Patsy Chem: Positivity vs. Honesty

“Where I come from in Bulgaria, beauty standards are quite high across the board. I don’t feel like body positivity has reached Bulgaria at all. In Bulgaria, there’s pretty much just the view of skinniness as beauty. And because of our country’s tumultuous past, we mostly just push mental health to the back burner. The idea of mental health is basically just like - okay, you’re a crybaby. And if you’re anxious, the response is - “why do you care what people think?” If you were to go to therapy, you’d be judged. People in Bulgaria used to call mental illness dushevno bolen”which means “thesoul is ill.” Mental conditions are seen as a Western thing. It’s seen as a weakness, and a lot of Bulgarians don’t even let themselves go there. Today,Bulgarians call anxiety “trevozhnost” which directly translates as “a state of worry.” In my opinion, the idea of “trevozhnost” diminishes the gravity that anxiety has on people. An anxiety disorder goes much deeper than worry.”

Patsy closes her eyes and gives a gleeful smile with her chin up. The sunlight is illuminating her, and she radiates optimism.

Patsy continues to explain how her experiences influenced her relationship mental health and self-image. “I live in Northern Ireland, andI used to visit Bulgaria during the summer. I was a growing teenager, and every year that I went back, I would receive comments like “you’ve gotten bigger compared to last time. I felt like I had to make myself small in order to be accepted. I always had a voice in the back of my head that said - you have to be skinny.” When I was 16, I went through a phase of eating keto diets, and I put a severe restriction on carbs. I was also very frugal with what I put on my food. I would put no salt or oil, and sometimes I just ate cooked vegetables. When it came to food, my thought process was I need to eat as little as possible. I quickly fell into bulimic cycle of restrictive eating, binging, and purging. I believed that food was my enemy, not a source of nourishment. All the while, I was dealing with body dysmorphia because of my skin too. When I had severe acne, I would look at my face sometimes, and I would just disassociate. I would be looking at my reflection, and I would just feel like - this is not my face. It was so bizarre and trippy. It just wasn’t ideal at all. Then suddenly, my period stopped.”

“My periods stopped because I was so undernourished. After my period stopped, my acne got even more severe. Last year, I had to remove an ovarian cyst because of a hormonal imbalance. I was put on contraceptives after I had the surgery, and when I came off the birth control, my acne got even worse. It got really cystic and really painful. I started looking for the next next diet to help with my acne, but I realized that I had to address my relationship with food first as opposed to the actual food that I was putting in my body. I tried not to stress every time I put something in my mouth because the stress was clearly making my acne worse. I started with a minimal skincare routine. I was able to clear my acne. And by August, my period came back. I was super happy about because I was afraid that my eating disorder had made me infertile. I thought that I might not be able to have kids, and I was blaming myself.

Patsy felt grateful, but then her acne began to come back. “Just this past June, my acne came back, and it was much worse than the first time. At that point, I blamed myself for the entire situation. I had spent so much time on my diet and my skincare routine just for it to come back.” Feeling shattered, Patsy began to look at people’s stories online. She began to connect with people who were having the same struggles as her.

Patsy wears a black, mesh tank top with a tank top over it. She places her fingers on her left shoulder as she takes a selfie. She looks daring.

“I found a community that understood what I was going through, and that’s the best thing that has happened to me in a long time. Through sharing my story with people, I’ve been able to heal my body and my mind in a new way, and it’s helped clear my skin. I realized that it wasn’t just my diet. You have to figure out yourself, your environment, isolate your stress factors, and talk things out.”

Patsy now focuses on reconciling my mindset on food and textured skin. “Now, I’m trying to step away from skin positivity on my platform because sometimes it can be quite toxic when you’re in a depressed mindset. I think body neutrality is much better for truly representing people. Body neutrality makes it more okay to feel sad about your condition. It’s okay to feel not okay because skin conditions are hard. Moving forward is just about trying not to search for perfection all of the time, It’s about being able to scrutinize beauty standards. Feeling good isn’t always easy, and sometimes, we can’t always relate to positivity. Just remember that fitting into a standard is such a damaging thing. It damages us from such a young age that we don’t even realize the mental and physical ramifications it causes us. I see a direct correlation between my eating disorder and beauty standards. I’m still pushing through my relationship with food. Beauty standards are not natural, they’re just conditioning. If we really want to be healthier, we have to recognize this. If you’re someone who want to heal your acne, self-care and self-love are the final stages of healing your acne.”