pimples, how dare you share your ego with the world?” 

It kind of took me back, and I thought to myself  - “Is my platform egotistical???” 

But then I snapped out of it and realized - “No, I’m doing this to help others.”

In some ways, I find the trolls helpful because they make me reflect, and they give me the opportunity to affirm my sense of self and say - “No, I don’t agree with the statement your making about me.” My friend told me how she thinks that the majority of these people have clear skin, but they still hate themselves. However, there’s nothing wrong with them by society’s standards. And although they’re deemed by society as someone with an “okay” life, they still resent themselves and their lives so much. So, to see someone like me who has acne and to see someone who has been unaccepted by society love themselves and love their life anyways  makes them really uncomfortable. In turn, they need some sort of control, and they try to gain it by putting me down.”