Just before my Dad died I developed the habit of picking at my face, and, due to stress, it increased tenfold afterwards. Though I’ve always had the occasional cystic pimple or clogged pore, I’ve never had full-blown acne. Now, though, little raised bumps had appeared on both of my cheeks and I was determined to get rid of them. Just as controlling what I ate (and how I burned it off) gave me a sense of calm, so, too, did trying to tackle these unruly bumps. But as any dermatologist will tell you, fighting them yourself will only make it worse—and, indeed, it mostly just left my face red and inflamed. These bumps, mind you, were fairly tiny—not something that everyone would notice—but I viewed them as another knot to untangle on the rope-climb to perfection. Perfection that would lead to my being innocuous, a lifetime goal far too complex to unpack here.
With the added shock to my system of my dad’s passing, the urge to pick transformed into a downright compulsion, one that left me losing entire chunks of time in front of a mirror, with very little resulting success. Eventually a new dermatologist would tell me that the bumps were deeply clogged pores that would have to be extracted professionally to go away—i.e. not something I could squeeze out myself, no matter how hard I tried. But, even post-extraction, the habit stuck, so that I now know the contours of my face all too well—leaving me with the sense that any miniscule raising of the skin should be banished, as if everyone is assessing me with microscopic eyes.
Yesterday, as my skin flared up more than usual, forcing me to call my dermatologist in a tizzy and essentially force her to see me, I kept thinking about this unfortunate habit of mine—how it was just another manifestation of my lust for control, for trying to live a life so smooth and predictable, nothing could ever surprise me. Of course, I also thought about society’s role—how, especially as females, we are expected to aim for perfection… the result of which is often spending ample money and time in doctor’s offices that most men don’t feel as beholden to. I’ll often even feel the need to apologize to those around me for the simple fact of my having a pimple, joking “L-O-L, sorry I’m breaking out like a thirteen-year-old,” as if my acknowledgement of it makes it okay, more acceptable than before. “You are insane, I can’t see a thing,” one of my best friends often replies.
And while that’s not always true—you can’t hide every pimple—she’s right to call me insane. It’s insane to act like the civil war that is my hormones is worthy of forgiveness, as if it’s a crime I’ve forced everyone else to take part in. When have I ever cared about the texture of someone’s skin? I often ask to reassure myself—the answer always being never.
But, yesterday, as I drowned in this swamp of overwrought insecurity, a man on the street with one arm passed me, and I spoke to another guy at a bookstore who had a giant gap in his front teeth—and not in that “cool” model-esque way. I was reminded of the blindingly obvious fact that we’re all walking around with broken, immaculately flawed parts—parts which I’m sure we’ve spent a few too many hours trying to wish away. What we dwell on many change over time—I hated my nose when I was younger, but quite like it now—but the desire to be different in some superficial way remains. I know that we (I) can’t ward these feelings off entirely—we’re only human, they tell me—but we can reevaluate how we frame them, the way we berate ourselves for biology’s failure to keep up with the Joneses.
None of my favorite people are perfect all the time—no matter how genetically blessed and Jonesey they may be. No one is immune to life’s less pleasant manifestations, and it wouldn’t hurt to remember that on days when we’ve sunk into that shitty quicksand of believing they disrupt us and us alone.