How Acne Affects Your Life
People without acne might have the audacity to tell you that you're overreacting, to just get over your acne, that it isn't the end of the world, that there are worse things to happen - and they're right.
But they're only right in that they're correct, but that's as deep as it goes. Just because they're right, that I may be overreacting, that I should just get over it, that my acne isn't the end of the world, and that I would rather have acne than many other diseases - doesn't mean that I don't feel insecure about my acne, that it doesn't affect every facet of my life and how I carry myself as a person. Nobody has the right to tell you how you should feel about something, and I'm sure that if they were in our position they would be singing a different tune.
I think this simply stems from the fact that these people don't know how much our acne truly affects our life. I believe that if they did, they wouldn't say those things.
For those of us who have acne, we know in our heart of hearts that it changes everything in our life. Even though we fight it, even though we sometimes don't admit it, and even though we don't want it to - it does.
When you have acne, your life can do a complete 180. You can go from being a fun-loving social butterfly, someone with all the confidence in the world, to being a self-conscious shut-in. That was me. I can speak from experience.
Those of us with acne tend to:
Avoid social situations
Even though we may have enjoyed dining with friends, hosting game nights, going to the club or just having coffee with our bestie, when we have acne we begin recluse ourselves because we fear what others think of us. Even those who we feel are close to us, we tend to want to avoid.
We turn down invites we would have otherwise accepted if it weren't for our skin.
We avoid taking photos because we fear what our skin will look like in daylight or with flash.
It is hard to be your normal social self if you are constantly discouraged by the state of your face. It can also be daunting to try new social experiences, when you feel embarrassed by how you look. So we avoid, avoid, avoid. We find scapegoats - I'm tired. I'm busy. I've got nothing to wear.
But deep down, we know what the real reason is.
I don't know about you, but when I first got acne I was a very unhappy person. I didn't laugh at jokes the way I used to, and I didn't take "light-hearted" jokes about my skin as lightly as I should have. A simple comment about my skin, however rude and back-handed it was, that was intended to be a joke, shook me to my core.
So I just stopped laughing. I stopped having a sense of humour about things.
Look down more
There's something off about making eye contact with strangers when we have acne that feels intimidating.
I would find myself leaving stores with my eyes on my feet whenever someone would pass me by, especially if that person was someone who I found attractive - especially if that attractive person was a female. For some reason an attractive male was less intimidating to me than an attractive female, because I felt like these people were the pinnacle of beauty and that they were judging me for my shortcomings. I would tell myself that people couldn't judge me if I looked down.
This comes from a lack of self esteem and feeling of inadequacy. Suffering from acne can have a severe impact on the way you view yourself. Many sufferers tend to have issues with self esteem, and some people with acne even suffer from depression. I can surely say that my acne affected how I carried myself as a person. I used to walk with confidence that would demand anyone's attention. But when I got acne I faded into the backdrop. I didn't want people to see me, and they didn't. I was just a wallflower.
It's hard to allow someone else to love you when you have a hard time loving yourself, am I right?
You find you can't take a compliment - either you flat out reject the compliment and put yourself down (I'm not pretty), you internalize the comment as a backhanded remark (They only said I was pretty because they feel bad for me) or you become needy (Why haven't they told me I look pretty?). This can prove to be a major obstacle in a relationship.
Insecurities ruin relationships. This is especially true for new relationships. It's impossible to reassure someone that they're beautiful, that they're appreciated, that they're loved, if they are incapable of being reassured.
Not to mention our own insecurities cause us to doubt our ability to "hold down" a relationship - we think we aren't good enough to keep our significant other's eyes from wandering; we aren't worthy of their time and love and we even tell ourselves we wouldn't blame them if they left us.
This kind of thinking, this constant doubting of ourselves and the strength of our relationships can actually cause the demise of the relationship.
When our partners feel like they can't say anything right, that we don't believe them when they do talk to us, they begin to feel lonely and unhappy.
A successful relationship involves trust, forgiveness, acceptance, and love - all of which must be reciprocal. When we begin to not trust our partner when they tell us nice things about ourselves, we are already damaging our relationship.
No matter where I was with my acne, no matter how insecure I felt, I always believed my husband when he told me I was beautiful, and that he loved me. When I was having a bad day, he would tell me it even more. It was hard to believe myself when I told myself I was beautiful, but it was easy to believe him. You need to let yourself believe in your partner, otherwise your relationship will not grow, and you will block any chances of a future relationship with new people.
Avoid job interviews
Having acne can affect your career path in a variety of ways.
Preparing for a job interview can be a nerve wracking experience in the best of times. We tend to suffer with feelings of inadequacy without the added drama of skin issues. When you add in the stress of worrying about your acne, a job interview can turn into an absolute nightmare, which is why some people avoid it altogether, and struggle with the stress of unemployment on top of the stress of acne. This absolutely does not help our feelings of inadequacy.
Many acne sufferers have commented that this is because their severe acne seems to have had a negative impact on their job search, that they avoid interviews because they feel they will be looked down on for their acne. This stems from a place that believes acne is a disease of uncleanliness - that only dirty people have acne, and we don't want to be seen as dirty. While these are just anecdotes, and may reflect more on their own perception of self and feelings of inadequacy that translate into undesirable traits demonstrated to an interviewer, there may be another reason that our acne hinders our job search.
A study at Rice University and The University of Houston seems to indicate that there may indeed be prejudices working against those of us with things like acne, scars, or birthmarks in job interviews.
The researchers performed two experiments; in the first experiment, they staged mock interviews with people with and without facial scarring and birthmarks via a computer, and then calculated how much time the interviewer spent looking at the scars. They followed up by asking the interviewer how much they remembered about the candidates. Not surprisingly, they remembered significantly more relevant information about the candidates without scarring or birthmarks.
In the second experiment the differences in experienced versus inexperienced interviewers were tested, and even the most veteran interviewers displayed an unintended bias by recalling more information about clear skinned candidates than they could about those with facial scarring.
The study found that interviewers tend to concentrate their gaze in a triangular pattern around the eyes and mouth (bad news for those of us with acne in the middle triangle of our face (middle forehead, nose area, mouth and jaw). What this study found was that when interviewers were focused on the "imperfections" on our faces (where their eyes were automatically drawn), the less relevant information they could remember about the person being interviewed and their qualifications, making it less likely that candidate would win a favorable evaluation. While the interviewers were certainly not deliberately discriminating against these people, the results still ultimately favored candidates with clear skin.
This is a reflection of what acne sufferers will have picked up on in many social or business environments, that people remember them for their acne, or seem to be staring at their acne when they speak.
This is one set-back we acne sufferers experience when dealing with employment. But what if we already have a job? What if we don't have to deal with the tiresome job market - does our acne affect our jobs then?
In fact, it can. Our acne may make us feel less social at work, just as it does in our social lives. It may even be contributing to the fact that you feel you keep getting passed over for a promotion.
Chances are you will be less likely to attend office events at a time when interoffice socializing is important in propelling your career forward. An employee suffering from severe acne would be less likely to accept an invitation to a company outing or an after work get-together. While not technically mandatory events, these kind of situations are vital to increasing your standing in workplace politics.
Employees who perform well in social situations are more likely to be considered for promotion.
When someone feels uncomfortable especially about their appearance they tend to avoid eye contact and keep to themselves, but both of these behaviors can be taken as being antisocial, and are serious impediments to advancement in a company.
Like in an interview, there are still many misconceptions about acne that are rampant which may affect how we advance in the workplace. Some people believe that having severe acne is a hygiene problem, and we are aware of this even if we know it not to be true. Due to this we can feel embarrassed or emotionally withdrawn.
One study found that even our doctors undermine the importance of our acne, with some 44% of doctors trivializing how serious acne is. This is all despite the fact that studies have shown acne patients are 2-3x more likely to suffer from depression than people with clear skin, despite all of the evidenced that acne patients have higher rates of psychiatric comorbidity than diabetes and epilepsy. The people we go to for help with our diseases and conditions write us off - they say it's a phase, or they send us off with a half-hearted written prescription for antibiotics. It's almost as if they're like - how dare you waste my valuable time with something as menial as acne? Even our dermatologists sometimes make us feel silly for going there. Our concerns are not always validated, and this can further exacerbate how we feel about ourselves and our insecurities. Not only are we insecure, but we are insecure about being insecure. This in turn results in our own trivialization of acne - some 52% of acne sufferers begin to completely and deliberately downplay the seriousness of the condition.
So not only are we dealing with the social repercussions of having acne that stem from our own insecurities, and not only are we dealing with real-life problems that stem from these insecurities, but we are also being almost completely disregarded when it comes to treatment. Nobody takes acne seriously, except the people who have had and do have acne, and even that is sometimes affected by how others treat us.
And it's time that changed. Not only is acne extremely common, but it can also leave lasting emotional and physical scarring. Acne may also be a sign of an underlying health issue, and when those health issues are ignored, they can drastically affect our lives in the long run. It's time we stop ignoring acne as a problem, it's time we stop writing people with acne off - and it's time we start acknowledging the real implications of having acne.
For some of us these repercussions can be more or less severe, and it may depend largely on how severe our skin problems are, or how well we handle these insecurities. For some people severe acne may just be another day in the life; for others, a breakout of 5 pimples can feel catastrophic and debilitating. People who have had acne a very long time may have a different way of handling their acne than people who've suddenly broken out after clear skin their whole life.
But one thing is for sure - acne changes your life, in ways people with clear skin may never fully come to understand.
With that being said - knowing that your acne can and does affect your life, also knowing that how you feel is completely within your control, I've made this list of ways that acne affects your life for you to be aware, to be informed, and to be prepared to tackle the struggles of day-to-day life with acne. Knowing is the first step in doing something about it. Know with confidence that you can be successful, and happy, and loved, with or without acne. Know that sometimes we have to try a little harder than others to put on a smile, but it can be done. Make positive lifestyle changes, make positive mindset changes, and start taking control of your happiness. If others won't take your acne and its effects on your life seriously, then you need to be proactive about it and take it seriously for yourself.
I wish it was as easy as telling you to not care so much what others think of you, but I know that this is easier said than done and will only help to an extent. As much as I "don't care" what others think of me, and I'll go out without any makeup on, my breakouts on display for the world to see - I still hurt when people make a comment about my skin, or about other insecurities. We care. We strive for social acceptance, because we think it validates us and gives us worth.
Being adamant in not internalizing these biases and issues we face is the first step to making positive changes. You can do it. You can get that job, that promotion, that relationship, that education - and you can do it no matter what the state of your skin is in.
And remember, it's OK to ask for help. You aren't defeated if you need a little guidance or reassurance. Asking for help doesn't mean you've failed, it means you want to succeed - you are determined that you will prevail and that's the strongest damn thing I can think of.
I believe in you. I did it, and you can, too.