Thato: You Deserve to Love Yourself

My name is Thato Mdladlamba, I’m from South Africa, and I’m 24 years old. At 16, my skin started to break out, and thus, my skin journey began. 


My breakouts started on my forehead, and then, they spread all over my cheeks and under my chin. Eventually, I found out that I had hormonal acne. I thought to myself, “Why is this happening? Will this pass?” But, by the end of grade 12,  the acne had covered my entire face, and I realized it wasn’t going to go away.

This was a very trying time, and it challenged my sense of self. I thought my acne would go away, but it just wouldn’t, and I got scared. That’s when I started trying a bunch of skincare. I didn’t really want to try all of these products, but people were pressuring me to go through this process. People in my township would comment on my skin. They said, “Try this. Try that.” I received remarks from elders as well, and I wasn’t really able to say anything.

I grew up as a Venda girl in a township, and when interacting in my home language, I had to receive comments about my skin a lot differently. If an elder comes to me and speaks with me about my skin, I understand that I’m supposed to receive their words as something kind and helpful.

Where I come from, I’m not used to talking back to elders. If anything, I’ll just receive it with kindness and respect. I will thank them because this is the community we live in. We’re raised to believe that we are all associated with one another. For instance, if your mother were to hear of any disrespectful behavior, it would not be good. And I would never want to misrepresent my household. So, I just tried to stay calm and heal my skin.

I went through quite a bit of products until I finally accepted that none of them were working for me. Through ages 16 to 20, I was not able to find a solution, and this deeply affected my self-esteem. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t know who I was, and I was trying very hard to figure her out. It felt like everyone saw my acne before they saw me. I basically felt like I was becoming my acne. In terms of dating, it affected me too because I was constantly second-guessing my attractiveness.

So, I closed myself off, and this caused me to go into a depression. I would find myself in the bedroom with the lights off. I didn’t want to interact with people, and my mental state began to worsen. 

I used to scratch my face a lot because of my anxiety and depression, and I had very dark scars. The complexion on my neck was also dark, and I was given a bleach cream, which was a very popular thing in South Africa. It would tingle, and it made my skin paler. So, I thought that maybe I would be okay. But in reality, this experience was very damaging to my psyche. I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. 

All the while, everyone wanted to be a “yellow bone” or light-skinned. It’s still held in high regard because light skin is perceived as more attractive. But now, I get offended when people call me a “yellow bone” or say, “You don’t look Venda.” They say it as if we’re ugly, or we all have the same “dark” skin. Society tried to impress upon me that light skin is more acceptable and more beautiful. 

So, I knew that I needed to discover what beauty meant to me. But first, I needed a support system. I decided to go online, and as I saw more and more skin-positive content, I thought of making a platform. I wanted a platform where people could come together as a community and support each other, and that’s what I’m still doing with my platform today. I’m trying to create a space for everyone, not just people with acne.

I want to create more representation in the beauty and skincare industry. I think people of all shades and skin texture should feel a place of belonging. When people find belonging, they’ll feel more comfortable with themselves. They’ll also feel more encouraged to do the things they want in life. 

For instance, before I started posting and finding a community, I thought people would judge me. I didn’t look like your typical “Instagram girl.” But, I ended up finding a way to understand that I am my own person and that I need to have my own thing. So, I started finding my interests. At first, I just started posting about writing, poetry and fashion. But then, I started posting candid content about my experiences with skin. I started withYouTube and Instagram because I did not see women who looked like me going through their skin journey. I just saw “before and afters.” That’s when I realized that I could make content around what the skincare industry was not showing. 

So, I wanted to show people the real journey. But, getting confident enough to do this was a challenge, and it wasn’t immediate. Slowly but surely, I had to work on my confidence so I could validate my own beauty.

I used to think beauty was simply external. I thought it only had to do with my body and looks, especially my face since it's the first thing people see. I thought that if I fixed my skin, I would be more attractive to others. But, I realized that personally –  I cannot feel worthy of receiving love if I don’t love myself. I had to connect with the part of myself that wasn’t physical, and I had to learn to love her fiercely. During this process, I also learned to see others loving me as a reminder, not as new information about my worthiness. 

When I began this self-love journey, I started by trying to find the things I loved about myself. There are so many loveable things about you that don’t have to do with your skin.

If you can start with little things, it will help you begin to love your whole self. Tell yourself, “I love you,” and mean it. Say it like you would to a loved one. When you tell someone “I love you,” you don’t mean “I love how you look.” You mean “I love the person you are and what you mean to me.” You have to have that same relationship with yourself, and you deserve to embrace the beauty of who you are.