Beneath the skin
“Dami mong tighiyawat.”
“Try this product.”
If I were to charge people who remark on or dispense advice regarding my blemished skin, I would be rich by now. It seems that everyone has a solution to my skin problem. Everyone is as knowledgeable as my doctors because they happen to read, see, or know someone who was able to attain flawless skin by simply using a certain product.
“Beauty is more than skin deep,” they say. But it seems that not everyone received the memo, not even my twentysomething self who, despite being way past puberty, still breaks out like it’s nobody’s business.
I am not sure how it exactly began, my long and endless struggle for clear complexion. All I know is that it started when I was 16, as soon as I moved from the province to the city to go to college. Out of nowhere, a pimple appeared, then another, and another, until my entire face became a painful pebbled mess. I could hardly look at myself in the mirror without hating what I saw there.
I visited a dermatologist and my suffering was somehow alleviated. I had clear skin, but not for long. In the past 12 years, my face went into a cycle of clearing up and relapsing.
I have seen at least four dermatologists, who prescribed different anti-acne and rosacea medications — from the mildest to the strongest oral and topical antibiotics, even birth control pills.
I have undergone numerous acne surgeries, chemical peels, and injections, and used Korean beauty products and bentonite clay mixed with apple cider vinegar — to no avail. I cannot remember a single day that I woke up without a new pimple.
But beside my cystic acne and papulopustular rosacea, it was the mental strain that got the better of me. It was my self-esteem that took the biggest hit, especially whenever I heard family members, friends, and acquaintances commenting on my blotchy skin. It was as if they were reminding me that I looked just as I was feeling: horrible. I started dissociating myself from other people in shame and fear, because I looked ugly.
That my skin problem affected my way of life is an understatement. It changed my entire being. For the past 12 years, I was always hiding. I never felt confident because my appearance always made me feel less. I tried to become positive by saying that my problem was shallow compared to others’. But as soon as I saw myself in the mirror or heard an unsolicited opinion regarding my complexion, I would feel inferior. I could no longer recognize the person staring back at me. Gone was the confident probinsyana who once believed she could conquer everything with determination.
Then I stumbled upon an article that changed my perspective. I was searching the internet for rosacea skin care products when I came across Lex Gillies, skin positivist. I was surprised how her stories and those of other silent sufferers of skin problems resonated. For the first time in 12 years, I felt relieved that I wasn’t alone in my misery.
I realized that my skin is not the problem, that having acne and rosacea is perfectly normal, that some people are blessed with flawless skin but others are not. Some need only slather their faces with beauty products to look fresh-faced, while others have it tough, requiring frequent visits to dermatologists, avoiding otherwise harmless triggers, doing meticulous research on beauty products’ ingredients and user reviews — yet still ending up with flare-ups.
We may not have the beautiful skin aspired for by many, but that doesn’t mean we are less of a person. Our skin may be blemished, blotchy, scarred, but it does not change who we are. We are just as good, as lovable, as talented, and as capable as everyone else. And we shouldn’t let society’s twisted perception of beauty define our worth.
With the ubiquitousness of social media, filters and photoshops, it seems easy to lose oneself nowadays. All one has to do is look at social media feeds and ads that glorify good looks — smooth skin, thin frame, washboard abs, long legs, high nose, etc. People can’t get over their obsession with perfection.
Unfortunately, we who do not conform to the standards are dissed, because we stick out like a sore thumb. Our minds are conditioned that we lack something, because we look “unrealistically real” amid the sea of filtered and edited photos, and look shamelessly like ourselves when we should be trying our earnest best to look like supermodels. The social system is reduced to the basis of aesthetics and number of “likes,” comments and shares.
The cruelest thing I did to myself was to allow society’s toxic beauty standards to ruin me. I was weighed down by opinions on my skin condition, as if those people knew me better, as if they knew better than my doctors. I am more than what they see on the outside.
Twelve years have passed since I had my first breakout that changed my life. I still struggle finding treatments that would minimize and control my acne and rosacea. I still hear insensitive remarks about my skin. But I couldn’t care less anymore.
I couldn’t care less because I know my worth. I couldn’t care less because they are not my doctors. I couldn’t care less if my unedited photos solicit more appalled comments than “likes.” I couldn’t care less because I now know better.
What truly matters is beneath the skin. That is how a person’s worth is measured.
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Pia Alvero, 28, is a state auditor and graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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