My name is Jenny Maelle. I am 22 years old, and I am a Cameroonian, but I moved to the U.K for my master’s degree. I’ve lived with acne for over 10 years. So, it’s a very huge part of my life. And looking back, I can see how it has deeply impacted me.
When I was 12, I went to a dermatologist right away, and my acne was so intense that people were calling the bumps “horns.” People said very bad remarks to me, and a couple of times I cried. People would tell me that my skin wasn’t even worth trying to treat.
And it all seemed to be true.
For example, when I went to a dermatologist in Ghana, they gave me skincare that didn’t even work. Dermatologists were telling me that it would pass. Now in retrospect, that was really shocking to hear from a dermatologist. On top of that, people were telling me to bathe twice a day and to keep my sheets clean. But, around 14, I got prescribed benzoyl peroxide and a soap. I used them constantly. While using these, I had good days and bad days. But at some point, I lost track, and I was just living with my acne. I lived this way until I got to college. When I turned 21, my acne intensified like never before. It just became something else, and that’s when I became scared. I thought, “Okay, why isn’t my acne going away? They said it eventually would, but it’s getting worse!”
So, I came back home to Cameroon, and thankfully, I met a wonderful dermatologist. I expected her to do so many tests, but she just looked at my face and prescribed me something from La Roche Posay, tretinoin for the nighttime, and antibiotics. When I first saw her, my acne was so intense. White residue was coming out of the bumps. But, after the medicine she prescribed me, my acne began to improve, and I didn’t even recognize my face. I thought to myself, “This can’t be my reflection.” Other people couldn’t believe it either. I was relieved, and for once, I felt enthusiastic about the future. But while I was happy, I was also really scared. I thought something might come and ruin everything. It was not easy for me to get tretinoin from Ghana, especially the specific brand I had. I was so scared of things changing. I wanted to stick to the same brand, product, and regimen. I can remember waiting for my mom to send the tretinoin from Ghana. I would go 3 or 4 weeks without tretinoin, and I would get so anxious. I would think, “What is my skin going to become? What is going to happen?” Although finding an effective product is exciting, being without it becomes extremely nerve-wracking. My face was the most healed it had ever been, and that was a very interesting and emotional place to be in.
So, in my 3rd year of college, I decided to create an Instagram page to share my skin journey. I was scrolling one day and saw this girl on Instagram doing a photo shoot on acne. The aim was to promote beauty and acne. I thought that was strange because everyone tells us to hide it. But, she wasn’t, and I just thought that was so beautiful. I went to go check her page, and I saw that she was documenting her acne as well as showing products. I thought to myself –maybe I could do that.
Honestly, it wasn’t easy because a lot of people around me were like, “I don’t think you should be showing your acne. Maybe when your face gets fully cleared, you could start your own page. Don’t you want people to see that your face has improved?” In my head, I was like, “But, I want them to see the process.” When I first heard their reaction, I was hurt, and their comments were very painful. After hearing them, a part of me began to feel afraid and think, “Imagine me documenting this, and it never getting better. What then?” But, when I saw other girls documenting their acne journey, I saw their hard days and good days. From there, I knew what I wanted to do, and I just did it. I was a bit discouraged by the people around me, but thank God, there’s always something that gets you back on track and enthusiastic.
And just like that, I created my page. I was truly amazed at the amount of people who actually followed me back. Once I created the page, my Instagram feed started showing me a bunch of skin influencers. I saw that there was a whole community, and that’s how I got into it.
Now, that I’m older I have my acne under control. I haven’t changed my skincare routine, but there are still certain periods when I have good days and hard days. The acne community also helped a lot. Seeing people share their stories helped me to be more confident. I started reading articles, and it made me feel confident. Now, I look back at pictures when I didn’t feel pretty at all, and I’m like “Oh, wow. I was actually pretty, and I’m still pretty.” Once I found a community that was going through the same thing as me, there was a major shift within. Even though I wasn’t able to change my environment, it helped me to stay strong. I was still surrounded by the same people who would make inappropriate comments about my skin. But, it’s crazy because even when people make those same comments now, I don’t react the same way I did.
My response is different because now I know it’s something they don’t understand. Before I used to be so hurt, defensive, and retract myself. Over the years, I’ve heard so many comments and silly assumptions. I even remember one of my lecturers asking me if I was sick or something. It was really crazy. I remember how someone compared my face to stale bread while I was on tretinoin. I was trying to explain things to them, but the person wasn’t getting it. Before, I used to be so hurt. I would sit down and reminisce about the comments but thinking about it just made me feel worse. I would feel bad and cry. Sometimes I would get so defensive and start insulting and criticizing the person who was making fun of me too.
But, as I’ve aged, I have let it go. I try to educate people on it, and if I can’t, I just let them go because it’s something they don’t understand. It’s crazy the amount of people that don’t know what acne is or how it’s unrelated to your hygiene. It’s shocking. That's why I’m so thankful that everyone is trying to normalize skin positivity and body positivity because there are still a lot of people who don’t know that they are beautiful with or without acne.
Like I said, acne used to really affect my self-esteem. This was mainly because people tried to put me in a box. People just knew me as the acne girl with the glasses, and that didn’t make me feel beautiful. It made me feel like there was a wall around me. So, I never felt comfortable, but the moment I started accepting my acne a little more, it was like I had opened a window. Fresh air began to come in, and it was a relief.
So, if there is one thing I could say, I would tell you to go be strong and go out. Don’t stay closed off in your room. Wear the dress, have fun, and live your life. Don’t wait until the acne goes, and think, “Okay, I’m going to feel prettier.” Have the wisdom to let people go and get out.
Your skin is really just an envelope to something greater. It’s all about who you are, and I’ve found that what I am is truly beautiful, not just my skin, my face, or my body – just the wholeness of the person I am is beautiful.