Katie Gu: Acne Does Not Make You a Failure

Katie Gu is a Chinese-American who grew up in California. She has had cystic, hormonal acne for 10 years, and she now lives in Seattle, Washington. 

“Hormonal acne is really hard to get rid of because you can’t necessarily change it with products. A lot of it has to do with lifestyle changes. I remember not even being able to lie on my side when I went to bed just because of how painful the acne was. I started breaking out in the 7th grade, but no one ever told me how to handle acne. I would just pop them because that was my first instinct. I just wanted to get rid of them, but then of course they would just get inflamed. I remember how I used to dread putting on makeup in the morning. It would irritate my skin so badly, but I needed to cover it up. Although, at some point, I didn’t even realize how uncomfortable I was because it had become used to. Feeling insecure just became what I was used to. However, in middle school and high school, I didn’t feel as self-conscious in comparison to the beginning of college because other people were having breakouts too. When I got to college though, I was still having breakouts, but other people weren’t. I was just like - why do I still have acne?? I got into this pattern where I always felt like I had to present the best side or angle of myself just to talk to someone. That time in my life was really frustrating and emotionally exhausting.”

Along with her school life, Katie describes how her life outside of school influenced her skin journey as well.

“Specifically, in the Chinese community, very pale and “porcelain” skin is something that’s admired as beautiful. In mainstream, Chinese beauty standards, women who have really pale and porcelain skin are considered the most beautiful ones. These women have no spots, no wrinkles, and no pores. Also, the way your skin looks is sometimes grouped into the status and image of your family. Depending on the community you’re from, you might feel the need to treat your acne before you go back to visit so that you don’t reflect unfavorably on your family. This varies too, but sometimes the expectations of parents are also very high, and even when you meet those expectations, you still feel like a failure in some sense just because you have acne.”

Katie smiles naturally,  warmly, and unabashedly. Her hair cutely and casually thrown into a top bun.

Katie describes how this cultural dynamic played a major part in her experience with acne. “I didn’t want to be held back, and that’s a lot of the reason I covered up” Katie explains. “As time went on though, I realized that going without makeup wasn’t that bad. I just started doing little things like studying at coffee shops or going to get groceries without makeup. Suddenly, I realized that I can still do things and be successful without having to put on makeup. One day, I put my first selfie up with a bare face, and that was a milestone of my journey with skin positivity. I felt like I had finally come to accept my own skin. Acne was not going to hold me back, and it was my senior year of college. I remember how I came home on break that year, and I was eating dinner with my parents. At that moment, they just looked at me, and they told me that I was beautiful. I didn’t know what to say. I had learned to accept myself, and my parents were really proud of how I had overcome everything. However, even with them saying this, I know that my self-love journey started with me. I understand that I’m the only one who can give myself self-acceptance.”

Katie wears red lipstick. Her hair thrown over her right shoulder. She with shyness but yet with confidence .