We desperately need an open dialogue on acne

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For the past 12 years I’ve avoided talking about one of the most obvious things about me. Something that is literally —well, almost — written on my face. My name is Evie, and I have acne.

I decided to break the silence after I read multiple articles on how acne frequently leads to depression, and that this is “often independent of severity”. Despite living with acne, I’d never considered that my low mood over a breakout was something natural, I’d just thought it was how I dealt with it. In fact, acne has a significant, negative psychosocial effect, and we don’t talk about it because pointing out our flaws is the very last thing we want to do.

Very few people realise what acne means. In all the media I’ve ever been subjected to, there has never been a protagonist with acne. If there is a character with acne at all, it’s an unsympathetic one, who is either submissive, mean, or both. There are no films about an acne-ridden girl who finds that she doesn’t need to be self-conscious but just has to ‘let herself shine’. All other ‘negative’ images are given support; whether you’re overweight, short, tall, nerdy, or even all-out Ugly Betty, there is a role model for you readily available. Because of this, people without acne often throw around the word “spotty” as a synonym for “young”, in a way no other negative attribute ever is.

There is no reason ever to be “proud to have acne” — but that doesn’t mean that a disease which affects 70-87% of teenagers and frequently
continues into adulthood shouldn’t be talked about, especially amongst a student population that fits neatly into the affected age group. It’s not glamorous — we don’t get to be ‘curvy’, or cute, or intelligent, or strong. Acne is not ‘endearing’.

This isn’t a polemic, however. I’m mostly just trying to let you that it isn’t
trivial – and you’re not weak or weird for letting it get to you. It might sound stupid, but in the same way, as a four year old, I wanted to be blonde and blue-eyed because Cinderella wasn’t Mediterranean, I spent my teenage years believing that anything that’s wrong with you can be overcome – unless you have acne. If a group of girls decided to adopt me into their social group and give me a make-over, it would never be perfect — because I had acne. If I found out I was the heiress to a small country and needed an image revamp, it wouldn’t work- because I had acne. The sudden, unexpected romance with the most popular guy in schoo would never happen — because no matter how
great my body, or my hair, or my style was, I still had acne.

My experience was that I woke up an hour earlier than I needed to, in order to make sure I had time to deal with my face. I wouldn’t go out with friends when they invited me, unless I knew well in advance. I’d convince
my mum I was sick so I didn’t have to go to school on bad days. These are all reflected in experiences others have told me as well. In my case, I even developed the beginnings of an eating disorder simply because, if I couldn’t have the perfect face, I’d be damned if I didn’t have the perfect
body.Thankfully, I managed to escape that downward spiral early on. I’m sure there are many who didn’t.

This happens every day in the lives of people all around us, yet it is never talked about. We sufferers live fairly normal lives, often being told we “don’t have acne” — if it’s light — or that “it doesn’t matter” by significant others,
but the dysmorphia and the insider knowledge persists. This is because the problem is ignored to such an extent that it’s not allowed to be a problem. We are constantly outraged by Photoshopped models, who go from skinny to skin-and-bones, but the fact that Miley Cyrus was bullied for her skin during her ‘flawless’ Hannah Montana years is rarely mentioned.

Chris Pike, OUSU VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities has said, “It’s important to remember never to feel ashamed about seeking help if acne, or anything else, is making you feel depressed, isolated or uncomfortable. You absolutely have the right to support; whether that’s in terms of counselling
(contact the Counselling Service); advice (from OUSU’s Student Advice Service); medical support (from your college GP); or just someone to
talk to (such as Nightline, your peer supporters, Oxfordshire Mind, or anyone else). There is no ‘wrong reason’ to seek support.”

What I hope to have achieved from this article is to give to others
what I gained from the pieces I read – a feeling that this daily annoyance isn’t just mine. That I’m not overreacting. That I’m not – forgive the trite turn of phrase – alone. It scarily confirmed that people are actually staring at my
face and judging me but it also reminded me that at the end of the day, it’s not “acne-depression”.

Acne is a factor, which, like anything else, can lead to depression. Instead of letting it reach that stage, we should just change the first element.

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